A disability is any condition of the body or mind that makes it more difficult for the person with the condition to do certain activities and interact with the world around them. There are many types of disabilities, both temporary and permanent, which can affect a person’s vision, movement, thinking, memory, learning, communicating, hearing, mental health, and social relationships. Disabilities may occur at any point with some people being born with disabilities, others noticing developmental disabilities during childhood, and some experiencing disabilities associated with injury and chronic health conditions. People with disabilities are diverse and have a wide range of needs even among those with the same type of disability.
Why It’s Important
About 61 million adults in the United States (US) have a disability. Studies have shown that people with disabilities are more likely to have poorer overall health, less access to adequate health care, and increased risk for preventable health problems. A recent study found that disability-associated healthcare expenditures accounted for 36% of all healthcare expenditures in the US ($868 billion in 2015).1 In addition, people with disabilities may have trouble finding a job, going to school, or getting around outside their homes.2 They may also experience daily stress related to these challenges. Adults with disabilities report frequent mental distress almost 5 times as often as adults without disabilities.3
What Is Known
Not all disabilities can be seen, but they share 3 common characteristics: impairment, activity limitation and participation restrictions. Some people have a disability that lasts a short time and others have a disability that lasts a lifetime. Disability affects people of all ages, from infants to older adults.
In Hawaiʻi, 11.4% of all people are limited in their activities because of physical, mental or emotional problems (ACS 2016-2020). Age is a significant predictor of disability ranging from 0.6% among those less than 5 years to 49.5% among those 75 years or older.4 Another survey found that 22.5% of community living adults in Hawaiʻi report at least one disability (BRFSS 2018-2020). People with disabilities are more likely than people without disabilities to:
- Report poorer mental and overall health
- Have obesity, heart disease or diabetes
- Smoke cigarettes
- Get inadequate physical activity 5,6
Who Is at Risk
Everyone is susceptible to experiencing disabilities. However, some disparities exist. The prevalence of adults with a hearing, vision, cognition, mobility, self-care or independent living disability is higher among adults:
- Living in rural areas compared to large metropolitan areas7
- Older adults (65 years+)
- Non-Hispanic American Indians/Alaska Natives
- Living with incomes below the federal poverty level
- Living in the southern region of the US 8
Knowing which disabilities are most common in specific groups and where people with disabilities live can help inform public health interventions that aim to reduce health disparities.
How To Reduce Risk
Healthy People 2030 focuses on helping people with disabilities get the support and services they need — at home, work, school, and in the health care system. Strategies to make health care more affordable for people with disabilities are key to improving their health. Efforts to make homes, schools, workplaces, and public places easier to access (inclusion) can help improve quality of life and overall well-being for people with disabilities. There are things everyone can do to stay well, active and part of the community, including:
- Engage in regular physical activity
- Eat healthy foods in healthy portions
- Get regular checkups and alert their doctor of changes in their health
- Use medications wisely, limit alcohol intake and don’t smoke
- Stay in touch with family and friends
Page last updated July 28, 2022.
1 Khavjou OA, Anderson WL, Honeycutt AA, et al. State-Level Health Care Expenditures Associated With Disability. Public Health Rep. 2021;136(4):441-450. doi:10.1177/0033354920979807
2 U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. (2015). TED: The Economics Daily. Retrieved from https://www.bls.gov/opub/ted/2015/people-with-a-disability-less-likely-to-have-completed-a-bachelors-degree.htm
3 Cree RA, Okoro CA, Zack MM, Carbone E. Frequent mental distress among adults, by disability status, disability type, and selected characteristics — United States, 2018. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep 2020;69:1238–1243. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.15585/mmwr.mm6936a2
4 American Community Survey 2016-2020. Persons with a disability (5-year). Hawaii Health Matters. https://www.hawaiihealthmatters.org/indicators/index/view?indicatorId=6057&localeId=14&localeChartIdxs=1%7C2%7C4. Updated April 2022. Accessed July 18, 2022.
5 National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Disability and health related conditions. https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/disabilityandhealth/relatedconditions.html. Updated September 16, 2020. Accessed July 18, 2022.
6 National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Disability impacts all of US. https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/disabilityandhealth/infographic-disability-impacts-all.html Updated September 16, 2020. Accessed July 18, 2022.
7 Zhao G, Okoro CA, Hsia J, Garvin WS, Town M. Prevalence of disability and disability types by urban-rural county classification–US, 2016. Am J Prev Med. 2019;57(6):749-756. DOI https://doi.org/10.1016/j.amepre.2019.07.022
8 Okoro CA, Hollis ND, Cyrus AC, Griffin-Blake S. Prevalence of Disabilities and Health Care Access by Disability Status and Type Among Adults — United States, 2016. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep. 2018; 67 (32):882–887. Available at https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6095650