PROMOTING WELLNESS FOR INDIVIDUALS WITH DISABILITIES ACT
Dear ABILITY Readers,
As many of you know, promoting the health of America’s citizens has long been one of my top priorities. In particular, I have advocated wellness and disease prevention, which requires access to health screenings and other services that keep people out of the hospital in the first place. As Ben Franklin wrote, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”
However, it is often difficult for people with disabilities to access this vital “ounce of prevention.” For example, they often encounter physicians’ offices that lack accessible examination and diagnostic equipment, such as accessible exam tables, weight scales, and mammography machines for people with mobility or balance issues. The presence of these physical barriers can reduce the likelihood that persons with disabilities will receive timely and appropriate medical services. People with particular disabilities, including those with intellectual disabilities, sometimes have difficulty finding physicians or dentists who are willing to take them on as patients. In addition, health and wellness programs that aid with smoking cessation, weight control, nutrition, or fitness, may not focus on the unique challenges faced by individuals with disabilities. All of these obstacles can lead to health problems for people with disabilities–problems that often can and should be prevented.
Last summer, close to the anniversary of the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act, I introduced the “Promoting Wellness for Individuals with Disabilities Act,” which I believe is an important first step toward addressing these problems. The bill would:
• Authorize the U.S. Access Board to establish accessibility standards for medical-diagnostic equipment, including examination tables, exam chairs, weight scales, and mammography equipment, x-ray machines, and other radiological equipment commonly used for diagnostic purposes by medical professionals.
• Establish a national-wellness grant that will help fund programs or activities that take into account the unique challenges faced by individuals with disabilities, helping them with smoking cessation, weight control, nutrition, fitness and health screenings that can reduce the incidence of secondary conditions.
• Improve education and training of physicians and dentists by requiring medical schools, dental schools, and their residency programs to provide training that improves competency in offering care to patients with both physical and intellectual disabilities.
In the coming weeks, I will reintroduce this legislation in the new 110th Congress. I look forward to your support on this important issue. Together, we can ensure that people with disabilities are neither denied access to quality medical care, nor opportunities for health and wellness.
Senator Tom Harkin