LOS ANGELES - Imagine going to the doctor's office for a check-up and being told to get on the examining table except the table is six feet high and there are no steps. Or imagine wanting to go to a movie with a friend but the only movies playing are in a different language, that all your friends understand, but none have subtitles. These are the kinds of environmental barriers that people who use wheelchairs or who are deaf for example, face every day. And these barriers can lead to the receipt of substandard medical care and social isolation.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) just released a report on disabilities based on research findings from the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health. Results from the 2002-2003 Los Angeles County Health Survey (LACHS) and published by the CDC, reveal that nearly 85% of adults with disabilities in Los Angeles County report barriers to housing, health care, transportation, and social activities which may impede their ability live healthy lives or integrate into the community.
"People with disabilities can and should be able to lead healthy, productive, and fulfilling lives," said Jonathan E. Fielding, MD, MPH, Director of Public Health and Health Officer. "Improving our understanding of the health needs of persons with disabilities is important for providing services, reducing disparities, and improving the quality of life of persons with disabilities. We need to do more to address the barriers that hinder people's access to care in a comprehensive community approach."
According to findings from the survey, 20% of Los Angeles residents have a disability. Among those persons reporting physical or sensory disabilities, 85% reported environmental barriers related to their disability. Twenty- five percent reported needing but not having home modifications; 22% reported difficulty accessing a health- care provider's office; and 13% reported that they were treated unfairly at their health-care provider because of their disability. Furthermore, 62% reported that their disabilities restricted social activity; and 60% reported that they did not know where to obtain disability resource information.
"Promoting policies and practices that assure equal opportunity for persons with disabilities is critical to realizing good health for the entire community," said Elizabeth Bancroft, MD, medical epidemiologist at the Department of Public Health and a co-author of the CDC report. "Environmental barriers are not traditionally thought of as the domain of public health practitioners or the health care community. However, they are vitally important to protecting the public's health. Health care providers, public health practitioners, and community organizations need to take a proactive role in removing environmental barriers. This will improve overall health and quality of life among people with disabilities, as well as reduce the disparities that exist between persons with and without disabilities." Steps to reducing barriers include ensuring wheelchair accessible scales and exam tables in doctors' offices, providing reliable and accessible transportation to healthcare appointments, calling for movie theaters to regularly schedule films with closed captioning and/or subtitles so that people with and without disabilities can enjoy the movie theatre experience together, and ensuring that the provisions of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) are implemented so that people with disabilities have full and complete access to all aspects of civic and social life.
For a copy of the federal report on environmental barriers for people with disabilities in Los Angeles County visit: http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/mm5548a4.htm. For a complete brief on people with disabilities published by the LAC DPH, visit: www.lapublichealth.org/ha/. Links to local and national links disability resources may be found on the LAC DPH disability brief.
Health survey background: The Los Angeles County Health Survey is a periodic, population-based telephone survey that collects information on socio-demographic characteristics, health status, health behaviors and access to health services among adults and children in Los Angeles County. The 2002-2003 survey collected information on a random sample of more than 8,000 adults and nearly 6,000 children with interviews offered in six languages.
Public Health is committed to protecting and improving the health of the nearly 10 million residents of Los Angeles County. Through a variety of programs, community partnerships and services, Public Health oversees environmental health, disease control and community and family health and comprises more than 3,800 employees with an annual budget exceeding $650 million.