CDC grant to improve access to health program for individuals with disabilities

Researchers at the University of Kansas have landed a grant to help improve the health of individuals with disabilities by increasing accessibility to programs and removing barriers to services designed to promote healthy living.

Faculty and staff in KU’s Institute for Health and Disability Policy Studies, Life Span Institute, Research and Training Center on Independent Living and Department of Health Policy and Management will work with organizations across Kansas to implement the five-year, $1.5 million grant from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Kansas is one of 19 states that received funds to implement CDC Disability and Health Programs. The project will first work to identify barriers to access of health programs for individuals with disabilities such as mobility impairments and intellectual/developmental disabilities. They will then implement interventions to increase accessibility to and awareness of the programs while training staff to administer the programs in an accessible, sustainable manner in the future.

Specifically, the project will emphasize programs that focus on physical activity, oral health and nutrition. The timing is vital, as research has shown that Kansans with disabilities are seven times more likely to perceive their health status as fair or poor compared with individuals without disabilities. Also, Kansans with disabilities are significantly less likely to participate in recommended levels of physical activity compared with their peers without disabilities, despite reporting they want to be more physically active, said Jean Hall, director of the Institute for Health and Policy Disability Studies and principal investigator of the grant.

“There are programs out there across Kansas that are effective but just may not be accessible,” Hall said. “We want to help agencies and programs make sure they are accessible and help show their communities that as well.”

Common barriers to increased physical activity for individuals with disabilities include a lack of accessible exercise facilities, lack of provider knowledge of how to support activity for people with disabilities and lack of physical activity programs designed specifically for people with mobility limitations or intellectual/developmental disabilities, the Institute’s research has shown.

In the first phases of the project, researchers will work with community partners to form consumer advisory boards of Kansans with mobility impairments and/or intellectual disabilities and their family members to gather feedback on obstacles to health program accessibility. With that information, they will help develop and deliver interventions and recommendations to make the programs more widely available. One example is providing professional development to dental health professionals on how best to serve individuals with mobility limitations or intellectual/developmental disabilities, two populations that often do not seek oral health services.

As interventions are formed and implemented, researchers will monitor progress and work with community partners to both improve services and continue providing them after the grant ends.

Currently, KU researchers are working with 21 agencies throughout Kansas such as the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, Centers for Independent Living, county health departments, the Special Olympics and Area Health Education Centers. They will add more partners throughout the project.

Nationally, about 20 percent of the population has some kind of disability, which often impedes access to health services. That trend holds in Kansas, as research has shown that more than 80 percent of the state’s residents with disabilities do not consume the recommended five servings of fruits and vegetables per day, and nearly three-quarters are overweight or obese.

“We want to address those disparities so everyone has the same access to health services and ultimately the same ability to improve their health outcomes,” Hall said.