Congratulations Mr. President!
Dear President-Elect Obama:
|James H. Rimmer, Ph.D., Director|
This time around, we need to rethink how we can promote wellness among people with and without disabilities. The mantra for reducing health care costs -- exercising more, eating better, not smoking, limiting alcohol intake, staying socially connected, and maintaining a healthy weight -- doesn't seem to be resonating for many people with disabilities. Several national data sets paint a bleak picture of the much poorer health among people with disabilities compared to the rest of the population. Youth and adults with disabilities are more overweight, have a higher rate of unemployment, deal with pain, fatigue, depression and other secondary conditions associated with their disability, and may have little disposable income to purchase health-enhancing products such as exercise equipment, health club memberships, and healthier foods. They can ill-afford to have a downturn in health, and yet when told by their doctor to exercise or lose weight, they are rarely, if ever, given the resources or knowledge to do so.
So here are a few suggestions that we hope you will consider as you begin to explore new ways to promote the health of people with disabilities:
- Within your plan to rebuild the nation's transportation infrastructure, consider how you can provide people with disabilities greater access to all forms of transportation. Many experts have noted that one of the worst hardships for people with disabilities is lack of transportation. The more people are out of their homes and actively participating in community activities, the more likely they will be able to improve their physical and psychological health.
- Make exercise part of your medical prescription plan. It is one of the most cost effective ways to improve overall health, including reducing the risk of falls and depression, improving cognition, lowering the risk of cardiovascular disease, certain forms of cancer, and type 2 diabetes, and helping to maintain a healthy weight. A report by the Department of Health and Human Services in October of 2008 highlights the benefits of exercise for people with and without disabilities. The one problem, however, is that many people with disabilities cannot afford exercise equipment or a health club membership. That is why we need universal exercise coverage that will be affordable and accessible to people with disabilities.
- Encourage the business community to subsidize inexpensive computers for people with disabilities who cannot afford one. Your campaign was quite successful in promoting your candidacy across the Internet, and we can do the same for disseminating information that incentivizes people with disabilities to manage their health better. There is a wealth of health-related information on the Internet that people with disabilities currently cannot access because they may not have a computer. Open the Internet highway so that they can promote their own health and stay connected with others who have a similar health condition or disability.
- Create a Peace Corps of volunteers who are ready and willing to promote the health of other members in their community. Something as small as driving a neighbor with a disability to a gym once or twice a week or taking an older adult with Alzheimer's for a walk up and down the block could be a great way to reduce the debilitating effects of a sedentary lifestyle while promoting health (and reducing social isolation) among neighbors who are stuck in their home for much of the day.
And so, President-elect Obama, we at NCHPAD are confident that your new approach to rebuilding our communities from the ground up will pay dividends to everyone in those communities - including people with disabilities. Let's use this holiday season to gather good thoughts about our future and begin to think positively about how we can integrate people with disabilities into the infrastructure of society so that everyone has an equal opportunity to improve their health, happiness, and wellbeing. Happy Holidays.