Health and Wellness

Health—physical, mental and emotional—is a key ingredient to living well. People with disabilities are disproportionately impacted by poorer overall health due to barriers to health care and increased rates of chronic diseases. Furthermore, they often experience secondary conditions such as pain, fatigue, weakness and depression. Many of these conditions can be prevented or alleviated with lifestyle modifications and preventive care.

People with disabilities are more likely to experience the following risk factors compared to people without disabilities:

  • Experience difficulties or delays in getting the health care they need.
  • Not have had an annual dental visit.
  • Not have had a mammogram in past two years.
  • Not have had a Pap test within the past three years.
  • Not engage in fitness activities.
  • Use tobacco.
  • Be overweight or obese.
  • Have high blood pressure.
  • Experience symptoms of psychological distress.
  • Receive less social-emotional support.
  • Have lower employment rates.

Other Helpful Resources

This website provides resources for people with disabilities to stay well, be active, and be a part of the community.

Quick guide from that provides various health and wellness tips, related to exercise, nutrition, sleep, and more, for students.

Health People 2020 information and statistics regarding disability and health.


Persons with disabilities are at much higher risk for developing chronic health diseases such as diabetes, heart disease and stroke due to obesity, decreased activity, poor nutrition, and metabolic changes that occur with some disabilities and injuries. The increasing rate of obesity in children with disabilities is particularly alarming.

Most health promotion activities fail to address the unique needs and challenges that people with disabilities face when it comes to adopting these lifestyle improvements. However proper nutrition, exercise and preventive health care practices can help both children and adults improve health and well-being and decrease the risk of chronic diseases and secondary conditions that often accompany disabilities.

Other Helpful Resources

American Association on Health and Disability supports health promotion and wellness initiatives for children and adults with disabilities. Provides an online health promotion resource center, database of model programs and best practices and publishes the journal, Disability and Health.

This Disability and Obesity CDC website provides information and resources regarding obesity among those with disabilities, including action steps, risks, and references.

Aging with a Disability

People with disabilities are living longer with better health care and supports. Older adults with disabilities have unique health care needs–the normal aging process is often complicated by a lifetime of reduced mobility, poorer general health, medications, surgeries, etc. Symptoms such as pain, arthritis, joint problems, and fatigue are not uncommon.

Older adults with disabilities should follow the healthy guidelines recommended for everyone such as receiving regular medical care and adopting a healthy lifestyle.

Preventive Health Care Screening Guidelines for People Aging with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (PDF)

Report summarizing what health care providers, individuals with disabilities, families and care givers need to know to make sure that individuals with disabilities receive the appropriate medical and preventative health care and other environmental supports they require throughout their lifespan so that they may focus on maximizing their abilities as they age.

Rehabilitation Research and Training Center on Aging with a Disability

The Center on Aging with Disabilities addresses the specific challenges that affect people who are aging with physical disabilities, specifically targeting persons with spinal cord injury, multiple sclerosis, post-polio syndrome, and muscular dystrophy.


Good nutrition plays a role in reducing the risk of chronic diseases such as type 2 diabetes, hypertension, and certain cancers. It also reduces the risk of nutrient deficiencies which can occur in people with disabilities, especially those with feeding, chewing, or swallowing problems or who take certain medications. The following resources provide more information about nutrition and disabilities.

USDA Resource on Nutrition and Disability

Find information, tools and resources useful in providing nutrition education to individuals living with mental and physical disabilities.

Physical Activity

Individuals with disabilities can gain benefits from physical activity such as enhancing the functioning and health of their heart, lungs, muscles and bones. Flexibility, mobility and coordination can be improved, lessening the negative effects of some conditions or slowing the progression of others. Physical activity is fun and provides a chance to meet people and make new friends.

A little creativity, along with adaptive or customized equipment, can make almost any activity possible, including swimming, horseback riding, cycling, waterskiing, and even rock climbing. People with all types of disabilities–physical, cognitive or developmental can participate.

NCPAD has a wealth of information on physical activity for people with disabilities including exercise guidelines, fact sheets on many popular activities, games, recreational pursuits and sports that have been adapted to allow people with disabilities to participate as fully as they wish, how to find a certified inclusive fitness instructor and much more.

Clinical report from the American Academy of Pediatrics discusses the importance of physical activity, recreation, and sports participation for children with disabilities and offers practical suggestions to pediatric health care professionals for the promotion of participation.

The manual offers information and resources related to adapted physical education.

PE Central has resources for teachers and school personnel on adapted physical education including skill assessment instruments, lesson plans, research, national standards and including physical education in students’ Individual Educational Plan.

Move United is an organization that promotes national leadership and opportunities for individuals with disabilities to develop independence, confidence, and fitness through participation in community sports.

Oral Health

The oral health problems of individuals with disabilities are complex. These problems may be due to the disability itself as well as to the inability to receive the personal and professional health care needed to maintain oral health. Lack of dental insurance or the inability to pay out of pocket and problems of access contribute to this problem. Also, people with certain disabilities might require a dentist who is specifically trained in treating people with disabilities; however, these specialists are not found in every community.

The American Academy of Pediatrics found that dental care is the most prevalent unmet health care need for children with special health care needs, affecting substantially more children than any other health care need category. Read the full article in the Journal of Pediatrics, 2005.

We are learning more and more about the importance of oral health to overall health and well-being. Numerous studies have demonstrated an association between periodontal diseases and diabetes, cardiovascular disease, stroke, and adverse pregnancy outcomes—ailments that people with disabilities are at higher risk for to begin with.

The Dental Life Line Network is a national nonprofit organization, founded in 1974, to provide access to dental care and education for people who cannot afford it and have a permanent disability, or who are elderly or medically fragile.

Complete listing of state government sponsored dental programs.

The “Special Smiles” program helps cover the costs of dental treatment, including hospital and anesthesia costs, when needed, for children with cerebral palsy, muscular dystrophy and related neuromuscular disorders, those with mental retardation, and organ transplant recipients.

Women’s Health

Women with disabilities sometimes experience barriers when it comes to routine screening and wellness exams. These barriers include problems in accessing health care and the lack of providers who are informed about health in the context of disabilities. 

The Center for Research on Women with Disabilities (CROWD), reports that women with disabilities are often denied reproductive and other types of health care, or given substandard care compared to women with uncomplicated health care needs. Several studies have documented the lack of health insurance among women with disabilities. 

A Providers Guide for the Care of Women with Physical Disabilities and Chronic Medical Conditions (PDF) 

The guide is designed for clinicians to improve their knowledge and practice in providing care to women with physical disabilities and chronic health conditions. It includes information on access to general medical care, removing common barriers, comprehensive reproductive health care and health promotion and wellness.


Pregnancy and Parenting

Many women with cerebral palsy and other disabilities have had healthy and successful pregnancies. However, just as with any pregnancy, the mother with a disability will require regular monitoring by a specialist to ensure that the pregnancy is progressing as planned and the baby is doing well. The abilities and resources that the mother with a disability has are the best determinants of how well she will be able to take care of the child after delivery.

The following Web sites offer information about pregnancy and parenting with a disability:

Through the Looking Glass: National Center for Parents with Disabilities

The National Center empowers parents and potential parents with disabilities by disseminating disability-appropriate information regarding parenting to parents, disability advocates, and legal, medical, intervention and social services providers. Their overall goal is to increase information and support more disability-appropriate resources for parents with disabilities and their children throughout the U.S.


Violence Against Women

Research suggests that women with disabilities are more likely to experience domestic violence, emotional abuse, and sexual assault than women without disabilities. Women with disabilities may also feel more isolated and feel they are unable to report the abuse, or they may be dependent on the abuser for their care. Like many women who are abused, women with disabilities are usually abused by someone they know, such as a partner or family member.

Violence Against Women with Disabilities

Resources from the US Department of Health and Human Services, Office on Women’s Health.


Other Helpful Resources

Breast Cancer Screening: The Right to Know Campaign

Health promotion materials from the CDC designed to increase awareness of breast cancer among women with physical disabilities and encourage these women to get screened. 

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