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Disability affects more than 1 billion people globally. These include more than 61 million people living in the United States. This translates to one in every four noninstitutionalized residents of the US (Okoro, Hollis, Cyrus, & Griffin-Blake, 2018; Office of the Surgeon General & Office on Disability, 2005; World Health Organization [WHO], 2011). The prevalence of disability continues to increase over time (Iezzoni, Kurtz, & Rao, 2014; Okoro et al., 2018). Still, these statistics likely underestimate the number of people with disability because they do not include those who live in institutions or are active duty military personnel. Based on these statistics, the population of people with disability is the largest minority group (United Nations, 2019).

Disability occurs in every age group across the life span, in every community, in every racial and ethnic group, and in every socioeconomic category. Disability can be visible or invisible (or not apparent to others). It can range from mild, with little effect on function, to very severe, necessitating support for survival. This includes support from others as well as technological support.

Multiple studies have reported that people with disability across all these groups receive healthcare that is inferior to that received by those without disability. People with disability encounter multiple barriers to optimal health and quality healthcare. They are more likely than people without disability to report lack of access to healthcare, less participation in preventive health screening (including Pap tests, mammograms, and bone density tests), less involvement in health promotion activities, and greater susceptibility to preventable health problems. All these can lead to overall poor health and poor quality of life.

The social determinants of health contribute to the inequities in health and healthcare experienced by people with disability. See Chapter 2 for further discussion of this issue.


Disability and the health-related needs of people with disability are not adequately addressed by the healthcare disciplines, including nursing. This important topic must be addressed by all healthcare professions, including nursing and nursing education, to prepare future generations of health professionals to provide quality healthcare to those with disability. The high prevalence of disability across the globe and in the US is reason enough to justify greater attention to disability in nursing, from nursing education to practice to administration and research.

Because the topic of disability is not well addressed by any group or category of health professionals, the nursing profession has the opportunity to take the lead in addressing disability in the education and training of future nurses and other healthcare professionals, in participating in interprofessional care and collaboration with colleagues from other disciplines, in changing institutional policies, and in advocating for policy change to improve the healthcare and healthcare access of people with disability.

Multiple calls to action have been issued ...

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