Disability advocates are urging the federal government to classify people with disabilities as a health disparity population. They are responding to a decision made by the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities’ National Advisory Committee, which rejected a plan to designate people with disabilities as a health disparity population. This decision has disappointed supporters who saw the label as a means to address discrimination in the healthcare system.
The designation of people with disabilities as a health disparity population would allow the National Institutes of Health to allocate resources specifically for researching healthcare disparities experienced by this group. It would also enable the recruitment of researchers and research participants with disabilities. Many organizations, including the Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund and the Autism Society of America, are now urging U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra to overrule the Committee’s decision. They argue that the criteria for designating people with disabilities as a health disparity population are met and that the rejection undermines current diversity and equity efforts.
The NIH currently recognizes underserved populations, rural areas, and sexual and gender minority groups as health disparity populations. The Committee justified its rejection by citing concerns about the lack of a standardized definition for disabilities and the limited resources available. They also expressed apprehension about being overwhelmed with applications given the broad and heterogeneous nature of the population. Instead, the Committee advocated for the establishment of a separate division of disability research at the NIH to conduct further studies on which disabled populations are affected by health disparities.
The NIH has not responded to inquiries regarding this matter. Disability advocates are eager to see people with disabilities recognized as a health disparity population and hope that the government will prioritize addressing the persistent disparities they face in the healthcare system.