Another Step Forward: NIH Designates People with Disabilities as a Population with Health Disparities

On September 26, 2023, the Director of the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities (NIMHD), Eliseo J. Pérez-Stable, MD, announced that people with disabilities are now designated as a population with health disparities for all research supported by the National Institutes of Health (NIH). This designation will have far-reaching impacts in terms of increased representation and consideration in NIH-funded research, and ultimately, improved health outcomes for people with disabilities. We anticipate these impacts will be particularly pronounced for people with disabilities who also belong to other minority groups, a segment of the population which has faced tremendous inequities in healthcare and beyond.

“This is a large and important step by the NIH and NIMHD to begin to reduce the health disparities faced by millions of people in the U.S. and around the world,” stated Dylan Edwards, PhD, endowed Shrier MRRI Director and Director of the Human Motor Recovery Laboratory.

Researchers at MRRI work with people with disabilities every day, and the core mission of the Institute and Jefferson Moss-Magee Rehabilitation is to improve the lives of individuals with neurological disabilities through research, education, clinical care and advocacy. “Our work in traumatic brain injury (TBI) supported by the Model System of Care has documented the high prevalence of poor health outcomes for persons living with disability as a result of TBI. This new designation from NIH will advance research to better understand how disability intersects with other identities to influence health. These efforts represent an important advance towards developing pathways for promoting equity and eliminating disparities,” commented Amanda Rabinowitz, PhD, MRRI Associate Director and Director of the Brain Injury Neuropsychology Laboratory.

This meaningful advance has come to fruition as a result of the efforts and dedication of many individuals who have been advocating over the years for people with disabilities, including Alberto Esquenazi, MD, Chief Clinical Officer at Jefferson Moss-Magee Rehabilitation and Enterprise SVP for Rehabilitation and Post-Acute care at Jefferson Health and a member of the Advisory Committee to NIH Director on Individuals with Disabilities.

It is important to note that the designation of people with disabilities as a population with health disparities is one of a series of steps that the NIH will be taking with the goals of reducing health disparities faced by this population and also increasing their representation in NIH-supported research. These initiatives promise to enhance the presence of persons with disability as researchers, as stakeholders in clinical research, and beneficiaries of research-driven advances in care to promote health, well-being, and community integration. The MRRI community looks forward to continued progress towards equity and inclusion for people with disabilities.

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