On September 26, 2023. the 50th Anniversary of Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, the National Institutes of Health’s (NIH’s) National Institutes on Minority Health and Health Disparities (NIMHD) announced that persons with disabilities are now designated as a population
experiencing health disparities. This announcement is significant because it expands access to research funds for eliminating health disparities and ensures that persons with disabilities are included both as researchers and as research subjects. According to the NIH, the disparities designation is for populations that “experience significant disparities in their rates of illness, morbidity, mortality and survival, driven by social disadvantage, compared to the health status of the general population.” People with disabilities experience poorer health and shorter lifespans than the general population, even after accounting for the disabling condition, exacerbated by discrimination in the health care system. The NIMHD’s decision is a reversal from a NIMHD advisory panel’s initial recommendation in early September that opposed a disparity designation, and follows an outcry from the disability community.