Building Healthy Inclusive Communities
Creating opportunities for healthy, active living by people of all abilities is a priority as we plan our communities.
Since passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) 27 years ago, communities have become more inclusive and people with disabilities have better access to buildings, transportation, and employment. However, there is still work to be done, and we all play a role in creating communities where everybody can thrive.
One in five adults in the United States have some type of disability, and many people will experience a disability during their lifetimes. A disability is any condition of the body or mind that makes it more difficult for the person with the condition to do certain activities and interact with the surrounding world. However, the way our cities are built and how we provide access to the places where people live, work, learn, and play can either strongly encourage or serve as a major barrier for people with disabilities to participate and be included in community life.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is working with its partner, the National Association of Chronic Disease Directors (NACDD), on a project called Reaching People with Disabilities through Healthy Communities. Through this project, five states and 10 local communities are working together to build healthy communities specifically designed to include people with disabilities and make sure they have opportunities for healthy eating, physical activity, and social participation. Here is some of their work:
Inclusive Physical Activity to Adams County, Ohio
About one in six school-aged children in Adams County have a disability, and until recently, it was difficult for these students to participate in physical activity. However, Community Coaches for NACDD’s Reaching People with Disabilities through Healthy Communities Project met with superintendents and directors of special education from two school districts and things began to change. Community Coaches, who are leading experts in healthy communities and disabilities and health, provided education to these officials about the importance of inclusive physical activity and various uses for adapted bicycles by students, teachers, and schools. Currently, all seven schools in Adams County are equipped with adapted bicycles that students with disabilities can enjoy, but more importantly, as a result of the project, both school districts now have formally adopted a new physical activity inclusion policy stating that children with disabilities be given the same opportunity to participate in physical education classes and activities as children without disabilities.
Children with disabilities are more likely to be obese than children without disabilities. Overweight and obesity can have serious health consequences for all people. Programs, like the one in Ohio, provide opportunities for children with disabilities to stay physically active and improve their health and wellbeing.
Accessible Streets in City of Olean, New York
In Cattaraugus County, New York, three in ten residents live with a disability, and the city has worked hard to make sure its streets are more walkable and accessible for everybody. The city underwent a street redesign that was compliant with the ADA and approved by the Department of Transportation, yet residents who experienced mobility, hearing, or vision limitations still had trouble crossing the street safely. Community Coaches from NACDD’s Reaching People with Disabilities through Healthy Communities Project recruited and trained residents with mobility, hearing, and vision impairments to meet with Directions in Independent Living (DIL), a disability community organization, and discuss the new street design. DIL staff facilitated a meeting with the City of Olean’s mayor, city council members, and residents from the city’s disability community to share accessibility and inclusion concerns with city stakeholders. Thanks to these actions new signs designed for people with mobility, hearing, and vision impairments were purchased by the city and installed, creating safe and accessible crosswalks in four locations. All Olean residents benefit from these improvements, and they also can now safely cross the busiest sections of town in these four locations.
Mobility device-charging stations in Umatilla County, Oregon
Approximately one in seven community members in Pendleton, Oregon are living with a disability and many of them rely on power wheelchairs and other mobility devices to get around and actively participate in their communities. However, all these devices run out of power after a certain period of time and when the battery dies, users can get stuck. Community Coach Darrin Umbarger, participant in NACDD’s Reaching People with Disabilities through Healthy Communities project and a power wheelchair user himself, found the perfect solution; he developed the mobility device-charging station. This unit, which can easily be mounted anywhere there is an electrical outlet, can assist power wheelchair users who need access to charging batteries while in the community. NACDD worked with Darrin and other Community Coaches to educate community partners and develop strategies to implement these devices throughout the entire county. Ten mobility device-charging stations have been installed in various community settings so far, including a recently installed charging station at the Oregon Statehouse, serving as the first power charging station at a state capital location in the country. Now, Darrin Umbarger and other power wheelchair users have an added sense of security, safety, and belonging to the community, where access to healthy living venues like community parks and places of interest are improved.
CDC would like to thank these communities and our partner, the National Association of Chronic Disease Directors (NACDD), for sharing their stories with us.
CDC’s Inclusive Communities Resources
Being healthy means the same for all of us—staying well so we can lead full, active lives. The key to being healthy for both those with and without a disability includes having the tools and information to:
- Make healthy choices,
- Create communities where everybody can actively participate, and
- Provide awareness of how to prevent illness.
Visit these resources to learn more: