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APTA's participation in a coalition pressing for a greater focus on disability and rehabilitation research has helped fuel a significant change at the National Institutes of Health: the official designation of people with disabilities as a population with health disparities. The change will open the door for research on how disability intersects with inequitable health outcomes, particularly among people with disabilities who are also part of populations that experience disparities due to racial, ethnic, socioeconomic, or geographic factors.

"This designation recognizes the importance and need for research advances to improve our understanding of the complexities leading to disparate health outcomes and multilevel interventions,” Eliseo Pérez-Stable, MD, director of the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities, or NIMHD, said in an NIH press release. "Toward this effort, NIMHD and other NIH institutes launched a new research program to better understand the health disparities faced by people with disabilities who are also part of other populations designated as having health disparities."

APTA, a member of the Disability & Rehabilitation Research Coalition, which helped to drive the new research opportunities, applauded the change.

"The fight for greater equity, particularly in health care, must acknowledge and include individuals with disabilities," said Kyle Covington, PT, DPT, PhD, vice speaker of APTA's House of Delegates and chair of APTA's Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Committee. "Shining a research light on the intersection between disability and health disparities can help us move toward better access to needed care for all. This decision by NIH will amplify that effort."

Along with the announcement of the change, NIH also issued a notice of funding opportunity "calling for research on novel and innovative approaches and interventions that address the intersecting impact of disability, race and ethnicity, and socioeconomic status on health care access and outcomes."

"APTA's advocacy for people with disabilities is a multifaceted effort, and this win will help to raise awareness beyond the research community," said APTA Vice President Susan Appling, PT, DPT, PhD, who also chairs the association's Public Policy and Advocacy Committee. "NIH's decision to acknowledge a fundamental reality of health care outcomes for people living with a disability represents a real step forward, and will be an important touchpoint as we continue our work on Capitol Hill and among policymakers and payers to press for equal access to needed care."

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