People with disabilities are one of the largest and most underserved subpopulations in the United States, consisting of more than 54 million Americans, many of whom have physical disabilities. This group experiences higher prevalence, incidence, and burden of disease as well as shorter survival and differences in access to, quality of, and outcomes from the healthcare services that are provided to people with disabilities. Moreover, evidence suggests that individuals with disabilities are statistically more likely to be female, from racial and ethnic minority backgrounds, older, and living in poverty.

Modern conceptual models of disability provide a framework for conceptualizing how healthcare disparities impact disability and specifically how a mismatch between personal and environmental factors may result in reduced healthcare access and quality, which in turn may lead to reduced functioning, activity and participation among individuals with impairments and chronic health conditions. More importantly, it allows for the recognition of a wealth of modifiable factors to improve healthcare access, quality and outcomes for individuals with disabilities, which exist in both the personal and environmental domains.

CSEPH faculty are at the cutting edge of understanding how social and environmental factors either speed up or slow down the disablement process among individuals with multiple health conditions, including Spinal Cord Injury, stroke, multiple sclerosis, post-polio syndrome, muscular dystrophy, and muscular dystrophy. With funding from the National Institute of Disability, Independent Living and Rehabilitation Research, the Craig H. Neilsen Foundation, and the National Institutes of Health, CSEPH faculty are pushing new boundaries to understand how disability is an expression of a physical and mental limitation in a social context, and not the inherent characteristics of an individual.