Institute for Child, Youth and Family Policy

Disability and Equity

Child in wheelchair laughing with two adult women

Achieving health equity means creating environments in which every person can thrive. Yet, disability is often left out of public health and social equity frameworks. To examine disability from a health equity perspective is to acknowledge that disability results from a person’s condition interacting with their surrounding environment. Children and families with disabilities have complex needs. They experience higher rates of developmental, physical, and mental health challenges, which require coordinated support from schools, healthcare systems, and other safety net programs to increase accessibility. Social and structural determinants of health--race, school district, neighborhood, gender, and poverty--play a crucial role in these outcomes. Researchers at the Institute are developing solutions for healthier, more supportive environments for all children to grow by using an inclusive health equity framework. This approach highlights the built and social barriers that children, youth, and families living with disabilities encounter, rather than focusing on their disability as the inherent barrier.

We explicitly see disability as a multi-dimensional health equity issue that highlights the critical role of neighborhood environment on children and youth. Disability frameworks like the International Classification of Functioning and Disability provide guidance for examining the environmental context of disability. Researchers at the Institute are developing work based on health equity frameworks that integrate neighborhood environment, social determinants of health, and life course to advance research and practice on children and families with disabilities.