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Office on Disability

Fact Sheet - March 2005


With President Bush’s New Freedom Initiative providing the principles for change, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Office on Disability (OD) is working to tear down the barriers that prevent persons with disabilities from fully participating in an inclusive community life, whether the barriers are at the Federal, States, or community level, and whether the barriers are to employment or education, to housing or transportation, or to health care or the use of adaptive technologies. Established by the HHS Secretary in 2002, the Office on Disability is the focal point for disability program and policy across the Department, with other Federal agencies and Departments, with States and communities, and with public and private sector partners. The OD has been charged to –

  • Lead HHS implementation of solutions contained in the Department’s New Freedom Initiative report to the President;
  • Oversee, coordinate, develop and implement disability programs and initiatives within HHS that affect persons with disabilities;
  • Ensure that persons with disabilities across the lifespan have a voice within HHS;
  • Heighten interactions across disability-related programs within HHS, and with federal, state, community, and private sector partners;  and
  • Increase national focus and awareness which will help Americans living with disabilities.

Margaret J. Giannini, M.D., F.A.A.P., Director
Eileen Elias, M.Ed., Deputy Director

Featured Programs

  • Housing Opportunities for Persons with Disabilities: OD-convened live webcast housing symposia (2003, 2004), available on the OD website, provided a roadmap for national disability organizations to help persons with disabilities understand how States, communities, and local constituency groups can foster homeowner­ship and reduce the risk for homelessness and can promote universal design and access modification for persons with disabilities

  • Special Needs of Young Adults: OD Policy Academies help States and communities develop and implement action plans and establish the integrated infrastructure needed to meet health, employment, education, housing, and transportation needs of young adults (ages 16-30) with disabilities. This population is at particular risk for increased health risks and secondary conditions, and for becoming homeless, criminalized, or inappropriately institutionalized.

  • Employment and Economic Security for Persons with Disabilities: TAX FACTS provides ongoing information about favorable tax provisions and asset building for individuals with disabilities, their families, and employers to empower and advance self-directed economic security.

  • Surgeon General’s Call to Action To Improve the Health and Wellness of Persons with Disabilities: The Surgeon General’s Call to Action addresses the access challenges to health and wellness faced by individuals with disabilities of all kinds. Developed with the OD, it identifies both a goal and four objectives that, together, can help Americans of all ages with disabilities experience healthy lives in their communities.

  • Physical Fitness for Youth with Disabilities:   As part of the President’s Healthier U.S. initiative, the I Can Do It; You Can Do It program promotes physical fitness among children and youth with disabilities by reaching out to national constituent-based organizations to match physically fit adult mentors with children and youth with disabilities who enter the fitness program.

  • 508 Adherence:  Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act requires Federal agencies' electronic and information technology to be fully accessible to people with disabilities. The Section 508 HHS Implementation Policy was set in place on January 6, 2005. OD is promoting compliance through ongoing oversight and training.

  • Office on Disability Website:  The OD website is the focal point for HHS disability information. It links to HHS agencies, other Federal partners, and, by the end of 2005, to State Offices on Disability. Further enhancements will provide online caseworker tools and state resource tools to further help provide community-based resources to persons with disabilities nationwide.

  • Persons from Underrepresented Minorities with Disabilities: The Office OD is developing a proposal to address the unique health challenges of persons of color with disabilities. American Indians/Alaska Natives, African Americans, Hispanics/Latinos, and Asian Americans/Pacific Islanders often have high rates of disability and limited access to needed community-based services.

  • Eliminating Transportation Barriers:  The OD is helping to meet the disability-related requirements of the President’s February 2004 Executive Order on Human Service Transportation by providing guidance and consumer-based input to assure that the full range of transportation needs of persons with disabilities remain in the forefront of discussion and implementation.

  • Caregiver/Workforce Challenges for Persons with Disabilities: An OD-led workgroup is identifying the strengths, gaps, and opportunities in HHS caregiving-related programs to enhance the human capacity to promote community living for people with disabilities.

  • Children and Youth with Both Developmental Disabilities and Behavioral Disorders: The OD is implementing a comprehensive work plan to address the infrastructure barriers to integrated services for children and youth experiencing both developmental disabilities and emotional and/or substance use disorders.

  • Health Needs of Women with Disabilities: To increase awareness and improve access to health care for women with disabilities, the OD convened a 2004 summit, Breaking Down Barriers to Health Care for Women with Disabilities, highlighting challenges and exploring ways to overcome these barriers to provide the best possible care. A white paper with the conference action agenda will be available on the OD website.

  • Persons with Disabilities and Emergency Response: Building on President Bush’s Executive Order on Emergency Preparedness for Federal Employees with Disabilities, the OD is leading efforts to help ensure that the service needs of persons with disabilities are part of emergency preparedness plans at the Federal, state, tribal and community levels.

  • Young Children with Hearing Loss and their Families:  Because early intervention for young children who are deaf or hard of hearing can help future growth and health, OD established a workgroup that is identifying service gaps and making recommendations to help reduce the immediate and long-term issues for these young children and their families. Three separate reports are being developed and will be available on the OD website.

  • Addressing Disability Issues Worldwide: The OD plans and convenes Biennial International Congresses on Children with Special Needs. With representatives from over 50 countries, the 2004 Congress, convened in Stavanger, Norway, addressed the role of families and communities in building cross-disciplinary systems of support that integrate health, education, and social needs of children and young adults.