A report issued recently by U.S. Surgeon General Richard Carmona, MD, calls on health professionals, among others, to improve quality of life and health care for people with disabilities.
Research psychologists can help with these efforts by, for example, creating disability-sensitive psychometric tools and developing research to enhance the evidence base for best practices in clinical-service delivery for people with disabilities. Clinically, psychologists can treat the "whole person"-not just the disability-when working with a client who has a disability, says psychologist David Gray, PhD, a contributor to the report and an associate neurology and occupational therapy professor at Washington University in St. Louis.
In particular, "The Surgeon General's Call to Action to Improve the Health and Wellness of Persons with Disabilities," released this year to coincide with the 15th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, identifies the following four goals:
Increase understanding that people with disabilities lead long, healthy and productive lives.
Provide health-care professionals with the knowledge and tools to screen, diagnose and treat-with dignity-the whole person with a disability.
Increase awareness among people with disabilities about how they can develop and maintain healthy lifestyles.
Expand the number of accessible health-care and support services that promote independence for people with disabilities.
"This is a goldmine for psychologists to try to get a grip on the health-care status of people with disabilities," says Gray, whose research examines people with mobility impairments and the resources they need for optimal functioning in their communities.
For example, clinicians and researchers can help identify and enact health-promotion programs and interventions for people with disabilities and increase public understanding of the positive-psychology aspects of life with a disability, says psychologist Louis Quatrano, PhD, a contributor to the report and program director for the behavioral science and rehabilitation branch at the National Institutes of Health.
Furthermore, psychologists can increase interdisciplinary research collaboration on early diagnosis and treatment of disabilities and educate other health professionals about the health-care needs of people with disabilities, says Quatrano.
-M. Dittmann Tracey