Senator Harkin Reintroduces Promoting Wellness for Individuals with Disabilities Act

April 3, 2007

Senator Harkin’s floor statement on reintroduction of the Promoting Wellness for Individuals with Disabilities Act

S. 1050. A bill to amend the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the Public Health Service Act to set standards for medical diagnostic equipment and to establish a program for promoting good health, disease prevention, and wellness and for the prevention of secondary conditions for individuals with disabilities, and for other purposes; to the Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions.

Mr. HARKIN. Mr. President, today I introduce the Promoting Wellness for Individuals with Disabilities Act. This important legislation will help ensure that people with disabilities have the same health and wellness opportunities as everyone else—through increasing access to accessible medical equipment, creating a health and wellness grant program, and improving the competency of medical professionals in providing care to patients with disabilities.

The health and wellness of America's citizens has long been one of my top priorities. Too often, many Americans don't know about or lack access to health screenings and preventive services. As Ben Franklin said, ``An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.''

However, it is often difficult for many people with disabilities to access this ounce of prevention. Visits to physicians' offices often do not include accessible examination and diagnostic equipment, such as accessible examination tables, weight scales, and mammography machines for people with mobility or balance issues. The presence of these physical barriers can reduce the likelihood that persons with disabilities will receive timely and appropriate medical services.

For example, one woman—a physician herself—told me that she has not had a complete physical examination since her spinal cord injury more than a decade ago because the tables are too high for her to get onto. She has not had a mammogram or colonoscopy because, as she puts it, it seems like such an effort to have to explain to the technicians her needs, to get them to lift her, and so on. These issues, which many of us take for granted, represent significant barriers to people with disabilities.

Further, health and wellness programs on topics such as smoking cessation, weight control, nutrition, or fitness may not focus on the unique challenges faced by individuals with disabilities. And it may be difficult for persons with particular disabilities, such as those with intellectual disabilities, to find physicians or dentists who are willing to take them on as patients. All of these factors can also increase the incidence of secondary conditions for people with disabilities.

I believe that the ``Promoting Wellness for Individuals with Disabilities Act'' is a good first step toward addressing these problems. The bill would: authorize the U.S. Access Board to establish accessibility standards for medical diagnostic equipment—including examination tables, examination chairs, weight scales, and mammography equipment, x-ray machines, and other radiological equipment commonly used for diagnostic purposes by medical professionals; establish a national wellness grant program that will help fund programs or activities for smoking cessation, weight control, nutrition or fitness that focus on the unique challenges faced by individuals with disabilities; preventive health screening programs for individuals with disabilities to reduce the incidence of secondary conditions; and athletic, exercise, or sports programs that provide individuals with disabilities an opportunity to increase their physical activity; and improve education and training of physicians and dentists by requiring that medical schools, dental schools, and their residency programs provide training to improve competency and clinical skills in providing care to patients with disabilities, including those with intellectual disabilities.

I invite my fellow Members to join me in support of this legislation. Together, we can make certain that people with disabilities are not limited in their access to quality medical care, or in their opportunities for health and wellness.

I ask unanimous consent that the text of the bill be printed in the Record.

There being no objection, the text of the bill was ordered to be printed in the RECORD, as follows:

(View text of the bill)