A cascade of disparities: health and health care access for people with intellectual disabilities

Ment Retard Dev Disabil Res Rev. 2006;12(1):70-82. doi: 10.1002/mrdd.20098.


People with ID represent approximately 2% of the population and, as a group, experience poorer health than the general population. This article presents recent conceptualizations that begin to disentangle health from disability, summarizes the literature from 1999 to 2005 in terms of the cascade of disparities, reviews intervention issues and promising practices, and provides recommendations for future action and research. The reconceptualization of health and disability examines health disparity in terms of the determinants of health (genetic, social circumstances, environment, individual behaviors, health care access) and types of health conditions (associated, comorbid, secondary). The literature is summarized in terms of a cascade of disparities experienced by people with ID, including a higher prevalence of adverse conditions, inadequate attention to care needs, inadequate focus on health promotion, and inadequate access to quality health care services. Promising practices are reviewed from the perspective of persons with ID, providers of care and services, and policies that influence systems of care. Recommendations across multiple countries and organizations are synthesized as guidelines to direct future action. They call for promoting principles of early identification, inclusion, and self-determination of people with ID; reducing the occurrence and impact of associated, comorbid, and secondary conditions; empowering caregivers and family members; promoting healthy behaviors in people with ID; and ensuring equitable access to quality health care by people with ID. Their broadscale implementations would begin to reduce the health disparity experienced by people with ID.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Cross-Cultural Comparison
  • Health Services Accessibility / statistics & numerical data*
  • Health Services Needs and Demand / statistics & numerical data*
  • Health Status
  • Humans
  • Intellectual Disability / epidemiology*
  • Intellectual Disability / rehabilitation
  • Reference Values
  • Social Justice / statistics & numerical data*