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People with Disabilities: Information on the Health Care Workforce and Provider Training

GAO-24-106789 Published: Apr 30, 2024. Publicly Released: May 30, 2024.
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Fast Facts

In 2021, about 13% of people in the U.S. reported having a disability, including trouble walking, cognitive or hearing impairments, and difficulty living independently. People with disabilities also experience challenges accessing health care and may not always receive appropriate care.

Our Q&A report shows that most health care providers would benefit from more training on meeting the needs of people with disabilities—even though such training isn't widely required. Experts we spoke to suggested incorporating more disability content in clinical training, engaging the disability community in training development, and more.

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What GAO Found

An estimated 13 percent of people in the United States reported having a disability in 2021, according to the Annual Disability Statistics Compendium analysis of U.S. Census Bureau data. The U.S. Census Bureau defines a disability as a physical, mental, or emotional condition that causes vision or hearing impairments, or makes it seriously difficult for a person to perform activities such as walking, climbing stairs, dressing, bathing, concentrating, remembering, or running errands alone. People with disabilities are less likely to be employed, and may be underrepresented in certain health care occupations compared to people without disabilities.

People with disabilities comprised an estimated 6 percent of employed people in the United States in 2021, according to GAO's analysis of compendium estimates. Among the standard occupation groups related to health care, people with disabilities comprised an estimated 8 percent of those employed in health care support, such as home health aides, and an estimated 4 percent of health care practitioners and technicians.

People with disabilities experience challenges accessing health care and are at increased risk of health disparities, such as lower life expectancy. Stakeholders GAO interviewed noted that disability training for health care providers is not widely required or standardized by the organizations that accredit provider training programs. While GAO identified several disability-related training programs, including some supported by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), stakeholders said that providers need additional training. Stakeholders noted that limited training can affect the care people with disabilities receive, including contributing to delays in receiving care, or the need to travel long distances. Stakeholders identified several best practices for disability training:

  • Incorporate disability content into existing training.
  • Offer direct engagement with the disability community.
  • Target provider bias and disability stereotypes.

Why GAO Did This Study

GAO was asked to examine the prevalence of people with disabilities in the health care workforce, and to describe how providers are trained to meet the health needs of people with disabilities. This report describes the prevalence of people with disabilities in the United States by type of disability, employment status, and certain occupation groups. It also describes examples and stakeholder perspectives related to the training providers receive to meet the health care needs of people with disabilities.

GAO reviewed and analyzed information in the Annual Disability Statistics Compendiums, which are based on data from the U.S. Census Bureau's American Community Survey. GAO also interviewed officials from HHS and 14 stakeholder organizations representing a range of perspectives, including educators, trainees, researchers, providers, and the disability community; reviewed research studies and online training repositories; and conducted web-based research.

For more information, contact Leslie V. Gordon at (202) 512-7114 or

Full Report

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Best practicesCensusContinuing educationDevelopmental disabilitiesHealth careHealth care providersHealth care standardsPeople with disabilitiesPhysical disabilitiesTraining programs