Need for and Benefits of the Proposed Standards

The U.S. Census Bureau reports that 54.4 million Americans, about one in five U.S. residents, reported some level of disability in 2005.[1] The number of individuals with disabilities is almost equal to the combined total population of California and Florida. The U.S. Census Bureau provides this breakdown of the population of people aged 15 and older:

  • 27.4 million (11.9 percent) had difficulty with ambulatory activities of the lower body;
  • 22.6 million (9.8 percent) had difficulty walking a quarter of a mile;
  • 21.8 million (9.4 percent) had difficulty climbing a flight of stairs;
  • 10.2 million (4.4 percent) used a cane, crutches, or walker to assist with mobility;
  • 3.3 million (1.4 percent) used a wheelchair or other wheeled mobility device;
  • 7.8 million (3 percent) had difficulty seeing words or letters in ordinary newspaper print, including 1.8 million who are completely unable to see; and
  • 7.8 million (3 percent) had difficulty hearing conversations, including 1 million who are unable to hear conversations at all.

The prevalence of disability increases with age. The Administration on Aging reports that there were 39.6 million persons age 65 or older in the United States in 2009, and that this population is expected to increase to 55 million in 2020.[2] Among this population, 37 percent reported some type of disability in 2005.[3]

A national survey collected information on the types of medical equipment that is most difficult for individuals with disabilities to access and use.[4] The survey was completed by a diverse sample of individuals with a wide range of disabilities, including mobility disabilities and sensory disabilities. Survey respondents who had experience with specific medical equipment rated their degree of difficulty when attempting to access or use the equipment as follows:

  • 75 percent rated examination tables as moderately      difficult to impossible to use;
  • 68 percent rated radiology equipment as moderately      difficult to impossible to use;
  • 53 percent rated weight scales as moderately      difficult to impossible to use; and
  • 50 percent rated examination chairs as moderately      difficult to impossible to use.

Survey respondents reported difficulties with getting on and off the equipment, positioning their bodies on the equipment, physical comfort and safety, and communication issues. Focus group sessions of individuals with disabilities reported that participants find examination tables, imaging equipment, and other diagnostic equipment not only difficult but unsafe to use, and that these negative health care experiences can result in their not scheduling regular medical examinations and diagnostic procedures.[5]

A report on the “The Current State of Health Care for People with Disabilities” issued by the National Council on Disability found that individuals with disabilities experienced significant health disparities and barriers to health care, as compared to individuals without disabilities.[6] Among the key barriers cited in the report is the lack of accessible examination equipment. A report on the “Importance of Accessible Examination Tables, Chairs and Weight Scales” issued by the Center for Disability Issues and the Health Professions discusses how the lack of accessible equipment reduces the likelihood that individuals with disabilities will receive timely and appropriate health care.[7] Health care providers may not perform some diagnostic procedures for patients with disabilities because they lack accessible equipment. This can result in suboptimal examinations, missed or delayed diagnoses, and worsening conditions that require more expensive and extensive treatments.

The proposed standards address many of the barriers that have been identified as affecting the accessibility and usability of diagnostic equipment by individuals with disabilities. The standards will ensure that medical diagnostic equipment is accessible to and usable by individuals with disabilities, and will allow independent entry to, use of, and exit from the equipment by such individuals to the maximum extent possible. The standards will improve the quality of health care for individuals with disabilities and ensure that they receive examinations, diagnostic procedures, and other health care services equal to those received by individuals without disabilities. The standards will facilitate independent transfers by individuals with disabilities onto and off of diagnostic equipment, and enable them to maintain their independence, confidence, and dignity. The standards will lessen the need for health care personnel to assist individuals with disabilities when transferring on and off of diagnostic equipment. Where assisted transfers are necessary, the proposed standards will also facilitate such transfers. The proposed standards will reduce the risk of injury during transfers to both health care personnel and patients.[8] The proposed standards will result in more positive health care experiences for individuals with disabilities and health care providers.