October 2019: CHE ARC Newsletter 

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October 2019

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A healthy Louisville where everyone and every community thrives.

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Louisville, KY 40202



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  • T. Gonzales has been named Director of the Center for Health Equity. Since 2018, he has served as the Center’s Interim Director. We’re excited for everything possible with his leadership! See the full announcement here.
  • Check out the new Embrace the Journey website! This is designed to educate the parents of LGBTQ+ children and adolescents to give children the emotional support they need. This site is a result of collaborative work between the University of Louisville School of Public Health and Information Sciences, the Kent School of Social Work, and Louisville Metro Department of Public Health and Wellness!

Featured Story 


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October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month


October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month. This offers a perfect opportunity to share what we’ve been discussing about ableism and its relationship to health outcomes for people with disabilities.

What are disabilities?

One definition we like comes from the University of Leeds who make a critical distinction between impairment and disability. The University of Leeds define them separately, naming impairment as the “injury, illness, or congenital condition that causes or is likely to cause a loss or difference of physiological or psychological function.” According to the Center for Disease Control, impairments can vary and impact a person’s “vision, movement, thinking, remembering, learning, communication, hearing, mental health, [and] social relationships.” 

Pro Tip: Disabilities can be visible or unseen to others. It is important that we build a kind of society where all people are welcome, rather than creating situations where people have to tell medically private information in order to receive basic accommodations.

The University of Leeds also clarifies disability as a distinct concept that is the “loss or limitation of opportunities to take part in society on an equal level with others due to social and environmental barriers.” This clarifies the problem to be solved; it’s the way that society (and people with power to make systems-level decisions) approach disabilities, not the disability itself.

Systems of Power, Disability, and Public Health

Reflecting on the tree metaphor, systems of power are the soil all root causes are planted in and impacts the patterns we see in the leaves (health outcomes). The system of power associated with disability is ableism. The Center for Disability Rights defines ableism as “a set of beliefs or practices that devalue and discriminate against people with physical, intellectual, or psychiatric disabilities and often rests on the assumption that disabled people need to be ‘fixed’ in one form or the other.”  

According to Project CHEER, 1 in 3 Kentuckians have a disability which makes up a considerable size of our community. However, it is important to note that civil rights weren’t written into policy for people with disabilities until the American with Disabilities Act (ADA) signed in 1990. Thirty years later, we know that people with disabilities continue to experience health inequities as a result of concentrated inequitable experiences with root causes (e.g. housing, access to health and human services, transportation, and more).

National Disability Employment Awareness Month provides us with one such example. Among individuals age 16-64, around 30% of those living with a disability were employed, compared to 74% of those without a disability, according to the Current Population Survey. And, for the 30% of those who are employed, there is potential of being paid far below the federal minimum wage, as allowed by the Fair Labor Standards Act. This has a significant economic and quality of life impact while also reinforcing the belief that people with disabilities are less capable than able-bodied people. However, National Disability Employment Awareness Month offers an opportunity “to acknowledge the people with disabilities whose work helps keep the nation’s economy strong” as a critical component to developing a thriving community. For more examples of the impact of ableism on root causes, see the What We’re Reading section below.

Pro Tip: It’s important to recognize that some people with disabilities will not be able to work and that is okay! Our vision at CHE is to build a community where everyone and every community thrives without the caveat of what you can produce in a workplace. There are many ways to add value to our community. Work is only one way.

Moving towards transformation

We can all be part of the work to improve health and wellbeing for people with disabilities, in part by understanding how ableism has shaped our own thinking and approach to disability. Connecting with and listening to those most impacted by ableism is an important first step so we can transform our systems to work for everyone.

From a public health perspective, not all chronic illnesses or other disabilities can be “healed” and some people will navigate the symptoms of illness or disease for the duration of their life. Likewise, a person who is considered “able” today may experience disability tomorrow.  As we advocate for improved public health, we must ensure we improve conditions that create many illnesses while also designing a welcoming society for everyone, including people with disabilities as a valued part of our community.

What might that look like? Here are some ideas:

  • Pay attention to your language and ways it may repeat patterns of ableism. Check out this resource or this one for examples and alternatives!
  • Learn about the rich history of people with disabilities. This Disability History Timeline is a great starter resource.

Most importantly, we know the way to advance health equity is to address root causes and build towards systems-level transformation. Learn with us as we grow in our work to improve systems in ways that share power so that no one experiences limited opportunities based on ableism or any other inequitable system of power.



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What We’re Reading