North Dakota: Off to a Great Start

The health and wellness prospects for people with disabilities in North Dakota are brighter, thanks to a new grant from the CDC. Under the direction of principal investigator Brent Askvig, Ph.D., the North Dakota Center for Persons with Disabilities (NDCPD) is working on a five-year project to promote the health and wellness of North Dakota citizens with disabilities. The North Dakota Disability Health Project is a collaboration among the NDCPD, the Center for Rural Health at the University of North Dakota, and the North Dakota State Health Department.

Dr. Askvig, who is a professor of special education and associate director of NDCPD, is very excited about the work ahead. And the timing is fortuitous, as North Dakota’s Department of Health recently established an office to eliminate health disparities, including those between American Indians and others in North Dakota. A large number of American Indians reside in North Dakota — there are five official reservations — making up 5.3 percent of the population. The NDCPD will introduce a disability focus into those initiatives.

The Need to Know More

North Dakota faces unique challenges. Its vast distances and harsh weather present difficulties for people with disabilities. The upside of the state’s sparse population and programs is the ease of moving things along, according to Askvig.

More than 80,000 people with disabilities aged five and older live in North Dakota (about 12 percent of the population). Current research into the well-being of people with disabilities has focused primarily on health disparities and the prevalence of secondary conditions. Unfortunately, qualitative information about behavioral risk factors, secondary conditions and involvement in wellness activities among people with disabilities does not yet exist.

The North Dakota Disability Health Project staff will establish a state office on disability health at Minot State University. Using a system of statewide data collection, analysis and reporting on the health and wellness of citizens with disabilities, the project will develop a comprehensiveStrategic Plan for Preventing Secondary Conditions and Promoting the Health of People with Disabilities. This plan will coordinate with the efforts of the Healthy North Dakota Initiative and build on North Dakota’s initial Healthy People 2010 Strategic Plan. The new strategic plan will also address the Healthy People 2010 focus area of Disability and Secondary Conditions; theSurgeon General’s Call to Action to Improve the Health and Wellness of Persons with Disabilities; and the CDC’s Health Protection Goals related to Adults, Older Adults and Healthy Places. The plan will form the basis for collaborative activities in health promotion to improve access to health care and wellness programs for people with disabilities.

Askvig said, “The people at the Center for Rural Health are the epidemiological experts and will collect and analyze the data. They will work with North Dakota’s Department of Health to prioritize a longitudinal system for adding disability questions to future BRFSS surveys. These new questions will enable us to develop a more complete picture of the health and risk status of people with disabilities.”

The advisory council will review potential disability-related questions, so that people with disabilities will have input into the process. While the questions will reflect a scientifically rigorous focus, they will also reflect the priorities of people with disabilities.