The NCSL Blog

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By Haley Nicholson

The 30th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) highlights the strides that have been made for individuals with disabilities, but also highlights existing challenges that older Americans with disabilities still face.

Seniors, one on bicycleIn the U.S., 29.9% of adults aged 65 and older are more likely to be in fair or poor health, and people aged 75 and older are five times as likely to have a disability than those between the ages of 18 and 24. From issues of limited mobility to vision and hearing issues, often the attitude of “older people” conditions can be easily overlooked.

Over the past year, federal policymakers have addressed these issues with one major milestone by passing the Supporting Older Americans Act of 2020 this past March. Among the bill’s many provisions to support older Americans, several were included for those with disabilities including:

At the core of the legislation is the addition of new language calling for person-centered counseling. This type of counseling must include developing and implementing plans for long-term services and supports that align with the desires and choices of individuals.

Passing the Supporting Older Americans Act is one of several ways Congress and federal agencies continue to increase and enhance the services and programs available. Congress has also introduced several additional pieces of legislation and held hearings looking at how to better support and spur innovation to accommodate older individuals with disabilities.  

Finally, it would be hard to not highlight the undue burden the coronavirus pandemic has had on older Americans with disabilities. The day-to-day services these individuals rely on are being disrupted. Family caregivers and nursing home staff are put in difficult situations where they make decisions with assisting older individuals and putting themselves and their patient’s health at risk.

Combine these factors with the isolation older Americans with disabilities already experience, which is heightened during a time when social distancing is recommended. Congress has looked at how to combat social isolation, and the Health and Human Services (HHS) Office of Civil Rights has enforced protections that prohibit discrimination against older adults and people with disabilities during the pandemic.

Federal partners recognize the progress made by the ADA but also see there are still many ways to provide well-balanced and coordinated care for older individuals living with disabilities.

Read more on NCSL’s HHS Committee Policies for Older Americans and advocacy efforts for reauthorizing the Older Americans Act.

Haley Nicholson is senior policy director in NCSL's State-Federal Relations Division.

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About the NCSL Blog

This blog offers updates on the National Conference of State Legislatures' research and training, the latest on federalism and the state legislative institution, and posts about state legislators and legislative staff. The blog is edited by NCSL staff and written primarily by NCSL's experts on public policy and the state legislative institution.