Inclusion matters: Access and empowerment for people of all abilities

Inclusion matters. Those two words convey this year’s message for the United Nations’ International Day of Persons with Disabilities, which is observed on Dec. 3.

The U.N. reports that more than 1 billion people live with some form of disability. This day encourages people to promote accessibility, remove barriers, create equal participation and raise further awareness on a myriad of disabilities.

Rita Nathawad, MD, an assistant professor of pediatrics at the University of Florida College of Medicine – Jacksonville, explained how global efforts concerning disabilities have expanded in the last decade.

“One major milestone has been the development of a United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities that was adopted in 2006,” Nathawad said. “This was a significant step toward the global recognition of persons with disabilities as rights bearers and ensuring these rights are fulfilled.’ Disability is one term for a wide spectrum of people with different abilities.”

Nathawad believes that while there is a better understanding among the public, advances can still be made to provide an inclusive environment and utilize resources to ensure every person is reaching his or her full potential.

“There’s a lot of work that needs to happen, but we have made progress,” she said.

To further the goals associated with this awareness, Nathawad is the lead physician for the JaxHATS (Jacksonville Health and Transition Services) clinic, where patients’ ages 16 to 26 years of age with complex medical conditions and/or intellectual and developmental disabilities receive primary care. This program offers an array of services; however, there are still gaps in the resources offered to people with disabilities, such as mental health and dental care.   Other programs at the University of Florida, including the Bower-Lyman Center for Medically Complex Children, the Center for Autism and Related Disorders (CARD) and the Program for Adults with Intellectual and Developmental Disability (PAIDD) also provide both medical care and wrap around services to families and patients with disabilities.   

“There’s a level of service in the pediatric world that we don’t have for adults,” Nathawad explained. “There are services that exist through agencies such as The Arc of Jacksonville and the Agency for Persons with Disabilities (APD), but unfortunately gaps in resources still exist.”

These organizations work alongside people with disabilities so they gain knowledge and learn skills to achieve their long term life goals.  “JaxHATS works to connect patients to these agencies and ensure they are receiving the services they need”, Nathawad said.

Nathawad finds this year’s theme: “Inclusion matters: access and empowerment for people of all abilities” extremely significant.

“Inclusion and access are important to foster self-motivation and develop independent living skills,” she said. “We want people to be their own advocates and advocate for the resources needed to thrive and be well in the community.”

International Day of Persons with Disabilities is only one day, but it brings knowledge and awareness that should be observed year round. “I think this awareness is really important. Persons with disabilities are a group of very important people in our society with a wide range of abilities, and we should not box people in,” Nathawad said. “We need to recognize the array of disabilities that exist and learn how to best meet the needs of these individuals and their families.” 

For more information about the JaxHATS program, visit or call (904) 244-9233.

Featured Faculty

Rita Nathawad, MD

Rita Nathawad, MD

Assistant Professor
Associate Program Director, Pediatric Residency; Medical Director, Jacksonville Health and Transition Services (JaxHATS)