Although not as common as other conditions, diabetes is the most troublesome secondary condition for women with physical disabilities.


Rates of disability are substantially higher among persons with diabetes than among persons without this disease. One study reported 65 percent of the people with diabetes attributed their physical limitations to diabetes with 35 percent attributing their physical limitations to other causes (diabetes as a secondary condition)

Preliminary findings from another study found 30-35 percent of their sample of 443 women with physical disabilities as having diabetes as a secondary condition. This is three times higher than the rate in the general US population (9.3 percent), and similar to the weight among individuals over age 65 (25.9 percent) (see the American Diabetes Association website).

Risk factors

Diabetes is highly correlated with lack of mobility, potentially putting women with disabilities at a higher risk for developing diabetes.

Another study identified rates of physical limitations for people with diabetes as higher among women than among men, and higher among blacks than among whites. In 1996, 39 percent of person's with diabetes reported physical limitations when attempting major activities; 23 percent reported being physically unable to perform major activities.

When examining the literature, it is very difficult to separate the primary and secondary causes of diabetes, or which came first, the presence of diabetes, or the presence of mobility limitation. There is evidence, however, that individuals who have mobility limitations due to a pre-existing disability, such as neuromuscular disorder, arthritis, spinal cord injury, or cerebral palsy, are at higher risk for developing diabetes than those who are able to engage in regular physical activity due to changes in functioning of the endocrine system. More research is needed to confirm the association between reduced mobility and the onset of type II diabetes. If there are strategies that people with mobility impairments can be used to reduce this risk, they must be made aware of them and encouraged to use them.


The consequences of the coexistence of diabetes and disability include increased use of health care services, unemployment, work absenteeism, and decreased quality of life.