A disproportionate number of American Indians and Alaska Natives have a disability, which creates an extraordinary need for tribes to support their disabled citizens in becoming self-sufficient.

NCAI is committed to ensuring that the rights of Native peoples with disabilities are enforced, strengthened, and honored by Native communities and the larger society. 

According to the US Census, 24 percent of American Indians and Alaska Natives have a disability, compared to 19 percent of the general population. However, many American Indians and Alaska Natives with disabilities are either unserved or underserved. Some barriers to limiting access to services are inadequate funding, personnel shortages, lack of coordination among agencies, lack of consultation with tribes, and problems identifying persons eligible for services.

NCAI strongly recommends that tribes receive direct and adequate funding to provide culturally appropriate services that empower their disabled citizens to lead independent lives in their own communities. One program that increases tribes’ capacity to serve their disabled citizens, the Vocational Rehabilitation Services Projects for American Indians with Disabilities, has experienced particular success in assisting Native people with disabilities to become self-sufficient, as highlighted in this article. By granting funds directly to tribes, the program enables Native nations to target specific needs in their communities in a culturally sensitive manner. The need far outstrips available resources, however, and appropriations should be increased to put tribal governments’ funding for disability services on par with that of state governments.