Orange Grove Center’s Dr. Rick Rader Speaking at United Nations on World Down Syndrome Day

On Thursday, March 21, Chattanooga’s Orange Grove Center’s Director of the Morton J. Kent Habilitation Center, Dr. Rick Rader, will address the United Nations at its headquarters in New York City. Each year, March 21 commemorates World Down Syndrome Day, the date of 3/21 reflecting that Down syndrome occurs when a person’s genetics contain a third, extra copy of the 21st chromosome.

In his address, Rader plans to highlight the importance of medical education and how the lack thereof is one of the main obstacles in providing people with Down syndrome and other developmental disabilities with comprehensive healthcare.

“Under the current standards of medical education, you can become a physician, a fellowship-trained physician, a board-certified physician, even the Dean of a medical school without ever having examined, cared for, or treated an individual with Down syndrome, or any patient with an intellectual, physical or behavioral disability,” Rader said as he prepares for his address.

A 2021 study conducted by researchers at the Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital found that over 80 percent of surveyed physicians believe that people with disabilities have a worse quality of life than people who do not have disabilities. “That is shortsighted because this training, and what the medical student learns about compassion, empathy, and clinical confidence, will be applied to every patient, every family, and every community,” says Rader. “The only way for students to learn how to communicate, listen, provide supported decision making, and look beyond the genetics is to have direct contact with the patient. You cannot learn this from a video, a PowerPoint, or a didactic lecture; it must be a ‘face-to-face’ encounter. The patients with disabilities become our teachers, mentors, and guides.”

Each year, approximately 3,000 to 5,000 children are born with Down syndrome, one of the most well-known and recognizable developmental disabilities that affects a person’s physical features and ability to learn, among other symptoms. The quality of life for people with Down syndrome and other intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD) can be improved by meeting their various needs in the realms of health care, parental care and support, medical guidance, and community-based support to help facilitate their participation in mainstream society.

Rader’s invitation to address the U.N. reflects new concerns about “health equity,” defined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as “the state in which everyone has a fair and just opportunity to attain their highest levels of health.” Health equity can be achieved only through ongoing societal efforts to address historical and contemporary injustices, overcome economic, social, and other obstacles to health and health care, and eliminate preventable health disparities.

Rader, a self-described medical futurist, began his work at Orange Grove Center in 1994. Orange Grove recently celebrated its 70th anniversary in 2023, and the Morton J. Kent Habilitation Center, of which Rader is the Director, is celebrating its 30th anniversary. According to Rader, the Habilitation Center was created “to identify, create and promote the emerging best practices in providing comprehensive and collaborative healthcare to people with disabilities across the lifespan. [The Habilitation Center] mentors medical and dental students worldwide and contributes to teaching, advocacy, and research in aging, dementia, self-determination, and community inclusion.”

Rader is cross-trained in internal medicine and medical anthropology and is board-certified in adult developmental medicine. He has received two Presidential appointments to the President’s Committee for People with Intellectual Disabilities and the National Council of Disability, where he co-authored the seminal “Health Equity Framework Report.” He has also been a consultant to four U.S. Surgeon Generals on health disability. He is the President of the American Association on Health and Disability and a founding president of the American Academy of Developmental Medicine and Dentistry. He has published over 300 articles in the area of developmental disabilities.

About Orange Grove Center

Founded in 1953, Orange Grove Center is a private, non-profit organization that serves 1,000+ adults and children with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD) in the Chattanooga and North Georgia areas. For more information about programs and services, visit Follow @orangegrovectr on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn for weekly updates.