Training of Health Care Professionals on Issues Facing People with Disabilities

FACT SHEET

Most Americans or their family members will experience disability at some time in their lives. It is estimated that 54 million people in the United States have some type of long lasting condition or disability. This represents nearly 1 person in 5 or 20% of 257.2 million people age 5 and older.

While the percentage of individuals with disabilities increases with age, disabilities occur at all ages throughout life. It is crucial, therefore, for health care professionals and others working with people with disabilities to receive training on the issues facing this population, in order to help them access health care more effectively and prevent secondary conditions or health problems related to the disability.

HOW DO PEOPLE WITH DISABILITIES AND HEALTH CARE PROFESSIONALS BENEFIT FROM THIS TRAINING?

Understanding the culture of disability makes it easier for health care professionals to identify and prevent secondary conditions in their patients with disabilities. As well, if health care professionals are taught about barriers to care that people with disabilities can face, providers may be motivated to make changes in the physical environments of their practices. For example, a physician may decide to widen the doorways in his or her exam rooms to make them wheelchair accessible, or purchase special examination tables to facilitate examination of patients with disabilities. In addition, training in communication techniques for patients with disabilities will result in greater willingness of patients to seek care, higher patient compliance, and higher quality care.

WHO PROVIDES THIS TRAINING?

In some programs, training is conducted by practicing health care professionals, while in others, a person with disabilities provides a first-hand perspective of the needs of a person who has a disability. Also, sometimes the parents of children with special needs teach about the challenges their families face and how health care practitioners can resolve many issues.

WHAT ARE SOME OF THE TARGET POPULATIONS ON WHICH THESE PROJECTS FOCUS?

  • medical students, interns, and residents
  • primary care physicians, pediatricians, physician assistants, nurse practitioners, pharmacists, physical therapists, and occupational therapists

DO ALL MEDICAL SCHOOLS OFFER TRAINING IN THIS AREA, AND IS IT ALWAYS REQUIRED?

Training in working with people with disabilities is not required by medical schools. The Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) has a database with data on 50% of all medical schools across the U.S. and Canada. These 70 schools were polled to determine which have curricula regarding disability. It was found that only 26 medical schools provided sessions (i.e., lectures, labs, small group discussion) covering disability topics, only 20 schools provided sessions with disability terms in the title of the session, and only 18 schools provided courses which cover disability-related topics during the course (some schools overlapped these three categories). Unfortunately, many times when this education is offered as an elective, busy training and practicing professionals opt not to participate.

WHAT METHODS ARE USED TO PRESENT THE TRAINING

lectures, courses, conferences, visits with people with disabilities in their homes, and trips to community sites that support children with disabilities

WHAT TYPES OF TOPICS ARE COVERED?

assistive devices, barriers to health care, abuse of people with disabilities, building family-physician partnerships, psychosocial issues and chronic disability, community resources, and disability issues in sexual and reproductive health