Considering the culture of disability in cultural competence education.

Cultural competence extends beyond understanding those values, beliefs, and needs that are associated with patients’ age or gender or with their racial, ethnic, or religious backgrounds. People hold many simultaneous cultural associations, and each have implications for the care process. The “culture of disability” is a pan-ethnic culture for which a set of physician competencies are required to ensure appropriate, culturally sensitive care to persons with congenital or acquired disabilities. Such competencies include communicating with patients who have deficits in verbal communication and avoidance of infantilizing speech; understanding the values and needs of persons with disabilities; the ability to encourage self-advocacy skills of patients and families; acknowledging the core values of disability culture including the emphasis on interdependence rather than independence; and feeling comfortable with patients with complex disabilities. Medical schools have developed programs to increase students’ exposure to persons with disabilities and it is suggested that such programs are most effective when they are the result of collaboration with community-based facilities or organizations that serve persons with disabilities in the natural environment. Combining lecture-based instruction and structured experiences with the opportunity for students to interact with patients in their natural environments may facilitate development of competencies with respect to patients with disabilities. The culture of disability should be included as one of the many cultures addressed in cultural competence initiatives in medical school and residency curricula.