Beyond Ramps and Parking Spaces: Providing Equitable Care for People with Disabilities

Ask yourself these questions: What comes to mind when you think of a disabled person? Are you comfortable providing care to a person with a disability?

Those are the kinds of questions asked at a recent Grand Rounds mental health equity event sponsored by the UI Department of Psychiatry with support from the Office of Diversity, Equity and the inclusion of Carver College of Medicine.

The presentation, titled “Beyond ramps and parking spaces: providing equitable care for people with disabilities”, included the following speakers:

  • Anne Crotty, MPH, Program Coordinator, UI Health Care Center for Disabilities and Development
  • Kelly Von Lehmden, BAA, Training Director, Iowa Leadership Education in Neurodevelopmental and Related Disabilities Program
  • Edward Esbeck, Self-Advocacy Coordinator, Iowa University Disability Center of Excellence

The trio spoke on a variety of disability-related topics, including the health disparities faced by people with disabilities as well as practical tips for providing care in a respectful and intentional way.

Advocacy for equitable care

Part of what the presentation aimed to highlight was the fact that people with disabilities can often feel invisible in clinical settings. They offered several tips for healthcare professionals, including:

  • Ask before helping and make sure your offer is accepted before helping
  • Treat people with dignity and respect
  • Speak to the person, not the interpreter
  • Realize that people with disabilities are the experts on their lives and their disabilities

“We know our voices are important to health care providers,” says Esbeck, who has a disability. “Let me talk about my care. Let me talk about my disability.

Esbeck hopes medical professionals will understand that, as with all patients, a person with a disability should have a say in their care.

“We should be able to choose our own care, and we should be able to do what’s right for us, not the other way around,” Esbeck says.

Disability does not mean a lower quality of life

A general lack of adaptive equipment as well as misperceptions about quality of life and care for people with disabilities are all considered health inequalities.

“Health inequities or disparities are differences in health that are unfair, unfair and avoidable. We have to change them,” Crotty says.

Although many health disparities exist for people with disabilities, this does not mean that their quality of life is necessarily diminished.

“Too many people don’t recognize that people with disabilities lead full lives,” Crotty says.

On the topic of quality of life, Von Lehmden shared her experience as a parent of a daughter with Down syndrome during the presentation.

“She’s so much more than her diagnosis,” says Von Lehmden. “We have these ideas in our minds about what someone with a certain diagnosis might look like or what their challenges might be. But we want you to remember that they are so much more than what their diagnosis may be on paper.

See this presentation and others in the Mental Health Equity Scientific Lecture Series Online.

About Antoine L. Cassell

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