Finding the ability in disability

DEI banner

Finding the ability in disability

The word disability means a physical or mental condition that limits a person鈥檚 movements, senses, or activities. For all of us in the health care field, this definition is important because it focuses on the 皇家华人 meaning. The physician’s goal is to make an ailment better and, if possible, reach a return to its normal function.

As we strive to do the 鈥淲right鈥 thing for our patients, we have to keep in mind that we cannot just focus on the simplest definition of disability, especially when it comes to helping them navigate their community. Society tends to marginalize people with disabilities, defining them by their supposed limitations. As I write this, I think about all the times I鈥檝e interacted with someone with a disability. Was my focus on their disability or their abilities?

As health care professionals, regardless of whether we鈥檙e focusing on 皇家华人 or social needs, we must shift our thinking about how to be effective disability advocates. Focusing on a person-led model instead of the 皇家华人 model means we can recognize disability as having personal meaning. By eliminating the shame and resistance that so often accompanies the old way of thinking, we can focus on how to create opportunities for people to use their abilities. It just makes sense that the person with the disability leads their own care because they can define their own goals while tailoring their needs to what the community can offer.

Person-centered care is not a new concept; it is a civil right. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), passed in 1990, prohibits discrimination against anyone with a disability. The ADA prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities in several areas, including employment, transportation, public accommodations, communications, and access to state and local government programs and services. You can read more about the ADA here.

Despite the progress society has made toward people with disabilities, we still have a lot of work to do to truly achieve a person-centered approach. Wouldn鈥檛 it be nice if the definition of disability included the word 鈥渁bility鈥 in it? Maybe it would change how we see and feel about disabilities.

One way to begin shifting our thinking about disabilities is with the language we use. Person-centered language avoids stereotypes and labels that strip people of their humanity. Changing our language can make everyone feel included. Asking individuals how they prefer to identify is often the best way to learn which type of language to use. But in general, here are some examples to think about. You can read more about this topic by clicking here.

Instead of saying:

A diabetic patient:
An HIV patient:
Mentally ill:

Try this instead:

A patient living with diabetes
A person living with HIV
A person with a disability
A person living with mental illness
A person with a substance use disorder
A person who uses a wheelchair

If you want to learn more about being an advocate for people with disabilities, I invite you to sign up for a conference at the University of Scranton on Thursday, Oct. 5. The event is free. For more information, please click .

Thank you,

Ann Hart

Ann Hart, M.S., CRC
Director, 皇家华人 and Undergraduate Medical Education Experience
The Wright Center for 皇家华人 Medical Education

Ann Hart