I can't really speak for doctors, nurses and other health care professionals, but that's basically what I'm going to try to do. I read an article once that talked about more medical students with disabilities and the questions that have to be addressed such as reasonable accommodations etc. In that article, someone said something that eluded to the difficulties doctors sometimes have with "problems" they can't cure. Let's face it, our bodies aren't perfect. A doctor who can't stop the progress of an illness or who can't fix some type of "abnormality", is probably going to struggle with that. I think this can cause ablism, especially when many of us don't necessarily want to be cured of our disabilities. I can honestly say that I'm okay with blindness. I don't know if I would take an operation that could cure me. That's just me, though. If it's hard for the general population to accept this, why should it be any different? Why do we automatically assume that doctors are not humans? In short, one reason ablism exists in the medical community is that it exists in every other community.
So why don't we address ablism in healthcare? I know for myself, I am not the best self advocate when I have a pain level of nine out of ten. Quite frankly, I'm not going to start a constructive dialogue about anything, much less about ablism. At this point, I want either something to make me feel better or a chain saw. It's also not easy to address everything you need to in the time allotted for the appointment. Given the choice between, say, addressing pain issues and offering the doctor tips for improving access, I usually choose the former. That may not always be productive, but I have to address the main issue or I won't be good for anything later.
Finally, there's also the vast amount of information doctors, nurses and other professionals are bombarded with. Medical school/nursing school is very intense but I don't think it's possible to cover what a doctor will need to know for 40 years of practice in the period of eight years. If a doctor went to medical school in the 1970s, ablism wasn't even addressed then. It was addressed in movements such as that needed to get section 503 of the Rehabilitation Act signed and put into action, but I don't think access for those with disabilities was even on most people's radars. Combine that with the medical discomfort around disability, and I doubt many doctors got much information on barriers facing people with disabilities. This is all speculation, of course, because I'm not even smart enough to get into medical school.
There are definitely solutions available to help deal with ablism. I, as a patient, can respectfully make suggestions. This might take the form of telling the nurse who guides me back to the lobby about an unpleasant experience or even more important, a pleasant one. It's easy to complain, and constructive criticism is a very good thing. But if a doctor or nurse does something right and hears about it, that's even better. The receptionist may know who I should talk to to give feedback about my experience, or I can write a letter expressing my thoughts.
Consumer organizations and people who either have disabilities or work with those who do can also help. Some ideas that come to mind are collaborating with medical schools to help present guest lectures on the subject of disability, creating brochures or other materials to distribute to hospitals and doctors' offices. We can start dialogues. Patients with disabilities can start sharing their experiences and inviting medical professionals to learn from them, discuss and ask questions. Dialogue will be the most important part of this.
If we can start thinking about areas where disablism is present, bring them to the table for discussion and come up with solutions, we'll be in a much better place. It will help us now and more in the future as the baby boomer generation ages and deals with disability for the first time. I hope these two posts are not the last word of a conversation, but a springboard to start talking.
Read the first commentary on Ablism and healthcare