In 2015, an estimated 19% of undergraduates in the United States reported having a disability. The Department of Education estimates that 41% of those students will go on to graduate (compared to 52% of students who reported not having a disability). And when you consider the unemployment rate for adults with disabilities is 50% higher than the rate for those without, it highlights the importance of resources, accommodations, and academic and professional support. It also underscores the need to expand scholarships and internships for people with disabilities, and to make sure every employer knows and follows the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
First and foremost, this guide is for everyone, whether you have a disability, know someone with a disability, or want to support those who may live and work with one. But it’s also for people with disabilities who may want to work in healthcare. Medical and health careers are some of the fastest-growing and highest-paying available today, and people with disabilities often have special skills and personal experiences that would benefit patients in a number of healthcare settings. Want to make a difference? Read on to learn more.
Challenges for Healthcare Students with Disabilities
While medical school and healthcare training programs strive to support learners with disabilities, some can fail to provide essential resources and create fully inclusive and accessible environments for disabled students. Additionally, the quality of support that learners with disabilities receive can vary between institutions. Below are some of the major challenges that students with disabilities may face when it comes to receiving the proper support and learning environment in their chosen healthcare or medical program.
Challenge: Shortage of learners with disabilities
Prospective healthcare and medical students, upon researching educational institutions to pursue training, may find that there are few students with disabilities in these programs. This lack of numbers can often be discouraging and make prospective students feel as if they would lack the necessary support, access to resources, and sense of community at the school.
Challenge: Lack of access to internships
Sometimes, students experience discrimination because of their disabilities when seeking out a summer or post-graduation internship. Often based on the employer’s misconceptions and false assumptions about the candidate, American Psychological Association (APA) reports that employers can focus on an applicant’s potential limitations instead of the qualifications and skills they bring to the table.
Challenge: Unwelcoming learning environments.
When students experience discrimination at school, they may be reluctant in the future to disclose their disabilities, ask for reasonable accommodations, or take advantage of the privileges or benefits that will help them learn at their fullest potential. This lack of disclosure can create a cycle that leads to less inclusionary practices at schools, poorer academic performance, and more students choosing not to disclose their disabilities over time.
Challenges for Healthcare Workers with Disabilities
Healthcare students with disabilities can take certain measures to make the college-to-career transition smoother. In order to do so, these learners need to be aware of some of the common challenges they may face in the professional world. Healthcare workers with disabilities may encounter challenges in the workplace with employers and coworkers, as well as with patients. Patients seeking treatment might unfairly expect their healthcare providers to be free from mental and physical disabilities. Unfortunately, not all patients will respond positively to having a provider with a disability. In the section below, we offer some advice for those who encounter discriminatory practices in the hiring process, non-ADA compliant workers or workplaces, and inequitable reactions or comments from their patients.
Challenge: Discrimination in the hiring process
One of the biggest hurdles for hopeful workers with disabilities is getting through the hiring process. Many individuals struggle with deciding whether or not to disclose their disabilities during the application process for fear of being seen as a less-qualified applicant. Others feel they are evaluated for a position based on their disability rather than their relevant experience and qualifications for the job.
Challenge: Non-ADA compliant workplaces
Students and professionals in healthcare may encounter workplaces with less than ideal physical or social spaces for people with disabilities. Luckily, interns and professionals in healthcare are likely to encounter co-workers and administrators who are more sensitive to someone’s disability-related needs and reasonable accommodations than in other professions. Not all healthcare employment scenarios, however, will be ADA compliant.
Challenge: Discriminatory Practices and Verbal Altercations
It is important for healthcare employees with disabilities to know that they are not alone in discriminatory situations with patients. If an employee encounters a patient that is disrespectful because of the employee’s disabilities, the employee should report the incident to their administrators, managers, or human resources department. In the moment, these employees must do their best to remain neutral, remove themselves from the situation immediately and address the issue with the appropriate co-worker.
Finding a Career in Healthcare: Highlighting Your Abilities & Accommodating Your Disability
People with disabilities, as well as the people who employ them, should focus on the abilities they bring to the job as a prospective employee rather than the details of the disability itself. As stated in the ADA, employers must provide reasonable accommodations, including assistance or changes to a position or workplace environment, so an employee may carry out their jobs despite a disability. Here are some healthcare career ideas that compliment specific disabilities where reasonable accommodation could be easily made.
Understanding Your Rights: The Americans with Disabilities Act
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was created to provide protection to people with disabilities who often face widespread discrimination, segregation, and exclusion. Both job applicants and employees are protected by this law. The only common employment scenario in which the ADA may not protect individuals is when they are an independent contractor in the healthcare industry. Independent contractors in the healthcare industry include those workers who find employment through staffing or temporary agencies. The ADA is long and complex, but it is extremely important that every student with a disability be aware of the major protections they have when in the workplace. Some important points in the ADA to consider include:
Disclosing & Discussing Your Disability
One of the biggest challenges workers with disabilities face is the decision to disclose and discuss their disability with their employer or potential employer. Disclosure of a disability is not required by law. Although some individuals may think that not disclosing will improve their likelihood of being hired or not being fired, there are many good reasons why individuals should disclose to their employer.
While everyone’s story is different, many individuals with disabilities find it helpful to disclose their disability to know exactly what accommodations, if any, would need to take place in order for them to be comfortable at work. Additionally, these accommodations may make life outside of work easier, whether assistance be needed in the form of scheduling adjustments, special transportation, and more.
Inclusive & Accessible Schools & Workplaces
Many healthcare and academic facilities today strive to foster a culture of diversity and inclusion. Companies can benefit greatly from having a diverse workforce, and schools can benefit from a more diverse student body. In fact, a recent study showed that companies that prioritized disability inclusion outperformed those that didn’t, experiencing 30% higher economic profits. In these cases, facilities may focus on, celebrate, or officially recognize the diversity of their employees and students, from sexual orientations and ethnic backgrounds to religious affiliations and individuals’ personal attributes and experiences, including disabilities. Some places are more vocal about their inclusionary practices than others. Whether visible online or in-person, the list below contains some of the characteristics of today’s inclusive and accessible workplaces.
While many healthcare-focused employers are likely to be more sensitive to these issues than others, prospective employees can consider the physical aspects of a workplace to determine if the employer prioritizes the needs of its disabled employees. While the physical space requirements may vary between disabilities, accessible workplaces typically have handicap parking spaces, curb ramps, appropriate signage, elevators, passenger loading zones, motor-assisted doors, wide doorways and pathways, and handicap accessible restrooms.
If a school’s or company’s website is easily accessible by people with disabilities, this may indicate that they prioritize inclusivity. All user-friendly websites often work well with common keyboard and mouse functions, as many assistive technologies for people with disabilities rely on keyboard navigation technology.
Inclusive and accessible classrooms and workplaces may offer assistive technology options for students and employees. Common technology adjustments in healthcare and office scenarios include ergonomic keyboards, screen magnifiers, voice recognition software, microphone headsets, and screen readers. Depending on the employee’s specialty area and job duties, certain healthcare-related equipment may be available to accommodate their needs, as well.
Health benefits and flexible environments
Inclusive businesses are often accepting and supportive of individuals with disabilities who need to take health-related leave from work. Employers with flexible work schedule options help persons with disabilities to navigate challenging schedules with familial obligations, doctor’s appointments, therapy, and more. Additionally, some employees with disabilities need to take intermittent breaks or time off to take care of themselves. A flexible schedule allows them to do so without the stress of bending the rules or fear of losing their job.
Some businesses, companies, or facilities may have an explicit inclusion policy by which all employees must abide. In these scenarios, prospective employees with disabilities can proceed confidently knowing that their potential employer has taken at least this step toward creating a diverse and inclusive workplace environment.
Service animal guidelines
In most cases, the request for a service animal in a classroom or workplace is treated like any other request for reasonable accommodation. According to the Job Accommodation Network, a request for service animal is a request for the dean or employer to modify its potential “no animals” policy. Schools and businesses that take no issue with service animals may be highly inclusive.
Prospective students and employees should look for any indication that a school, company, or facility actively tries to promote and embrace diversity. It may be possible to find out if a school or company has a history of diversity clubs, workshops, or seminars.
Resources for Healthcare Students with Disabilities
Today, the internet provides a wide variety of useful resources for healthcare students and professionals with disabilities. From government websites and academic reports to message boards and blogs, a simple online search will yield many opportunities to find the answers to your questions or advice regarding the experience of healthcare professionals with disabilities. In the section below, we offer resources for students and young professionals in this field who wish to find out more about interviewing for jobs and healthcare careers for students and professionals with disabilities.
- Ability Jobs
- Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law
- BigInterview.com: Job Interviewing Strategies
- Brain Injury Association of America
- CareerOneStop – Resources for Workers with Disabilities
- Center for Disease Control and Prevention
- DOIT Disabilities, Opportunities, Internetworking, and Technology: Locating Internships and Other Word-Based Experiences
- Job Accommodation Network
- Partnership on Employment and Accessible Technology
- Service Animals and Emotional Support Animals
- U.S. Department of Justice – Civil Rights Division
- U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs – Vocation Rehabilitation and Employment
- U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission