The vast majority of doctors across the nation believe that people with significant disabilities have worse quality of life than others, according to a first-of-its-kind study.
Researchers surveyed 714 physicians practicing in various specialties and locations on their feelings about patients with disabilities. More than 82% reported that such individuals experience subpar quality of life compared to people without disabilities.
“That physicians have negative attitudes about patients with disability wasn’t surprising,” said Lisa I. Iezzoni, lead author of the study published this month in the journal Health Affairs and a health care policy researcher at Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital. “But the magnitude of physicians’ stigmatizing views was very disturbing.”
Only about 40% of doctors surveyed felt confident that they could provide the same quality of care to patients with disabilities that they provide to others, the study found.
Meanwhile, just 56% “strongly agreed” that they welcomed people with disabilities at their offices even though the Americans with Disabilities Act requires equal access to health care.
The researchers said their findings highlight questions about access and quality of care.
“Our results clearly raise concern about the ability of the health care system to ensure equitable care for people with disability,” said Eric G. Campbell of the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus who worked on the study.
The issue of equal access to health care for people with disabilities has come to the fore in recent times as the COVID-19 pandemic has strained hospital capacity, forcing questions about care rationing. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office for Civil Rights issued a bulletin last spring warning states and health care providers not to discriminate against people with disabilities. And, the agency subsequently reached agreements with multiple states to make changes to their crisis standards of care guidelines in response to complaints about disability discrimination.
Those behind the new study said it’s important to add training about disabilities to medical education, something which is currently lacking at most schools. The researchers indicated that they plan to further study how doctors’ perceptions about disabilities are affecting disparities in health care.
Griffin Dalrymple is 6 years old, and will turn 7 on Valentine’s Day. At one point in his life, Griffin was gravely ill. Had his condition progressed further, his mother said he would have needed an organ transplant.
Under state law, that transplant could have been denied because Griffin has Down syndrome. Jayci Dalrymple is Griffin’s mom, and told his story to a Montana Senate committee during a hearing on February 1.
“My son Griffin is perfectly healthy, no major health concerns,” Jayci said. “But if he needed an organ transplant tomorrow … he would be denied that right because he has Down syndrome.”
While that discrimination is illegal under the federal Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, the act has no specific enforcement measures.
In a 2019 report, the National Council on Disability found that section of the ADA usually isn’t enforced due to the time-sensitive nature of transplants. People waiting for new organs may not have the time to go through normal court proceedings.
On Monday, the state Senate gave preliminary approval to Senate Bill 155, which would allow courts to force health care providers, facilities and insurance companies to approve and perform life-saving transplants for disabled Montanans.
It copies the language of the ADA and adds a line that says a person can file a lawsuit on an expedited track.
Sen. Tom Jacobson, D-Great Falls, who is the bill’s primary sponsor, said his bill is “the feel good bill of the session” during his comments on the Senate floor Monday.
It does not close off other options for families who feel they’ve been discriminated against.
In addition to Griffin’s family, the Senate Public Health, Welfare and Safety Committee hearing drew support from the Montana Academy of Physician Assistants and Disability Rights Montana.
The bill passed unanimously out of committee and went to the full Senate, where it passed with 49 votes on second reading. One senator was not present. It faces one more vote in the Senate before moving to the House for a committee hearing and two more votes. If it passes the House, it will move to the governor’s desk for his signature.
Several airlines in the U.S. will now allow passengers to fly without masks to align with a new order issued by the Centers for Disease Control that'll exempt those with disabilities from wearing a mask.
According to the order that was issued Monday, those that are exempt are ones who physically can’t wear a mask or can’t safely wear a mask "because of the disability as defined by the Americans With Disabilities Act."
In response to the new order, American Airlines adjusted their mask-wearing policies by announcing that passengers with disabilities are exempt from wearing masks but must confirm that they contacted the airline’s Special Assistance team at least 72 hours before their flight.
"Exemptions will require documentation from a licensed health care provider, as well as proof of a negative COVID-19 test taken within three calendar days of departure or proof of recovery from COVID-19," the airline said in a press release. "Additionally, American will update its guidelines for acceptable mask types to prohibit bandanas and gaiters."
Another airline changing its mask policy is Alaska Airlines, whose new policy allows for medical exemptions. The airline said customers must contact the airline five days before their flight to request an exemption.
Both American and Alaska said you have to also provide them with a doctor's note and a negative COVID-19 test 72 hours before your flight to be exempt from wearing a mask.
The Toledo Museum of Art (TMA) and The Ability Center of Greater Toledo (ACT) signed a memorandum of understanding on Feb. 2 establishing a new, multi-year strategic partnership with co-investment by both organizations. The collaboration will support ACT and TMA in their efforts to create a community and a museum that aspire to be the most disability-friendly in the country.
The establishment of the Manager of Access Initiatives position - a new role and the first of its kind at a major art museum - demonstrates the potential of this partnership.
The shared role will bring ACT’s knowledge and resources to the museum for a period of several years, equipping TMA with the expertise to identify and systematically eliminate barriers to encounters with art, improving the museum experience for people with disabilities at any stage of life.
“Seeking the expertise of The Ability Center as a guide, the Toledo Museum of Art is prioritizing its vision to become the model among art museums for its culture of belonging,” said Adam Levine, Toledo Museum of Art Edward Drummond and Florence Scott Libbey director. “The museum is holding itself accountable to a formal Diversity, Equity, Accessibility and Inclusion (DEAI) plan, which is being developed with input from staff, volunteers, board and the community. The strategic partnership with The Ability Center, unique in our field, strengthens TMA’s efforts to become a more inclusive museum and community partner. We aim to become the most disability-friendly art museum in the United States.”
“One in four people in the U.S. has a disability that impacts the way they connect with the world around them, including their experience of fine art and museums,” said Tim Harrington, The Ability Center executive director. “Everyone has a role in creating a community that is disability friendly; at The Ability Center, we work to challenge both attitudes and real-world conditions for people with disabilities. The Ability Center, through its supporting organization, is investing in this project as part of its strategic initiatives. We look forward to working with the Toledo Museum of Art to ensure the museum fully welcomes the potential and participation of each of its visitors, including those who live differently.”
Serving at the core of the partnership, the Manager of Access Initiatives will audit museum policies, procedures, practices and physical plant, making recommendations to incorporate aspects of inclusive design and enhance accessibility. Following rigorous measurement, assessment and evaluation - and a determination of demonstrated progress in making TMA more accessible to people with disabilities - the Manager of Access Initiatives will eventually transition to begin work with another local organization in a similar strategic partnership.
The partnership will simultaneously serve as an ongoing proving ground for The Ability Center’s initiatives while fueling regional conversations about accessible spaces, inclusive programs and employment opportunities.