Qualities that I look for when choosing a medical professional include showing a genuine interest in the patient, demonstrated compassion, and patience. Beyond the individual, administrative policies and procedures may be the barrier to those with disabilities and access to healthcare.
For example, sometimes a medical provider will have a policy about patients arriving late to appointments. Some practices dismiss patients after so many late arrivals. However, many people with disabilities may need assistance getting to and from appointments, and if for example, a city bus arrives late, that is beyond the patient’s control. This is something I have to contend with when dealing with my healthcare providers.
Also, a practice may give a patient ten to fifteen minutes to fill out or update paperwork before calling him or her back to the exam room. For me, it works much better if I can take the paperwork home and mail it back to the office.
For patients with more severe disabilities, it is important that medical professionals recognize that they may be treating an adult but interact with them as if they were a child. Individuals need to be treated with respect. It is equally important to talk to the patient and not to a staff support person. Even if a patient is severely disabled, he or she may be able to understand everything that is being said to him/her or about him/her. For some patients with disabilities, it may be helpful to meet with the doctor before the medical appointment to get to know one another and to begin understanding the patient’s unique story. It may also be helpful to take a tour of the office to so that the patient becomes more comfortable with the environment. Documents detailing the patient’s disability and related issue should be provided to the doctor before the initial appointment.
I think, no matter what type or how severe a person’s disability is, it is important that a doctor get to know the individual and remember that what works for one person may not work for the next. It is important to keep an open mind and be compassionate when working with patients with disabilities and if you find yourself unsure, ask!
The following resources are available from the Library at the Indiana Institute on Disability and Community. Email firstname.lastname@example.org, call 800-437-7924, or visit to check them out:
Caring for Children with Special Healthcare Needs and their Families: A Handbook for Healthcare Professionals
Disability and Public Health
Health Inequalities and People with Intellectual Disabilities
Parenting Children with Health Issues: Essential Tools, Tips, and Tactics for Raising Kids with Chronic Illness, Medical Conditions, and Special Healthcare Needs