Myths and Stereotypes
Myths and stereotypes about disability still confuse health care providers and disabled patients. Many providers remain unaware that they have responsibilities under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and that they, in order to comply with the law, need to know how to make their services accessible to individuals with disabilities and treat this population in a culturally competent manner. Unfortunately, these issues are rarely addressed in medical school. Similarly, many individuals with disabilities remain unaware of the ADA and their right to have the same access to quality medical care and resources as individuals without disabilities.
Furthermore, disability discrimination leads individuals with disabilities who seek health care to expect little, cover or hide their real needs, and submit to inadequate treatment. Also, health care providers are not immune to myths and stereotypes about disability and by verbally or non-verbally expressing them, they contribute to disabled women internalizing these negative assumptions.
Yet with the appropriate tools and resources, women with disabilities can educate themselves and their health care providers to challenge the myths and stereotypes about disability and move toward creating an effective partnership that improves the quality of medical care that disabled women receive. MAP to Access offers these tools and resources.
Six Myths about Disability
Providers think: “Disabled women’s particular needs make them a whole other category of ‘special patient,’ which overrides and even negates their general and gender-related needs.”
Disabled consumers think: “I’m not quite a real female.”
The facts: Disabled women have the same general health care and reproductive health care needs as other women.
Providers think: “The main concern for disabled women is that they have ‘complex medical needs.’”
Disabled consumers think: “My access problems are too much trouble to even begin to describe to a provider.”
The facts: The social, logistical and access issues of disability must be addressed to provide quality medical care for disabled women.
Providers think: “Disabled people, especially disabled women, are incompetent and helpless and need patronizing care plans.”
Disabled consumers think: “I must fight a losing battle for a voice about my own care.” This may make some disabled women look as if they think, “What do I know? I’m just the patient.”
The facts: Disabled women are often knowledgeable about their own needs. They can and must be consulted and included in their care and treatment.
Providers think: “Somebody else in this facility deals with the requirements of the ADA.”
Disabled consumers think: “Some administrator I will never meet is in control of my access needs.”
Or, “This provider will never understand my access needs.”
The facts: The Americans with Disabilities Act impacts on the individual doctor-patient relationship, not just on the facilities.
Providers think: “Access accommodations are byzantine, unnecessary, or expensive fuss.”
Disabled consumers think: “I don’t want to ask for too much or be a bother. If I do, I will be disappointed or worse, I will be labeled a trouble-maker.”
The facts: Disability access and accommodation enhances and enables quality medical care (regarding communication, examination, diagnostic test access, and treatment plan) and saves health care dollars in the long run.
Providers think: “Just ignore the impairment,” or, conversely, “It’s always about the impairment.”
Disabled consumers think: “I don’t want too much attention put on my disability, since that’s always what happens in public.” Or, “My disability is who I am and must always be the problem.”
The facts: Appropriate, strategic attention to the real impact of a disabled person’s impairment on other aspects of their health enables quality medical care. Providers and patients must think together to clarify this.
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