Inclusion. The blog for the Center for Disability Studies.

Doctors without prejudice

By Susan Veenema



It happened again: another visit to a doctor’s office where my answer to a questionnaire about my mental health ended up affecting, adversely, the way they viewed me, communicated with me, treated me.

I always dread the question at health practitioners’ offices about which medications I’m taking. For the past 20 years I’ve wanted to dodge answering that I am on medication for bipolar disorder because once I do, the tone of the visit changes dramatically. My husband happened to be with me during this last visit, and once they saw that I take medicine for my condition, they immediately turned their attention to him, as if I could not answer competently. How is it that medical professionals still treat individuals with disabilities in this manner? How is it that they’re allowed to treat individuals with disabilities in this manner? I know I’m not alone.

Education and training, or, more accurately, the lack of them, is to blame. In Delaware, the state licensing board does not require that its doctors and nurses will have taken courses or instruction in how to conduct themselves and communicate with their patients who have disabilities. Perhaps that’s because in their medical training too few of them get that instruction.

That’s got to change. While it’s encouraging that disability is a popular academic pursuit at the University of Delaware – it’s the university’s most popular minor – at many universities courses in disability aren’t even offered. Medical schools, meanwhile, are graduating doctors and nurses who haven’t learned how to interact with, and respect, their patients who have disabilities.

It’s enough to make you sick. More medical schools need to require instruction in how to properly treat people with disabilities, and more health care centers, clinics and physicians’ offices need to offer similar training opportunities to their staff.

Until then, I’ve decided not to let the attitude of others affect my doctors’ visits. If I am with health care staff who treat me with prejudice or are ignorant of my condition, I will use that opportunity to educate them. Each encounter with a medical provider is an opportunity to share my experience as an individual living with a disability. I encourage you to do the same.


About the Author

Susan Veenema was an instructional coach for the Delaware Positive Behavior Support Project at UD’s Center for Disabilities Studies, where she led professional development and coaching on developing Individualized Education Plans (IEPs) and social skills.

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