What Does Accessible Health Care Look Like?

Health Care Policy Analyst Judy Panko-Reis
Consumer and Advocate Garland Armstrong
“People with disabilities are already fighting for housing rights and transportation. The last thing they want is to have to advocate for themselves in a health care setting when they are burned out or feeling sick,” explains Judy Panko-Reis, a member of Access Living’s Health and Policy team. In addition to advocating for accessible housing and transportation, Access Living also fights to make health care more accessible.

Judy recalls an instance when a woman in a scooter attempted to schedule an OBGYN appointment. "The clinic had accessible equipment but it refused to provide an accommodation that would help the woman dress and transfer from her scooter to the examination table." On another occasion, a woman with quadriplegia was told, "You are paralyzed, you can't feel pain," when she complained about discomfort in her leg.

When most people think of accessibility in the health care industry, they envision hospitals that have ramp entrances and automatic doors. Although most hospitals are accessible in this context, the reality is that health care access for persons with disabilities spans much wider. Barriers to access include the inaccessibility of equipment, lack of sign language interpreters, lack of accessible formats for patients with visual or cognitive disabilities as well as prejudice, problematic policies and limited awareness about accommodations.

Inaccessible health care results in people with disabilities being denied care, receiving unsafe or inaccurate screenings, a loss of dignity, and fatigue from having to advocate for yet another thing that is not just needed, but deserved. As a result, patients with disabilities will often avoid or postpone appointments that are necessary.

These examples highlight the need for education about disability in a health care setting. Simple things like training schedulers about accommodations, having the healthcare provider address their patient directly instead of just speaking to their personal attendant, or learning the proper way to interact with individuals with psychiatric disabilities makes a world of difference.

Through training and collaborating with service providers and quarterly town hall meetings, Access Living's Health and Policy team works to promote an understanding of the difficulties that people with disabilities face when seeking care, how to properly accommodate patients with disabilities and how to implement policies that affect those patients, as well as disability etiquette and communication skills.

Garland Armstrong is an Access Living consumer and disability rights activist who has gained a lot from the town halls. A person with autism and the primary caregiver for his wife who deals with diabetes, epilepsy and arthritis, Garland says of the town halls, “People are ready to answer your questions. It makes us feel really good that we are now understanding more about the system. We learn how to advocate for ourselves through example scenarios.”

Your donation today will help Access Living’s Health and Policy team continue their important work of promoting health care access for people with disabilities. We can’t continue our important work without you.

Any amount you can give makes a difference. Click here to make a donation . First time donations, new enrollments to our monthly giving program, and the incremental difference of increased donations will qualify to be matched. To inquire about monthly giving, call Vatonna at 312-640-2117 or email vdunn@accessliving.org.

Thank you so much for everything you do to empower individuals with disabilities.

Vatonna Dunn
Development Associate – Marketing and Event Fundraiser