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Advice from People with Disabilities on Providing Quality Health Care: What Health Care Providers Really Need to Know

Advice from People with Disabilities on Providing Quality Health Care: What Health Care Providers Really Need to Know

Compiled by:
Champaign County Health Care Consumers
Disability Rights Task Force

Summer 2008


As people with disabilities, our desire is to advise health care providers about how they can best serve people with disabilities. We are people with disabilities who have our own experiences with health care. As a result of these experiences, we have compiled the advice presented in this handout in order to provide concrete and helpful information for health care providers. Information in this handout is organized into the following categories: 1) Communicating with People with Various Disabilities, 2) Basic Sensitivity, 3) Transfers,
4) Health Care Providers’ Equipment, 5) Environment, 6) Architectural, 7) Common Areas, and 8) Staff Training: Tips for Managers and Trainers.

The single most important piece of advice we have to share, and the concept that underlies the various sections of this document, is that people with disabilities should be treated as people. We should be afforded all the respect and dignity that is given to any other person. We are not defined by our disabilities, but have needs and preferences that are unique to each of us. This document is not meant to be a checklist, but, rather, an introduction to a way of thinking, with concrete advice and examples about how to work most effectively with people with disabilities who are seeking health care.

The Disability Rights Task Force of Champaign County Health Care Consumers (CCHCC) is providing this handout in order to help improve health care for people with disabilities. However, the benefits of the advice in this handout are not just to the patient, but also to the health care provider. Better communication with people with disabilities can result in better treatment outcomes, and a reduction in workplace injuries for health care provider staff (for example, working with the patient to do a transfer can help reduce unnecessary strain and accidents). Last, but not least, we want to emphasize that this handout is offered in a good faith spirit of cooperation, with the knowledge that health care providers are likewise invested in, and dedicated to providing the highest quality care to their patients.

1. Communicating with People with Various Disabilities:

Communicating with people with disabilities should be no different than communicating with any other individuals. Communication that is based on courtesy, respect, patience, and professionalism will enhance any interaction and will result in greater understanding and better quality of health care and outcomes for the patient.

For all disabilities:

For speech disabilities:

For cognitive disabilities:

For hearing disabilities:

For vision disabilities:

Communicating with people with “invisible” disabilities:
“Hidden” or “invisible” disabilities are those disabilities that have little or no visible indicators and are not readily apparent. These disabilities are the result of medical conditions (such as diabetes, chronic pain, HIV/AIDS, etc.) and/or psychological and cognitive conditions (such as depression, autism, ADHD, etc.). “Hidden” and “invisible” disabilities are actually the most common form of disability. Although both types of conditions resulting in “invisible” disabilities can affect an individual’s life, people with psychological disabilities may be less likely to reveal their disabling conditions due to fear of societal stigma.

People with “invisible” disabilities may sometimes react in ways that are inappropriate or unpleasant, as a result of their disabling condition. As a result, their behaviors may be misinterpreted or misunderstood and others may react with frustration, hostility, annoyance, impatience, or other forms of unprofessional and unhelpful behavior. Conversely, some individuals with “invisible” disabilities may respond in overly compliant and acquiescent ways and seem like “easy” patients who do not challenge or ask questions. A health care provider should not assume that a person does not have a disability – especially if an interaction seems strange or difficult.

The following are “rules of etiquette” to help health care providers interact productively with people with “invisible” disabilities.

2. Basic Sensitivity

About the person’s medical equipment:

About asking for help:


Discharging the patient from the hospital:

3. Transfers

Transfers can be a source of tremendous frustration, and injury, to both patients and health care providers. Following these guidelines can help prevent patient injury, as well as workplace injury for health care provider staff.

How to help:

Important transfer devices:

4. Health Care Providers’ Equipment

Whenever possible, health care providers should strive to have the most accessible medical equipment possible. Accessible equipment, such as exam tables that go very low, are a benefit to all patients, including patients who may not have a disability, but may be temporarily unable to move in certain ways as a result of an injury or another medical condition.

Medical equipment is expensive, so sometimes a health care provider’s best opportunity to obtain accessible medical equipment is when purchasing new equipment for a renovation or new construction. The Disability Rights Task Force has conducted extensive research into accessible medical equipment and is available to share information about accessible medical equipment with any provider who is interested.

5. Environment

People with disabilities sometimes have sensitivities to light, temperature, chemicals, and other aspects of their surroundings and may require some accommodations to meet their needs.

Diet and eating:

6. Architectural

Most health care providers and staff are familiar with the legal requirements set forth under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). However, the ADA standards are minimum requirements for very basic accessibility. When remodeling or undertaking new construction, health care providers have an opportunity to increase accessibility beyond the minimum ADA requirements, and create an architectural environment that is more friendly and accessible to people with disabilities, people with illnesses, injuries and medical conditions (including pregnancy!) that result in limited mobility, and elderly patients (a growing population as our the percent of elderly in our nation is on the increase).

7. Common Areas

8. Staff Training: Tips for Managers and Trainers

This section of the handout consists of tips and advice for health care provider personnel who are in charge of training other staff, or developing the training curriculum. Medical personnel – whether doctors or nurses or techs – get very little, if any formal training on working with people with disabilities. Non-medical staff, such as housekeeping and administrative staff, may get no training at all, even though their jobs may require them to interact with patients or the public.


The CCHCC Disability Rights Task Force hopes that this handout has been helpful to you. Ultimately, the vision for health care for people with disabilities is the same as for people without disabilities – we all want patient-centered care. Creating greater accessibility by removing structural barriers, and creating better communication by practicing basic etiquette, listening and valuing the patient’s experience, and treating all patients as people, are key components of providing patient-centered care for all people, including people with disabilities. We know that we, as people with disabilities, share the same health care goals as our health care providers – the highest quality health care possible to achieve the healthiest outcome. Thank you for taking the time to read this handout.

Click here [1] to download this document as a PDF.