“Clinicians also wield enormous power over the care and treatment of people with disabilities, a group every human will become part of over the life course. Those who wish to advance their knowledge and improve health outcomes would thus benefit from reflecting upon the meaning of disability and the moral obligations and responsibilities owed to communities of people with disabilities.”
Medical professionals are intimately involved in the lives of disabled people and their families, where they play a number of significant roles. They determine who is and is not considered disabled, provide treatments to ameliorate the medical aspects of disability, and often set the tone for how newly diagnosed individuals and their families appraise the disability. In addition, like nondisabled people, disabled people will at times rely on doctors to help them prevent, diagnose, or treat ailments unrelated to their disability. Biases or miscommunications between disabled patients and nondisabled providers can compromise the quality of care received. On the other hand, medical providers have the power to meaningfully improve the lives of disabled patients by connecting them with appropriate supports and services.
In this article, Dr. Reynolds lays out three interrelated issues that can impact patient-provider relationships across ability lines: assumptions about poor quality of life with disability; ableism; and the distinction between disability, illness, and disease. He then proposes that clinicians have three responsibilities to disability communities. They must practice “disability humility” and be willing to learn about nonmedical aspects of the disability experience; they must improve communication across ability lines; and they must recognize the authority of disabled people as experts on their own lives, and “elevate their voices.”
Three Things Clinicians Should Know About Disability