For years, people with intellectual and developmental disabilities have struggled to access effective healthcare. Generations of healthcare providers have not received the proper training on how to treat individuals with disabilities.
According to Statistics Canada, one in five (22%) of the Canadian population aged 15 and over – about 6.2 million individuals – are living with some form of disability that affects their level of freedom, independence, or quality of life.
People with disabilities have the same right as everyone else to receive community-based healthcare with the same ease of access and for the same problems. In this article, we discuss some of the most common healthcare barriers for people with disabilities and how healthcare providers can improve accessibility in their medical facilities.
Common Barriers to Disability Healthcare
In surveys and focus groups, people with disabilities expressed frustration over the multiple barriers that prevent them from getting the healthcare that they need. These barriers include:
Communication barriers: Those with speech disabilities have a hard time communicating with healthcare providers and feel that their concerns are not taken seriously.
Attitudinal barriers: People with disabilities report that their providers speak to them disrespectfully or ignore their need for preventative care, focusing on their disability as the main reason for their visit.
Physical barriers: Individuals with disabilities report a lack of architectural accessibility and a lack of medical equipment in healthcare facilities and offices (e.g., wheelchair ramps and elevators, and height-adjustable exam tables).
Financial barriers: People with disabilities have a harder time finding secure employment because of their disability, or they may receive public benefits or coverage, which limits their financial capacity to cover medical expenses.
Transportation barriers: Lack of accessible transportation for people who cannot drive because of cognitive or mobility impairments. Public transportation may also be unavailable or at inconvenient locations.
Health Disparities in People with Disabilities
Canadians living with long-term conditions and disabilities experience more serious health disparities than those without disabilities. These include:
1. Poor health rates
2. Higher rates of depression and anxiety
3. Shorter life expectancy than the general population
4. Less likely to receive preventative care
5. Higher rates of undiagnosed hearing and vision impairments
6. Higher rates of obesity
7. Higher rates of poor dental health
8. Higher rates of diabetes, asthma, and heart disease
Removing Barries and Improving Accessibility
Understanding these barriers is the first step toward removing them. There are many things that healthcare providers can do to make their medical facilities more accessible for patients with disabilities. These include:
– Providing accessible office equipment, such as height-adjustable exam tables, scales, and X-ray machines.
– Ensuring that office building complies with modern accessibility guidelines, such as having doorways wide enough for wheelchair access, appropriate ramps and elevators, and accessible restrooms.
– Providing alternative communication when requested, such as sign language or written communication.
– Recognizing that some patients with disabilities will bring their service animals into clinic waiting rooms, exam rooms, and other areas in your office.
– Providing ongoing training to medical staff on how to interact appropriately with patients who have disabilities. Include topics on respectful communication, disability culture, reproductive healthcare, and the importance of preventative care.
– Connecting with local and national disability organizations so staff can learn more about rare conditions and ask people with disabilities about their preferences for communication and access.
– Recognizing that some patients with disabilities may have trouble paying for their healthcare, even if they have insurance. Help patients to understand all of their prevention and treatment options, including relative costs. This may include comparing different treatment options or allowing for payment plans.