Perhaps you have partial hearing loss, or a slight vision impairment. Perhaps you have ADHD or Asperger’s. Or maybe you only have one arm. You could have been in a car accident that caused a traumatic brain injury that makes it difficult for you to remember things as clearly as before. Or maybe arthritis is becoming a major issue for you. Whatever your impairment, working as a nurse with a disability can be very challenging. Often it is more difficult to be allowed to do your job and treated fairly than it is to actually get the job done.
In a field where we are constantly preaching ways to stay and become healthy, it can be somewhat of a disadvantage to be coming at that from a place that is not deemed “physically perfect.” The disadvantage comes from the hurdles that you have to jump through to be taken seriously or be given a chance for proper employment. Luckily, in the years after the Americans with Disabilities Act has been passed, large bounds have been taken to educate the healthcare industry about nurses with disabilities and make accommodations in the work place to enable them to do their job more efficiently.
Every nurse is different. Not all of them need to be able to use all four limbs at once to help an emergency patient while writing out a chart with their teeth. Every nursing position requires different fortes, and nurses with disabilities can sometimes be even better suited for a certain position than others. A nurse with significant hearing loss who has had to cope with lifelong hearing aids and an enhanced stethoscope may be better at dealing with elderly patients who are having trouble with their ears. A nurse who has been though an accident and is back at work with one less limb, or memory loss, or a back condition, will have more personal insight to offer patients struggling through similar circumstances.
A program called the Job Accommodation Network, or JAN, is a wonderful little gem that helps employers find useful accommodations for workers with disabilities. Although this program is still in the beginning phases, and does not cover every issue or situation, it is a great start in giving nurses with disabilities the assistance they need to effectively do their work. Some examples of what JAN recommends are height adjustable examination tables, one handed syringes, providing written minutes from meetings, and using dictation equipment.
Even with this progress, there are still issues affecting nurses with disabilities in the workplace. Although hospitals will always have wheelchair accessible bathrooms and entrances for the public, nursing stations are rarely upgraded to be functional for someone in a wheelchair. It’s hard to reach a chart that’s placed on a wall about 2 feet above your arm reach. But nurses with disabilities are experts at coping and are slowly gaining helpful tools for their work. What is important to remember, is that every nurse doesn’t have to be good at every single thing. Specializations do exist in the nursing field. And everyone has their gift.
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