By Shipra Shukla
It's been 17 years since the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) went into law, but one expert says more must be done to boost understanding of disabilities in the health care setting and should be considered a part of achieving diversity in the workplace.
Kathy Martinez, executive director of World Institute on Disability (WID), addressed challenges facing those with disabilities at a noontime event at UCSF's Mount Zion campus on Nov. 25. Her talk was sponsored by the Chancellor's Advisory Committee on Diversity and the Chancellor's Advisory Committee on Disability Issues.
Born out of the independent living movement of the 1970s, WID is a nonprofit research foundation and international public policy center based in Oakland. Founded in 1983 by activists Ed Roberts and Judy Heumann, the organization advocates the civil rights of people with disabilities and pushes for public policies that promote the full inclusion of people with disabilities in society.
Recently, people with disabilities and their allies celebrated the 17th anniversary of the ADA, a law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability. Although compliance with this law has improved access to some health care services, legislation cannot implement an understanding among medical professionals of how best to provide service to disabled individuals, Martinez explained.
Over the years, Martinez has worked to establish several programs which address individuality in disability issues, specifically programs that serve the underserved populations. Martinez said that in many countries, especially in the developing world, a medical view of disability contributes to negative stereotypes.
"Curiosity about a disability supersedes other things," said Martinez. "People find it difficult to be able to separate a disability from a medical condition."
Martinez highlighted how the health care system can address the fact that disability is viewed and valued differently in various cultures. She gave examples including the reluctance of some Native American groups to want to correct hip dysplasia in children and the idea of disability seen within a religious context.
Blind since birth, Martinez is an internationally known disability activist, author and speaker who teaches at UCLA's Leadership Institute for Managers with Disabilities, part of the Anderson School of Management.
A California native who worked as an organizer in the women's movement and farmworkers movement in the 1970s, Martinez recalled, "Organizers of those movements found it difficult to get past my blindness and make use of my skills."
Michael B. Adams, director of the UCSF Office of Affirmative Action, Equal Opportunity, and Diversity and ADA coordinator, agrees that often people have misconceptions about those with disabilities. "Individuals with disabilities are too often handicapped not by the disability, but by the inability or unwillingness of others to respond in a nondiscriminatory and accommodating manner," said Adams, who attended Martinez's talk.
In reflecting on the role UCSF plays, Adams said, "There should be no difference in attitude or the creative energy available to provide a supportive and inclusive environment for all of our diverse backgrounds and needs, including for those among us with disabilities."
UCSF has a long history of accommodating its disabled faculty, staff and students. The University spearheaded efforts among public institutions to provide reasonable accommodation after ADA was passed in 1990, seeing it as part of employee retention efforts.
UCSF's approach to providing reasonable accommodation mirrors the philosophy of the WID in that it believes an individual is the best judge of his or her own needs.
"What we try to do at UCSF is deal with each person's situation individually," said Larry Hickey, assistant director of UCSF Human Resources. "We have a disability management services area within Human Resources which provides assistance to facilitate an interactive process to identify reasonable accommodations."
The Chancellor's Advisory Committee on Disability Issues is charged with "identifying issues on campus affecting individuals with disabilities, evaluating existing policies, procedures and programs in light of those issues, and recommending to the Chancellor, changes to increase accessibility among members of the campus community."
One recommendation includes encouraging the different professional schools to include a disability-related curriculum in their cultural competency courses.
"We want to encourage schools to learn more about the disability community, especially since we are a health sciences campus," said Alice Wong, vice chair of the Chancellor's Advisory Committee on Disability Issues. "Disability is part of the greater continuum of diversity, and we need to allow for variation and not get so focused on what is the norm."
World Institute on Disability