Mar 2010

Technical Standards Versus Essential Functions: Developing Disability-Friendly Policies for Nursing Programs

Technical Standards Versus Essential Functions: Developing Disability-Friendly Policies for Nursing Programs
by Martha Smith

What do technical standards mean for nursing?

Under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, schools can, in fact, have technical standards. Technical Standards are all the non-academic requirements a students must have/meet to enter a program. For most health sciences programs, there are usually a list of skills or experiences students must have prior to entry. Technical Standards cannot be written to exclude a class of people, including students with disabilities, and must have the "tag-line” “able to meet these requirements with or without a reasonable accommodation.” Most schools have difficulty writing good technical standards. They often use physical attributes as a skill, e.g, “must be able to talk to patients directly” versus “must be able to communicate effectively”. Also, technical standards should be written as the "what" of a skill, not the "how", e.g., “must be able to gather vitals using variety of means” versus “must be able to hear a heart murmur through a stethoscope” (actually specifying how the task will be accomplished). Many technical standards are written based on skills that students will actually learn how to do in the program (e.g., “must be able to hear/detect a heart murmur through a stethoscope”). Because students will learn this skill in school, it is not a requirement for entering the program.
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