Working as a Nurse With a Disability

Working as a Nurse With a Disability
by Elisabeth Greenbaum Kasson

What are your options if you aspire to be a nurse and are disabled? What would you do if you were already working as a nurse and became disabled? Whether you are living with obvious disabilities such as limb differences or paralysis, or less visible ones such as a chronic illness, sensory impairment or post-traumatic stress disorder, there are few reasons that would prevent you from successfully completing a nursing program, or continuing your career. The field is diverse and there is a place for nearly everyone.
Disability defined
Definitions for what constitutes a disability have changed with the times. The Americans with Disabilities (ADA) Amendments Act of 2008 further revised the definition of “disability” to more broadly encompass impairments that substantially limit a major life activity and include those that are episodic, or in remission.

Barriers still exist
Beth Marks, RN, PhD at the University of Illinois at Chicago and Board President of the National Organization of Nurses with Disabilities (NOND), notes that attitudinal barriers, not institutional ones, remain the most significant hurdle for students and nurses with disabilities. “We are still rooted in a medical model of disabilities,” she says, “and have not embraced a socio-political lens for understanding disability.”

Marks notes that if you’re a nurse who’s acquired a disability in practice, your biggest issues may also include a lack of peer support and not fully understanding and acting upon your changing needs. If you’re a student, faculty and staff may not be supportive. It’s imperative that you research disability student (DS) services at school and if they don’t have an office on campus, seek them, or comparable assistance, out.

Know your rights
Per Marks, the most common challenge for disabled nurses is a limited awareness of their rights under the ADA. The law requires that reasonable accommodations, specific to your disability, be made to allow you to study and/or do your job. You also must educate yourself on what assistive devices would best enable your performance and move beyond any discomfort you might have in asking for these accommodations. Knowledge of your rights, needs, protections and responsibilities will be critical to your success.

There are a great many resources for disabled nurses. You can start with the disability services office at school or work, but you may also want to connect with your state protection and advocacy program and a regional ADA Center. The National Organization of Nurses with Disabilities offers advocacy, education and resources too and another terrific site to find support is Exceptional Nurse.

About Elisabeth Greenbaum Kasson
Elisabeth Greenbaum Kasson is a Los Angeles based writer whose work has appeared in the LA Times, Documentary Magazine, Movie City News, and more. Her stories have covered the gamut from IT and healthcare to music and culture. She’s been writing for 18 years.