Integration of Disability-Related Content in Nursing Curricula

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT Despite evidence that health care professionals, including nurses, do not perceive persons with disabilities in a positive light and fail to attend to their health care needs, it is not known how nursing programs address the topic of disability. This descriptive study was conducted to examine the extent to which schools of nursing in the United States address disability-related issues and the strategies used to integrate disability-related content in their curricula. A 27-item investigator-developed survey was sent to a national stratified random sample of 1,000 schools of nursing. Questions pertained to curricular content, specific groups of persons with disabilities, and teaching methods and resources used to teach nursing students about disability. Respondents indicated that they included some content related to disability in their curricula. Nursing textbooks were the most common source of information used. Barriers to including disability-related content were lack of time and lack of faculty interest or expertise. These findings can serve as a stimulus to increase the extent and breadth of disability-related issues in nursing curricula.

Key Words Disability--Disability-Related Content--Disability Models--Nursing Curricula


IT IS ESTIMATED that 60 million persons in the United States have disabilities (1), and this number is expected to increase with the aging of the population. Many individuals with chronic illnesses and disabilities are living longer. In addition, many who would have succumbed to childhood illnesses or severe trauma in the past now survive and have normal or near-normal lifespans (2). Although disabilities are often associated with old age, national data demonstrate that they occur across the lifespan (3). * Despite these trends, there are indications that health care providers, including nurses, do not perceive persons with disabilities in a positive light and fail to attend to their health care needs (4,5). Further, it has been reported that the health care provided may promote negative stereotypical images and is seen as demeaning and disabling rather than empowering (6-8). * Factors contributing to negative attitudes on the part of health care providers may include inadequate attention to disability in the curricula and inadequate exposure to persons with disabilities during education and training. THIS ARTICLE REPORTS ON A STUDY DESIGNED TO DETERMINE THE EXTENT TO WHICH SCHOOLS OF NURSING IN THE UNITED STATES INCLUDE DISABILITY-RELATED ISSUES IN THEIR CURRICULA AND THE STRATEGIES SCHOOLS USE TO INTEGRATE SUCH CONTENT IN THEIR CURRICULA.

Review of the Literature The existing literature on disability in nursing and other health professions' education provides little direction about essential disability content. Most studies have focused on efforts to assess and change students' attitudes toward persons with disabilities.

Nurse researchers Lindgren and Oermann (9,10) attempted to improve attitudes of nursing students toward people with disabilities by providing content related to their care and through simulated disability experiences. In their first study, they assessed the attitudes of nursing students before and after participation in a one-day educational conference on health care strategies designed to empower patients with disabilities. The last session of the conference was presented by a person with a disability in a leadership position in a large health care foundation. One month after the conference, students' attitude scores were significantly more positive than preconference scores.

In a second study by the same researchers (10), some nursing students attended a special workshop on providing care to persons with physical disabilities. Students who attended the workshop had significantly more positive attitudes than students in a control group. The researchers concluded that a core of informed and interested nurse educators is needed to introduce and support rehabilitation nursing practice in the curriculum. …


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