Academic journal article Journal of Allied Health

Disability Law and Health Care Education

Academic journal article Journal of Allied Health

Disability Law and Health Care Education

Article excerpt

Health care education programs, regardless of the discipline, will face similar challenges and issues related to students with disabilities. These are likely to include issues related to admission, retention, and academic adjustments, auxiliary aids, and services. A review of the literature reveals limited information beyond medical and nursing education programs, although students with disabilities are enrolled in education programs in other health care disciplines. Recent research indicates that students with disabilities are enrolling in health care education programs with increasing frequency. Educators and administrators will benefit from a better understanding of disability law and how it impacts education programs. Further, this knowledge should allow health care educators to be more proactive in regard to students with disabilities and to maintain a greater degree of autonomy over their respective programs. This report reviews pertinent legislation and case law as it applies to students with disabilities in health care education. J Allied Health 2008; 37:110-115.

HEALTH CARE EDUCATORS AND PROGRAM DIRECTORS are usually considered content experts relative to their respective disciplines and are increasingly informed on various pedagogical theories and assessment strategies. It is less likely, however, that they are experienced in administrative issues such as those presented by students with disabilities. In these instances, they are likely to react to these situations without having the benefit of experience or prepared policies from which to develop solutions. Familiarity with disability law as it relates to students in health care education programs may benefit academic programs and prospective students.

Health care education programs are increasingly likely to encounter students with disabilities as the prevalence of students with disabilities increases. In 1978, less than 3% of the undergraduate student population reported disabilities, by the mid-1990s this figure had doubled, and by 2000 9% of undergraduate students reported some type of disability.1 A similar trend has been reflected in health care education programs, with medical schools demonstrating a doubling of enrollment by students with learning disabilities during the late 1990s2 and athletic training education programs realizing a 92% increase in the number of students with disabilities from 2000 to 2004.3

Still, health care education programs have a lower prevalence of students with disabilities relative to the overall undergraduate population (-2.5% vs. 9%).4,5 This may be a result of selective admission policies associated with most health care education programs, technical standards associated with each discipline, or clinical education requirements associated with health care education.6 Regardless, educators and administrators should be aware that physical attributes associated with admission for health care education programs (i.e., observing, moving) are second only to standardized testing in regard to complaints forwarded to the Office for Civil Rights.7 In addition, health care education faculty members have expressed a lack of confidence in addressing issues related to disability rights.8 Therefore, it appears that educators and administrators need to develop a better understanding of the rights of students with disabilities, the rights of academic programs, and the responsibility health care education programs have for promoting quality within their respective disciplines. A review of the literature related to health care education has identified several areas that have been problematic in regard to students with disabilities. These areas include (1) defining and identifying disabilities, (2) delineating essential functions required in the academic program, (3) establishing reasonable accommodations, and (4) negotiating the professional licensing process.7

Relevant Disability Law: The Rehabilitation Act and the Americans With Disabilities Act

In 1973, the Rehabilitation Act prohibited discrimination based on disability and linked compliance with this statute with eligibility for federal funding, including federal grants and contracts and government-supported student loans for higher education:

No otherwise qualified individual with a disability in the United States . …

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