A focus on ability

Nurses should focus on accessibility and enhancing ability.

Ask healthcare professionals about disability and they will often espouse the medical model, focusing on impairments and medical diagnoses with an air of ‘them, not us’. 

Photo: iStock

In contrast, the social model focuses on how accessible and accepting society is and how to improve ‘ability’.

What does this mean for community nurses? Let’s start with some basics. Nurses assess and plan care and this cannot be done efficiently by making assumptions. Asking people what they can do and what help they need to do more is central to promoting independence. Find out about aids, charities and services that might help people with disabilities. Familiarise yourself with Motability and RICA. These are only two agencies that might help your clients – there are many more.

Accessible services

Think about access and the way someone with mobility problems would get to the local chemist or local market. How about NHS appointments? Do local healthcare providers speak basic British Sign Language? Are health promotion materials available in large print and easy read? Is there disabled parking at the local health centre or GP and is it exclusively reserved for disabled people?

On a recent series of healthcare appointments, the disabled parking was blocked by staff or a pharmacy van. ‘Just ask, we’ll move,’ they say. One driver said to me ‘At least I’m working’. This reveals a pervasive attitude that hurts people with disabilities: that they are takers in a world where there isn’t enough and they should have to ask for things that are rightfully theirs.

Tackle ignorance

Nurses should talk about accessibility and access with clients and providers to ensure everyone can access healthcare. They should prevent people from being impaired by others’ ignorance.

Reducing stigma is essential for people with disabilities to be able to work and live independently.

And don’t forget to support reasonable adjustments for colleagues with disabilities. Nurses are more likely than most to be affected by disability and one day it might be you that needs support.

Above all, be positive about disability for the sake of clients and colleagues.

Further information

Disability Confident Employer Scheme and Guidance

About the author

Bethann Siviter is an independent nursing consultant in Birmingham


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