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Physical and Mental Abilities/Disabilities

About 56.7 million people, roughly 19% of the population, had a disability in 2010, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. In addition, more individuals with disabilities have entered the workforce after the 1992 Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). This includes the healthcare employment setting. The ADA requires employers to make reasonable adjustments to allow workers with disabilities to perform their jobs, unless doing so would cause significant difficulty or expense for the employer.

According to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunities Commission, "Health care is the largest industry in the American economy, and has a high incidence of occupational injury and illness. Though they are committed to promoting health through treatment and care for the sick and injured, health care workers, ironically, confront perhaps a greater range of significant workplace hazards than workers in any other sector. Health care jobs often involve potential exposure to airborne and bloodborne infectious disease, sharps injuries, and other dangers; many health care jobs can also be physically demanding and mentally stressful. Moreover, health care workers with occupational or non-occupational illness or injury may face unique challenges because of societal misperceptions that qualified health care providers must themselves be free from any physical or mental impairment." This makes understanding physical and mental abilities/disabilities diversity more important for healthcare team members than almost any other profession.

Within a healthcare facility, reasonable accommodation should be made to help a person with a disability perform the duties of their job. This also includes helping those with disabilities actually apply for a job in the healthcare field. Reasonable accommodation might include, for example, making the workplace accessible for wheelchair users or providing a reader or interpreter for someone who is hearing impaired.

Ability and disability diversity is the acceptance of all types of talents and disabilities within a healthcare facility. Employees who are not disabled should learn about the inclusion of physically and mentally challenged coworkers to aid in dismissing potential misconceptions and to support a more equitable and compliant workplace. A few points to consider for employees are:
  • What are my thoughts about mental and physical disabilities in the workplace?
  • Do I have actual experience working with a disabled coworker? Do I tend to make assumptions about the abilities and disabilities of others?
  • How can my workplace remove physical barriers for disabled employees to allow them to do their jobs more effectively?