From Impairment to Empowerment: A Longitudinal Medical School Curriculum on Disabilities

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Abstract

Problem

All physicians will care for individuals with disabilities; however, education about disabilities is lacking at most medical schools. Most of the schools that do include such education exclusively teach the medical model, in which disability is viewed as an impairment to be overcome. Disability advocates contest this approach because it overlooks the social and societal contexts of disability. A collaboration between individuals with disabilities, educators, and physicians to design a medical school curriculum on disabilities could overcome these differences.

Approach

A curriculum on disabilities for first- and second-year medical students was developed during the 2013–2014 academic year and involved a major collaboration between a medical student, medical educators, disability advocates, and academic disability specialists. The guiding principle of the project was the Disability Rights Movement motto, “Nothing about us without us.” Two small-group sessions were created, one for each medical school class. They included discussions about different models of disability, video and in-person narratives of individuals with disabilities, and explorations of concepts central to social perceptions of disability, such as power relationships, naming and stigmatization, and disability as identity.

Outcomes

According to evaluations conducted after each session, students reported positive feedback about both sessions.

Next Steps

Through this curriculum, first- and second-year medical students learned about the obstacles faced by individuals with disabilities and became better equipped to understand and address the concerns, hopes, and societal challenges of their future patients. This inclusive approach may be used to design additional curricula about disabilities for the clinical and postgraduate years.

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