Educating Students With Disabilities: Are We Doing Enough?

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Background and Purpose.

The rights of students with disabilities (SWDs) are clearly legislated and align with the core values of the physical therapy profession. However, little is known about the prevalence of SWDs in physical therapist (PT) and physical therapist assistant (PTA) programs, their accommodation needs, and how these accommodations influence didactic and clinical learning experiences. Previous studies have yielded either incomplete or outdated information. Today's physical therapy educators need more accurate information and mechanisms for sharing resources to better anticipate and meet the needs of SWDs in both the classroom and clinical settings.

Position and Rationale.

We propose 3 initiatives that the physical therapy profession should consider to begin addressing the challenges presented by the matriculation of SWDs into our entry-level education programs. These initiatives include: (1) mandatory reporting of data on SWDs by all PT and PTA programs as part of the annual accreditation report; (2) development of a uniform list of essential functions/technical standards that all PT and PTA programs could adopt and disseminate to prospective students; and (3) the creation of an electronic database or network for educators to share ideas and resources for accommodating the learning needs of SWDs.

Discussion and Conclusions.

Over the past 2 decades, physical therapy educators have had intermittent conversations regarding the challenges associated with educating SWDs. We believe that it is time to be more proactive and develop mechanisms for collecting valid data regarding SWDs, standardize the essential functions/technical standards that we expect students to perform, and share ideas and resources for accommodating those students who have a desire to pursue a career in physical therapy, despite the presence of a disability. As a profession that is dedicated to promoting opportunities for people with disabilities, we believe that PT educators can and should provide a successful model for other health professions to follow.

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