Americans with Disabilities Act knowledge sparse among physicians, study finds

Scientists have published a paper in Health Affairs stating that there is a troubling lack of knowledge among physicians about the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) thereby posing huge risk to equitable care and social justice for patients with disability.

The ADA was passed more than 30 years ago and despite this, most physicians still lack basic knowledge about “reasonable accommodations” the law requires them to provide to people with disabilities, scientists have said in the paper. Researchers say that more than a third of physicians surveyed knew little or nothing about their legal requirements under the law, and more than 70 percent did not know who determines the “reasonable accommodations” required to provide equitable care to people with disabilities.

Passed in 1990, the Americans with Disabilities Act prohibits discrimination against people with disability, including in healthcare. Specifically, it requires physicians and patients to collaborate on determining what reasonable accommodations are needed to ensure that patients receive accessible and equitable care.

To explore the understanding by physicians of their obligations under ADA, researchers conducted a nationwide survey of 714 U.S. physicians in outpatient practices. They learned that 36 percent had little or no knowledge about their legal responsibilities under ADA; 71 percent answered incorrectly about who determines reasonable accommodations; 21 percent did not know who is obligated to pay for these accommodations; and 68 percent felt they were at risk for ADA lawsuits.

The study stresses the need for more training of physicians about disability civil rights and their responsibilities under ADA, beginning in medical school and then as part of a physician’s continuing medical education.

“Medical schools are currently training students about combatting racism, and there should also be training in combatting discrimination against people with disability, also known as ‘ableism,’” emphasizes Eric G. Campbell, PhD, a survey scientist at the University of Colorado, and senior author of the study “Every practicing physician can expect to see increasing numbers of people with disability, and they need to know how to accommodate them.”

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