Making Healthcare Accessible

Making Healthcare Accessible

Claire Abenante (right) with former ICS staffer Anna Martinez, who currently directs Project Equal Access for the New York City Human Rights Commission.

Although it’s been 28 years since the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), many New Yorkers still face a myriad of challenges getting access to health care. This is what brought together a group of disability rights advocates from New York City and State government agencies and local non-profits over the past few months. Together, we discussed ways to increase consumer and provider knowledge, and reduce barriers to health care for New Yorkers with disabilities.

One result of these brainstorming sessions was a symposium in Brooklyn last month co-hosted by New York Lawyers for the Public Interest (NYPLI) and Independence Care System (ICS).  The goal of “Medical Access and the Rights of Persons with Disabilities” was to educate healthcare consumers about their rights, and healthcare administrators and providers about their obligations under the many laws that mandate that services be accessible to people with disabilities.

Ruth Lowenkron, Director of NYLPI’s Disability Justice Program, kicked off the symposium by explaining some of the reasons why accommodations for people with disabilities are inadequate, including perceptions about the financial cost of accessibility and a lack of relevant knowledge among healthcare providers, who generally receive no formal training in caring for people with disabilities.

The legal rights of consumers with disabilities

Attorneys John Herrion, and Dustin Frankel, representing New York’s State and City Human Rights agencies, offered “know your rights” presentations for consumers, including information on how to file a discrimination lawsuit.  Susan Scheer, CEO of the New York non-profit Institute for Career Development, told her personal story, describing her difficulties, as a person with a disability, in trying to get a mammogram.

Scheer’s experience led to a discrimination claim against Lenox Hill Hospital, which was settled earlier this year. Under the settlement, Lenox Hill Radiology is required to: modify the exterior and interior of their main building to make it more accessible; provide equipment in line with the U.S. Access Board’s accessibility standards to make examinations accessible to people with disabilities; change scheduling, communications, and equipment purchasing to enhance accessibility; and conduct related staff training.

I and my colleague Loreen Loonie, Senior Vice President for Communications and Marketing, described ICS’s work making it possible for ICS members to receive mammography, gynecological care, and other essential preventative care. ICS has accomplished this over the past ten years through education, training, working directly with providers and patients, and making accessible medical equipment recommendations with healthcare facilities we have recruited to partner with us.

Based on this experience, ICS has also published a guide for healthcare providers to help them make their services accessible. This guide, which was written with support from the New York State Health Foundation, is available to providers and the public for free download here.

This symposium was only the beginning of what the group hopes to accomplish in making healthcare services accessible to New Yorkers with disabilities. We have also been discussing the lack of oversight in health care facilities to ensure compliance with ADA regulations and plan to tackle that issue next.

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