The Voice of Disability in Nursing

The Voice of Disability in Nursing
by Holly Clayton, RN, MSN
New Hampshire Nursing News

Recently, I represented NHNA in a monthly American Nurses Association’s Nursing Practice & Work Environment (NP&WE) conference call. With the goal of “promoting the health, safety, and wellness of the nurse and the nursing profession,” this call served to educate and disseminate information of interest to nurses. ANA members included Marie Barry, MSN, Senior Policy Analyst; Holly Carpenter, Senior Staff Specialist; Jaime Dawson, MPH, Senior Policy Analyst and Ruth Francis, MPH, MCHES, Sr. Administrative Assistant. Current projects of the ANA NP&WE include HealthyNurseTM, Safe Patient Handling and Mobility, Fatigue, Safe Staffing and Care Coordination.

A portion of this monthly conference call focuses on current issues with this meeting highlighting the National Organization of Nurses with Disabilities (NOND). Guest speakers included Karen McCulloh, RN, BS, Founder, NOND and Beth Marks, RN, PhD, President, NOND.

I learned the majority of members of the nurse board of NOND, a volunteer organization, have a variety of disabilities. The organization has a mission of “being the voice of disability in nursing.” According to NOND, of those nurses that have disclosed their disability, three per cent of the workforce have disabilities. There are challenges and employment gaps, but there are new expectations with legal and social changes.

Student standards were discussed. Standards must be achievable by students with reasonable accommodations. The presenters discussed students achieving a standard centered on “what,” not “how.” The example provided was “able to gather vitals” rather than “hear the heart murmur through a stethoscope.”

The presenters cited a study demonstrating the aging workforce, with increased incidence of chronic health conditions and disabilities in nurses. They emphasized nurses need to become more knowledgeable, increase their awareness of possible accommodations and be prepared to advocate for themselves.

Following this meeting, I phoned NOND co-founder Karen McCulloh, RN, BS to learn more. She stated NOND is “here for nurses with chronic health conditions and disability.” She discussed strategies for nurses to collaborate with other nurses practicing with disabilities and advised that nurses should not assume they can’t do something based on a disability. Advances in technology and a changing paradigm enable nurses to be nurses, not “patients.” McCulloh provided an example of a nurse who sustained permanent injuries but completed her nursing program with a personal assistant. According to McCulloh, doors can be opened, but nurses need to increase their understanding of how to navigate.

The NOND website, emphasizes that NOND is the voice for nurses with disabilities. New members are encouraged to join.

Holly Clayton RN, MSN is an active NHNA member and Associate Editor of the NHNursing News.

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