Acknowledging National Disability Independence Day

By Eve J. Higginbotham SM, MD, ML

The vision of our shared initiative, Action for Cultural Transformation (ACT) is to build a more inclusive culture.  Since its inception, progress has been made on a number of key initiatives however, as many have stated in the process, “This is not a sprint but a marathon.”  Achieving that goal comes in many forms.  One notable strategy is to understand key policies and opportunities to optimize the lives of our patients, colleagues, and members of our family. 

Today, July 26th marks the 32nd anniversary of the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), a critically transformative Civil Rights legislation that facilitates and reassures the full engagement of individuals with disabilities in the community. As a result of the ADA, it has been estimated that 25% of Americans with a disability are now experiencing greater ability to enhance function in both the workplace and in the community.

The World Health Organization reminds us that disability is a global health issue, affecting one in seven people worldwide and in fact at some point in our life, we all may experience some form of disability.  This is also a human rights issue, recognizing the discrimination that many in this community face and the lack of autonomy when they seek care.  It is also a development priority, given the prevalence in lower income countries and the close connection to poverty.  It is estimated that 15% of the world’s population lives with a disability, including as many as 93 million children. And in our own community in Philadelphia, the link between poverty and disability deserves greater attention.

As a health care system, educational, and research institution, it is important for us to keep in mind our responsibility as members of the Penn Medicine Community, considering the significance of this day:

  •               To ensure fair treatment of everyone with whom we interact;
  •               Ensure that our communications and physical environment are understandable and usable by everyone;
  •               Continuously assess our facilities and systems to ensure that every person has the ability to use them to the maximum extent possible;
  •               Ensure that everyone with our community has the chance to achieve their personal and professional goals without barriers.

Helen Keller holds a very special place in the hearts and minds of Americans and as an ophthalmologist, she brings to mind a number of moments when I have sought to bolster the hopes of patients, particularly those in fear of visual impairment.  This quote attributed to her, reminds us all of what we can bring to the workplace and our daily lives: “Optimism is the faith that leads to achievement. Nothing can be done without hope and confidence.” These are words for all of us to remember every day. We all have the chance to make a difference in the lives of others every day. It begins with the belief that we can achieve our goals.