DRLC — Is Your Health Care System Accessible?

Circa 2008

That is the question disability rights advocates in California are asking people with disabilities. A 2005 California health survey identified 7.8 million California adults, or nearly 30 percent of the adult population, as having disabilities— this based on a broad measure of disability adapted from the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey.

To better serve this population, the non-profit Civil Rights organization, Disability Rights Legal Center (DRLC) in Los Angeles, which works to promote and protect the rights of people with disabilities, is conducting a state-wide survey to identify barriers people with disabilities are experiencing in obtaining needed health-care services.

DRLC worked with the California Foundation for Independent Living Centers (CFILC) to develop a survey to assess the accessibility of health-care service providers in California. The Civil Rights organization is also working with other members of the Respect-ABILITY Coalition, a statewide group of disability rights and service organizations to learn the answer to that question.

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While federal and state laws prohibit disability discrimination and require access and accommodation, people with disabilities continue to face many barriers in terms of accessing health care facilities, services and programs.

People with mobility disabilities may have difficulty getting in the main entrance of their doctor’s office or accessing waiting and examination rooms. People who use wheelchairs may also encounter other challenges:

• using examination chairs and tables

• being weighed

• accessing x-ray equipment

Individuals who are deaf may have difficulty in getting interpreters for medical appointments. Those who are blind or have low vision may have problems obtaining provider lists in alternative formats (e.g. Braille, CD, large print), or receiving educational materials in alternative formats. Furthermore, they may not receive medical history forms in a user-friendly format.

Any one of these difficulties can result in negative—and in some cases serious—consequences for a health care patient who has a disability. They could result in misdiagnosis, prescription of inadequate or even harmful treatment, and frustration on the patient’s part in trying to get needed health care.

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The survey issued by the DRLC and the Respect-ABILITY Coalition aims to provide a current snapshot of access problems that Californians with disabilities face across a wide spectrum of health care access needs. The center will develop a fact sheet about the accessibility of services across California and report their findings at a Spring 2008 Respect-ABILITY Conference. It will use those findings to develop policy solutions for greater access to quality health care for people with disabilities throughout California.

To take the Health Care Accessibility Survey online go to www.respectabilitycoalition.org. You can submit your survey online, or a PDF or MS Word version may be downloaded and returned via mail or fax. The survey is available, upon request, in Spanish, Braille, large print or on CD.

The survey project is being funded by a generous grant from the California Endowment, a statewide health foundation whose mission is to expand access to affordable, quality health care for underserved individuals and communities, and to promote fundamental improvements in the health status of the state’s residents.

by Shawna Parks, Thomas J. Hill, Paula Pearlman and Eve Hill

DRLC works to end discrimination in access to health care, public accommodations, employment, transportation, insurance, education, housing, and other key areas of life, visit: www.disabilityrigthslegalcenter.org

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