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Special Communication
December 25, 2002

Reasonable Accommodations for Medical Faculty With Disabilities

Author Affiliations

Author Affiliations: Departments of Psychiatry and Pediatrics (Dr Steinberg), Department of Internal Medicine (Dr Conill), Department of Rehabilitation Medicine (Dr Stineman), University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, Philadelphia; and Division of General Medicine and Primary Care, Department of Medicine, Harvard Medical School, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Boston, Mass (Dr Iezzoni).

JAMA. 2002;288(24):3147-3154. doi:10.1001/jama.288.24.3147

An unknown number of medical school faculty have disabilities, and their experiences have generally escaped notice and scrutiny. Although most medical schools offer long-term insurance and extended leaves of absence for disability, relatively few have policies explicitly addressing accommodations for faculty with disabilities as they perform teaching, research, and clinical duties. We discuss accommodating active medical school faculty with disabilities, drawing on University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine initiatives exploring the concerns of faculty with sensory and physical disabilities. Anecdotal reports suggest that many faculty, fearing reprisals, resist seeking job accommodations such as those mandated in the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Although some faculty with disabilities have found supportive academic mentors, others report that lax institutional enforcement of ADA requirements, including physical access problems, demonstrates a tepid commitment to disabled staff. Potentially useful job accommodations include adjusting timelines for promotion decisions; reassessing promotions requirements that inherently require extensive travel; improving physical access to teaching, research, and clinical sites; and modifying clinical and teaching schedules. Faculty with disabilities bring identical intellectual and collegial benefits to medical schools as their nondisabled counterparts. In addition, they may offer special insights into how chronic illness and impairments affect daily life.