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March 26, 2003

Health Professionals With Physical DisabilitiesHealth Professionals With Physical Disabilities

JAMA. 2003;289(12):1507. doi:10.1001/jama.289.12.1507-a

To the Editor: Dr Steinberg and colleagues1 decry the lack of data on disabled faculty, who "are thus largely invisible." Yet the authors do not disclose whether they themselves have disabilities. If so, then their choice to remain personally "invisible" may contribute to the problem. As a physician who has been paraplegic (from a T7 fracture) for nearly 30 years, I believe that only those who are disabled can fully comprehend the self-perception and identity formation engendered from the implicit and explicit reactions of others.2 I stopped conducting teaching rounds after my disability, even though I worked at our university hospital. The reasons for this are many—some of them my fault for not being more assertive, another that I was not on a tenure track. But most important was the perception of others, as the authors state, "neither medical school faculty nor students are expected to have disabilities." Put another way, most (but certainly not all) physicians are uncomfortable with the idea of a disabled colleague.3 I fear such attitudes will not be altered by stricter adherence to the Americans With Disabilities Act. More personal and subtle ways must be found.