Another Inaccessible Exam Table Story

Throughout the year I make a series of appointments with my doctors. My rheumatologist is the doctor I see most frequently, but I also have annual visits to the dermatologist for a skin check, the orthopedic surgeon for a joint replacement check, and the annual physical with my general practitioner, just to name a few.

It has been a relatively good year because I hadn’t seen my GP since my last annual checkup one year ago. This means I didn’t have any infections or other unwanted emergencies! Yay! But nonetheless, I feel my annual physical is extremely important for a fresh look at my health. I really like how my doctor thinks about other conditions and possible health risks that can appear with my rheumatoid arthritis. I also appreciate that she conducts a regular exam without focusing only on the RA. My appointment happened to be scheduled for July 26, which was the 27th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act. The irony of this fact was underscored when the nurse showed me into an exam room that had a regular, high exam table instead one of the rooms with a lower, accessible table. I immediately asked if I could be moved, but she brusquely told me that the other rooms were occupied and left me.

I could immediately feel my blood boil.

I have been a patient in this major clinical practice for more than 10 years. My condition, disability, and the fact that I use a wheelchair are all over my records. Plus, the fact that much of the staff know me and know that I need accessible accommodations! The fact that this nurse was new didn’t bother me. It angered me that she ignored my very reasonable request and dismissed me. A few minutes later my doctor came in, interviewed me, discussed concerns, and examined me while in my wheelchair. I asked her if I should be moved to another room with an accessible exam table and she explained that those rooms had been taken by a different specialty group that had moved into the space. For the purposes of this exam, I was OK to stay in my wheelchair. I didn’t push the issue this time around, but I’m not going to let it slide in the future. As I was leaving my appointment, I learned that at least one of the rooms with an accessible table was empty. There’s no reason I could not have been placed in that room and no reason it could not have been requested and reserved for my appointment. The Americans with Disabilities Act requires public accommodations to be accessible to people with all types of disabilities and there is abundant guidance and technologies to make it happen. I was so happy when this practice purchased a couple accessible exam tables and have been able to use them on previous appointments. But the biggest barrier, as always, seems to be attitude. Having the equipment does nothing for accessibility if you fail to use it. When a patient who obviously needs accessibility and requests it and you fail to provide it out of laziness or fear of rocking the boat, you are building bigger barriers than existed in the first place. I am reminded every day that more needs to be done about accessibility and that, although the law may be 27 years old, it still has yet to be enforced in many places. Most importantly, however, is the fact that it has yet to be fully embraced by people’s minds and souls. Equal access seems to still be a foreign concept to many, even a nurse who should know better because she interacts with people with disabilities on a regular basis. Next time, when I make my appointment I will be requesting a room with an accessible exam table in advance. I’ll confirm when I check in at the desk. And I won’t let it go, so that others may eventually find access as easy as it should be.


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