Challenges – this link takes you to more specific challenges associated with learning.
Brief Description of Physical Disabilities including Neurological Disabilities
Physical disabilities affecting students can take many different forms. They can be temporary or permanent, fluctuating, stable or degenerative, and may affect parts of the body or the whole of it. Some students with physical disabilities, neurological conditions or acquired brain injury may have perceptual difficulties. Students may have experienced barriers to learning that relate to negative perceptions of their disability and low expectations. They may also have missed out on vital stages of learning during their schooling, affecting language acquisition and the development of literacy.
Disabled physiotherapy students may face difficulties gaining employment, especially those with visible or obvious disabilities, because employers often find it difficult to look beyond the disability and focus on what the employee can contribute to the workplace. Historically the medical model of disability implies that a person needs to be healed and employers can think of the person as needing to be taken care of or requiring an intervention rather than as a healthy person, with a disability, who is a competent health care professional. The question often asked is whether a disabled physiotherapist can provide safe and competent care. The other question often raised is how the employer can ensure safety in the workplace when working with a disabled colleague.
There are numerous adjustments that can be made within a workplace for students with physical disabilities. For example, the student may need to use an assistant to help with lifting or similar manual/physical tasks. Students may also need to take more regular breaks and/or work flexible hours to accommodate times when their stamina may be reduced. Students may need to use specialist equipment or reposition existing equipment to enable them to access it effectively.
Adjustments should be easily made if students are trained to work effectively in teams. Asking for assistance is all part of the teamwork that is essential for survival in any busy, fast-paced workplace. All students will have strengths and weaknesses to bring to the team, regardless of whether they have a disability or not and effectively managing their weaker areas, by asking colleagues to double-check things demonstrates effective team working.
Physiotherapists with physical disabilities may have unique skills that they can bring to the team, for example they may have a personal insight into what it is like to live with a physical impairment or experience extreme physical pain. They may therefore be better equipped to develop a special rapport with patients if patients are able to recognise that their carer empathises with them.
Preparing for a Clinical Placement
Issues surrounding support for students with physical disabilities are wide ranging and will depend very much on individual requirements.
When considering mobility in the workplace, it may be advisable for the student to visit the clinical setting before the placement begins to meet appropriate staff and to begin familiarisation with the environment.
It also may be necessary for Clinical Educators to provide a slightly longer induction process to enable the student to successfully negotiate his/her surroundings (this will of course depend on the complexity of the setting and the abilities of the student).
The following issues are ones that Clinical Educators may need to consider:
- Physical access to the workplace itself and navigation around the premises. If the student is not familiar with the route and the premises, it may be useful for the Clinical Education Co-ordinator and/or the Clinical Educator to suggest a strategy of prior ‘route familiarisation’ with the student.
- If working in outpatients it may be useful, but not essential, for the student to have a specific cubicle for his/her own use.
- In the inpatient situation, if patients are spread over a number of wards, it may be advisable to ask the student to concentrate on one or two of those wards as long as this does not reduce the quality of his/her clinical experience.
- Availability and type of public transport especially if the placement is in the Community.
- Availability of accessible parking spaces.
- Modification of treatment techniques possibly including the help of a Personal Assistant.
- Flexible working practices.
It is useful for both the students and the Clinical Educators to give these matters some thought so that discussion can take place enabling negotiation of mutually acceptable arrangements.