ICS Members Tell Lawmakers about Disability Bias in Healthcare

September 23, 2019

NEW YORK — A group of women with disabilities testified at a New York City Council oversight hearing, calling on lawmakers to amend a resolution urging the State to require medical schools to train students about implicit bias in health care. The women want the resolution, which addresses bias based on gender, race, age or sexual orientation, to also explicitly address discrimination against people with disabilities.

Studies have long shown that people from marginalized communities experience bias in healthcare that results in poor health outcomes. At the September 18 hearing, members heard testimony on Proposed Resolution 512—sponsored by Councilmember Helen Rosenthal—aimed at promoting the education of culturally competent providers who understand implicit bias.

The women with disabilities who testified described their experiences in trying to get health care, how they received subpar service due to their disabilities, and how their sexual activity and reproductive health is ignored by medical professionals.

Independence Care System (ICS) member Manyon Lyons, who has cerebral palsy, noted several instances of discrimination, and urged the Committee to amend Resolution 512.

“When I brought my aide with me into a doctor’s office, the doctor would talk to the aide instead of talking to me,” Lyons said. “When I was pregnant with my son, a social worker asked me why I would want to keep the baby. It was so insulting.”

ICS member Michaeline Branker, a registered nurse and certified nurse midwife who has a spinal cord injury, testified that throughout her professional career, she has witnessed firsthand the bias people with disabilities face when seeking health care.  She also called for the resolution to be amended to not only include medical school students but other medical professionals as well.

“It should be aimed at individuals in nursing schools and professionals who train medical assistants, technicians, even medical receptionists and other office staff,” Branker said.

ICS Senior Vice President of Advocacy Marilyn Saviola told Committee on Hospitals Chairwoman Carlina Rivera that educating medical students about bias is of crucial importance.

“We are dying of a lack of health provider education,” Saviola said. “Doctors are rarely taught in medical school about people with disabilities, especially those successfully living in the community.”

Saviola said that teaching medical students about implicit bias towards people with disabilities would prevent costly hospitalizations and poor health outcomes.

“People with disabilities who are without routine access to primary care are not receiving the benefit of early testing, diagnosis and treatment,” Saviola said.  “This problem costs the person with a disability the loss of their health and independence and adds millions to the financial cost of caring for this population.”

ICS member Rosamaria Ocasio noted that until she was able to get a mammogram with the help of ICS, she experienced bias when seeking out breast cancer screenings.

“Mammography technicians didn’t understand my condition, didn’t ask appropriate questions, and basically let me know that I was a burden to them,” Ocasio said. “For years I had to worry because I could not get a valid mammogram.”

“I want to let you know that we take this feedback seriously and your recommendations to heart,” Chairwoman Rivera said at the conclusion of members’ testimonies. “The resolution is not final. It’s open to amendment. We have every intention of continuing this conversation.”

ICS works with the City to make health care more accessible for people with disabilities.

Contact: Regina Weiss


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