1. Rossitto, Jo-Ann L. DNSc, RN

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Nursing Students With Disabilities


Donna Maheady should be commended for writing Nursing Students With Disabilities: Change The Course,1 a first-person account of 8 nursing students with varying types of physical and health-related disabilities (hearing loss, diabetes, Crohn's disease, back injury, and paraplegia). Drawing from her experiences as a nurse educator and mother of a special-needs child, Dr Maheady vows to change the course of how nurse educators perceive, treat, react to, and accommodate students with disabilities.


The overall objective of this text is to facilitate the inclusion of students with disabilities into nursing programs rather than discourage their participation or make it extremely difficult for them to continue in the program. Each chapter describes a student's real-life experience with a disability and then presents an individualized accommodation plan to support his or her progression through the nursing program. The students also discuss their plight with the admission's process; the benefits and risks of disclosure; types of accommodations provided, if any; reactions of faculty, patients, and other students; and personal recommendations for others in similar situations. Following the student's narrative are questions to consider and examples of individualized nursing education programs. Although these individualized approaches were developed retrospectively, based on the author's analysis of each student's predicament, they do provide the basis for a more comprehensive type of teaching and learning strategy.


The end of the text features an extensive list of resources, including numerous Web site addresses related to advocacy, education, career advice, and available testing services. One such site, created and maintained by Dr Maheady, is located at This Web site contains a plethora of information for students, faculty, and practicing nurses and provides links to disability related organizations, technology, equipment, financial aid, employment opportunities, legal resources, mentors, and applicable research.


Nursing Students With Disabilities is easy to read and offers very practical advice for nursing faculty and students alike. Unsurprisingly, many educators have had experience dealing with students who have learning disabilities; however, their expertise is somewhat limited regarding students with disabling illnesses or life-altering circumstances. As a passionate advocate for nurses and nursing students with disabilities, Dr Maheady defends her conviction that people with disabilities must be included in the nursing profession.


The only inaccuracy that could be found in the text was the name and address of the national accrediting body that oversees most nursing education programs, which is the National League for Nursing Accrediting Commission. The National League for Nursing was erroneously listed both on the Web site and in the text as the organization responsible for the accreditation of schools of nursing.


Some unease emanated from a statement made by Dr Maheady in Chapter 2 with regard to advising a student with a disability on suitable educational options. Dr Maheady suggested to the student to "select a bachelor's degree program rather than an associate degree program since the BSN would open more doors for the student."1(1,p41) That, indeed, may be an accurate statement as far as employment opportunities are concerned; however, associate degree programs must provide an equitable type of basic nursing experience for students with disabilities. A more positive note was the recommendation for schools of nursing that offer graduate degree programs in teacher preparation to include curricular content on students with disabilities, including the legal rights of students, accommodations required to perform various duties, and the obstacles students may face while studying nursing.


Dr Maheady's third recommendation may generate additional controversy, and that is the assertion that state boards of nursing should identify all nurses with disabilities by having a notation placed on their nursing license similar to the wording placed on a driver's license for individuals with visual deficits (ie, "corrective lenses required"). More than likely, this would be considered a violation of one's right to privacy and would never be sanctioned by the nursing population. Conversely, requiring nurses to declare to the respective boards of nursing that they have a disability could compromise client care and may be a more realistic, but also unpalatable, approach.


Because at least 3 chapters in the text devoted to students with hearing loss, additional chapters (possibly in the second edition) should be included on handling students with mental illness, visual impairments, and other types of physical challenges. Furthermore, nurse educators should be invited to submit supplementary ideas and/or examples of ways that they are currently integrating people with disabilities into their programs and what accommodations they are providing to promote student success.


This text should be required reading for all nursing faculty, nursing administrators, academic advisors, and disability counselors. There exists no other reliable source to assist nurse educators to design reasonable and appropriate accommodations for students with disabilities. Nursing Students With Disabilities: Change The Course is a superb source of information that should be used by all in academia. So, let's start using it to create a more inclusive type of educational program for students!!




1. Maheady, DC. Nursing students with disabilities: change the course. River Edge, NJ; Exceptional Parent Press; 2003. [Context Link]