Storm Sandy that has approached the East coast of the USA has disrupted air travel for a lot of delegates, some returned home after just a day in San Francisco. An interesting day nevertheless. The afternoon just concluded with a focus group on conference accessibility to which I was invited. APHA wants to be a leader in this area but still has a long way to go. As one conference delegate this afternoon told me, his personal assistant was denied access to the meeting exposition hall as he did not have a badge identifying him as a paid participant nor as a personal assistant. This is just one example that accessibility and assistance are not universally available to people with disabilities. It is still an erroneous and rights violating assumption that accessibility only needs to be an issue or concern for the disability section. What about the visually impaired epidemiologist who presents his work in the infectious disease section? What about the mobility impaired nurse who workes in community based health promotion? What about the statistician with cerebral palsy who relies on communication aids to convey findings of the latest national health statistics on obesity? You may get my point. I am not only talking about APHA but about practices in the UK and Scotland, in Higher Education as well as in the NHS. I am talking about the human right of full inclusion of people with disabilities in all areas of life, including academic conferences.
As for the content of the presentations in the Disability Section I cannot hide a certain degree of frustration as I see little progress over the years. We don’t seem to manage to move away from documenting the barriers and problems that people with disabilities face in health care and employment. Where are the innovative programmes? The best practices? Where are the evaluation research studies the knowledge transfer projects?
Occasionally, we see presentations that position disability within a broader context, within the global challenges that affect all human beings: environmental changes and barriers, technological developments, an ageing demographic, the effect of economic marginalization. But so far I have not seen any presentation at this meeting that has tackled any of these issues. Also, we clearly focus most research on physical disabilities. Where are the people with learning disabilities or intellectual disabilities? Where is speech-impairment related research? Where is the presentation that explores health care issues for people with complex disabilities? Are we missing the point?
The Social Dimensions of Health Institute benefits from its many diverse perspectives, disciplines and skills set and I can see how a social dimensions perspective is essential for an innovative focus in our understanding of disability and public health issues.
A joint challenge for APHA, the Disability Section and SDHI is to move towards more participatory research and practices.