When I recently attended the Maryland State Bar Association’s annual meeting as a member of its board of directors, I noted health and wellness features within the conference agenda.
This reminded me that not all of us can just access healthcare.
National Minority Health Month, as well as other efforts of special emphasis, seek better access to and quality of our health through activities, campaigns, and even substantive policy dialogue. The 2023 theme includes: Better Health Through Better Understanding. So, for all of us who work in this demanding and stressful profession, let us commit ourselves to individually and collectively as a profession take steps to learn more about our health and well-being and thereby to be active managers in our own care.
Even with perceived social status under the law, a person with a disability, such as a woman with a disability, may equally not be able to access the exam table for a physical or gynecological exam.
Many women, especially women with disabilities with multiple identities, suffer disproportionate harm from heart disease, such as that caused by high blood pressure. They also encounter disparities with maternal health care.
People with disabilities face barriers and inequalities within the health care system. Inaccessible and inoperable examination equipment, such as inaccessible and inoperable examination tables at physician offices that are not adapted to the patient with disabilities, have a documented deleterious effect on persons with disabilities, including women with disabilities.
These barriers are exacerbated by the lack of overall positive attitudes of some health professionals towards disabilities. COVID-19 has exposed these negative attitudes in various minority populations, sometimes causing harm.
The barriers increase in magnitude, in some circumstances, as more demographics or identities are involved. Women with disabilities are recognized as doubly disabled because of disability but also because of gender bias.
Law and policy can certainly be a tool for addressing health inequalities. For example, the Affordable Care Act provides a high-impact anti-discrimination provision that complements or even adds to health care-related anti-discrimination requirements in existing laws, including the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, as amended.
Addressing these intractable health inequalities or disparities may require a political strategy that promotes dialogue and perhaps leads to further substantive legislation. The National Council on Disability has issued a framework for health equity related to people with disabilities. Certainly, professional associations, such as our bar associations, can also actively undertake soft efforts to promote health and wellness.
To that end, I observed morning yoga sessions at the annual conference. Many people without disabilities may not know that such adaptations for fitness and sports exist. These include, for example, the adaptive rowing I participated in. I also studied yoga.
To its credit, the blindness community appears to be promoting preventative health and wellness more than it has in the past. However, significant disparities remain. While many of us probably aren’t looking for a physical gym as we once did, trading it for our homes, many gyms still require a disability-affirming education.
As a last resort, an aggressive push through litigation under Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 may be required. Physical and mental health are indeed intertwined.
Arguably, many disability attorneys experience accumulated trauma through outright denial of access because of our service animal, discrimination in employment opportunities, including in terms of disclosing our disability for housing, as well as subtle acts of exclusion.
I am convinced that almost every physical disability has a mental health challenge, perhaps even resulting from a disability. Specifically, there has been a major effort in recent years to bring physical health law and policy and mental health law and policy into parity.
Additionally, I turned to alternative health practices, including yoga. A national group, Mindfulness in Law Society, provides resources to legal professionals practicing mind-based alternative health practices.
In conclusion, allow me to wish you, my readers, good health and well-being. In fact, I’m supposed to check my blood pressure with my talking blood pressure monitor. Bowie and I need to go for a walk! And if you’re inclined, I have a heavy bag in my basement nowadays that you can hit with me.
Gary C. Norman, Esq., LL.M., served as chairman of the Maryland Civil Rights Commission. He can be reached at (410) 241-6745.
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