On the 3rd of December, the world celebrated the International Day of Persons with Disabilities. This global event is in its 29th year of celebration, marking nearly three decades of meaningful change for the disabled community.  

In the United Kingdom, the 16th of November to the 16th of December, also represents Disability History Month which is celebrated widely particularly in the National Health Service. These times in the year especially seek to promote a broad understanding of the topic of disability, whilst mobilising support for the dignity, rights and wellbeing of those with personal experience of disabilities.

Conceptualisations of disability vary, and the choice of language people use to describe their disability is highly personal. The United Kingdom (UK) Equalities Act (2010) definition states “a person has a disability if they have a physical or mental impairment, and the impairment has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on a person’s ability to carry out normal day to day activities.”

However, it is important to note that not all people who meet this definition will perceive themselves as disabled. Whilst definitions of disability vary, they generally tend to include core themes around functionality, chronicity, an acknowledgment of both physical and mental disabilities and those that are seen and unseen. This bespoke communication piece was collaboratively developed and created with ASME’s EDI working group members; Nicoletta Fossati, Julia Alsop and Debbie Aitken. This bustling piece provides a diverse assortment of perspectives, contributions and candid insights into the lives of people with disabilities and also includes a range of recommended resources to support healthcare professionals in working with those who have disabilities. We begin with Nicoletta Fossati who provides an introduction to this insightful piece.

Dr. Riya George, ASME EDI Lead
Dr. Riya George
Debbie Aitken
Debbie Aitken
Julia Alsop
Julia Alsop
Nicoletta Fossati
Nicoletta Fossati

Nicoletta Fossati

Dis-ability – what’s in this word? That little prefix – dis – changes a wonderful noun – ability – by giving it a different twist, an implied unpleasantness perhaps or a sense of a limited horizon. As a doctor with an acquired physical disability, I accept that the definition fits me well enough, whether I like it or not; it is easy for others to see that I am physically different. 

Equally, we know for sure that not all disabilities are visible; from neurodiversity to chronic pain and fatigue, a variety of conditions negatively affect the lives of a myriad persons around the world. It seems to me that we are at a historical junction where the right to, and need for, equality, diversity and inclusion has never been more recognised and, in some areas, is protected by law. And yet, looking at all the contributions to this page, why do I get the sense that we still have a long way to go to reach true equality? I do not wish to critique the social model of disability; many disabled persons’ quality of life would undoubtedly improve in a society where a variety of physical and legal barriers are systematically brought down, and I am indeed lucky to live in a part of the world where a lot has been achieved in upholding disabled persons’ rights. However, our contributors highlight some barriers that largely lie inside human beings’ minds and hearts.  As people with disabilities deviate from the ‘expected’ norm, some people are inclined to use that difference to question our ability to study, work, even enjoy life; I suspect people with disabilities have all been on the receiving end of that at some point. Perversely, at times we even risk doing that to ourselves whenever we drop plans, curb ambitions and let go of dreams, believing that those things “are not for people like us”.  

In fact, this piece speaks loudly of our pride in being ourselves, eminently capable to contribute to our society in a variety of ways, if only we could always have the visibility, space and opportunity that persons without disabilities take for granted. May this communication piece be an opportunity to celebrate all our accomplishments and successes, despite the difficulties. May it also be an occasion to call on to our fellow human beings, whatever their abilities, to join us, or continue to work with us, to break down more barriers and build more inclusive communities “one street at a time”.

Nicoletta Fossati

Contributor Pieces

This time of year, often evokes a sense of reflection as we draw closer to the beginning of a new year. In light of this feeling, we asked a variety of contributors to share a snapshot into their lives with their disability and consider what they would tell their younger self. Our valued contributors have also provided a list of recommended resources to support healthcare professionals in recognising the diversity of disabilities and how to better care and work with people with disabilities.

Reading their notes to their younger selves was incredibly heart-touching for us and spoke volumes of the incredible tenacity it takes to be confident in being different (or should I say, in being your true self). We would encourage you to take your time in reading each contributor’s piece below and share with us @asmeofficial your thoughts and reflections.

Doctors with Disabilities

We have been fortunate to collaborate with a range of organisations on this piece, who have given us an insight into experiences of those with disabilities in different parts of the world and available resources to help us gain a better understanding of disabilities. To begin with Satendra Singh, a champion of disability rights, tells us about their ground-breaking organisation, ‘Doctors with Disabilities: Agents of Change’ and the trail-blazing work they have been doing in India. 

Doctors with Disability Logo

Doctors in Distress

Daily life can look different for those with non-visible disabilities. Those with mental illness can often face isolated and stigmatised experiences, with challenges around disclosure being highly personal and dependent of context. Even though you cannot see evidence of a disability, the disability still exists, and this is particularly true for those with mental health conditions.

Doctors in Distress is an innovative charity dedicated to protecting the mental health of healthcare professionals. Find out more about them and two free upcoming programmes they are hosting for international medical graduates and medical students in the link below.

Enabled in Academia

Enabled in Academia is a podcast aimed at disabled, chronically ill and/or neurodivergent postgraduate research students and early career researchers. They have a collection of meaningful conversations with academics and students from different career stages about how they thrive in academia with their particular disability.

They discuss institutional and personal challenges and provide insights on how to cope with these. A personal favourite podcast we would recommend in their series is Barry Hayward. Check them out using the link below.

Further contributions

The highly personal nature of disabilities means it is especially important to attentively listen to the plurality of lived experiences of those disabilities. Aarti Halwai (a research ethics co-ordinator), Nonita Gangwani (a medical doctor) and Sharad Philips (a clinical assistant professor) provide a candid insight into their personal experiences and reflect upon some of myths and perceived differences that can exist among those in the disabled community. Read their reflection pieces below.

TASME TIME podcast

To continue the importance of recognising the plurality of disabilities that exist. The TASME TIME podcast has created a special episode exploring neurodiversity in medical education with guest speakers Dr Cleone Pardoe, TASME’S vice chair and senior clinical teaching fellow and Dr Sebastian Shaw, a lecturer in medical education at Brighton and Sussex Medical School, It is well worth a listen, click here to gain access.

Accessibility Guidelines

To support everyone in actively thinking about accessibility, ASME’s new Accessibility Guidelines offers practical tips on how to make posters, presentations, and workshops more accessible. Furthermore, accessibility checklists have also been created for all ASME events, actively encouraging those involved in ASME events to consider how to make participation meaningful and inclusive for all.

As more and more information is being shared on social media, Julia Alsop has also created a bespoke guide to consider how to use social media in an accessible way.

Francis Bacon, a disabled advocate said, “we rise to great heights by a winding staircase of small steps.” The insights and contributions in this piece have certainly reflected this quote. We hope the compilation of resources and contributions in this piece has inspired you to learn more about disabilities and encouraged you to have meaningful conversations on this topic. Join ASME in celebrating People with Disabilities.

As part of ASME’s Equality, Diversity, and Inclusion strategy we actively aim to start and continue meaningful conversations about diversity issues in medicine and healthcare. Throughout the year we will be exploring how we can celebrate and support individuals from culturally diverse, under-represented and marginalised backgrounds. If you would like to find out more, please contact us at diversity_inclusion@asme.org.uk

by Dr. Riya E George