From Impairment to Empowerment: a Longitudinal Medical School Curriculum on Disabilities

From Impairment to Empowerment: a Longitudinal Medical School Curriculum on Disabilities

Academic Year:
2013 - 2014 (June 1, 2013 through May 31, 2014)
Funding Requested:
Project Dates:
Overview of the Project:
Despite the fact that one of the core responsibilities of physicians is working with individuals with disabilities, formal training development in this area is almost non-existent. For example, there is currently no curriculum on disabilities at the University of Michigan Medical School that takes into account the perspectives, experiences, and voices of individuals with disabilities. Furthermore, the prevailing approach to disabilities in general is the medical model, i.e., the disability is seen only in the context of a disease process and as an impairment in function that must be cured or "normalized." This approach is in contrast with the social model of disabilities in which disability is seen as a social process in which individuals with disabilities encounter obstacles (physical, professional, psychological, and social) to living fully and meaningfully in society. The current proposal is a mentored project in curricular design focused specifically on enhancing medical students' awareness of disabilities in a way that incorporates disabled individuals' perspectives and social contexts into their understanding. The overall approach is meant to emphasize a major tenet of disabilities communities, "Nothing about me without me," by engaging in ongoing collaborations between educators, a medical student, and community disability advocates to produce specific educational experiences for medical students exploring living with disabilities. A second goal of the project is to train a medical student in curricular design and implementation, as well as methods to assess effectiveness in teaching this subject to medical students.
Final Report Fields
Project Objectives:

1. To establish a collaboration between individuals with disabilities, individuals with academic and professional interests in disabilities and access issues, and medical educators in the planning and design of specific educational activities exploring disabilities and the perspectives of disabled individuals. 2. To incorporate narratives (in-person, written, audiovisual) to teach about disabilities from the patient’s perspective; 3. To use innovative forms of media (e.g., film, YouTube clips, music, performance art), literature and other creative art forms to explore the subjective experiences of individuals with disabilities; 4. To enhance the education of a medical student in disability issues and in implementing curricular activities covering issues of societal significance in medical education. Specific activities will include development of educational goals, curriculum design and implementation, and pedagogical approaches for transformative learning, and ways of assessing learning in these areas.

Project Achievements:

Two complete sessions, one for the first- (M1) and one for the second-year (M2) classes, were designed and implemented. Each session mixed talks by individuals with disabilities with TEDTalk videos and YouTube segments to prompt reflection and small group discussions about issues of power, privilege, identity, autonomy and justice in living with disabilities and working with those with disabilities. The session evaluations were among the highest for a session of this type (i.e., psychosocial or societal issues in medicine). On the basis of the two sessions, an abstract was submitted to the 2014 Multiple Perspectives National Conference on Disabilities at Ohio State University in April. The authors were invited to turn the presentation into a 90-minute education workshop, which was extremely well received. A manuscript is in preparation to be submitted to a top-tier academic journal on innovative approaches in medical education. The CRLT has also been acknowledged in a recent publication by the PI (Academic Medicine 89(7): 1-6, 2014).

The two sessions have been incorporated into the permanent curriculum for the M1 and M2 years. Additional publications to follow.
1. Invited workshop at 2014 Multiple Perspectives National Conference on Disabilities at Ohio State University, April 2014. 2. Acknowledgments on submitted or in press publications (2 so far).
Advice to your Colleagues:
Involve those whose interests are often ignored in the design and implementation of projects, e.g., learners, communities, disenfranchised individuals, etc.