Ayanna Pressley Pushes For Medical Care Access For Disabled People

Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.) is calling for advancements to efforts to improve health care access for disabled people in the U.S.

In a letter obtained by HuffPost that was sent to the Department of Justice on Thursday, Pressley urged the department to quickly finalize its proposed rule to improve access to medical diagnostic equipment (MDE) for disabled people. MDE includes weight scales, examination tables, dental chairs, radiology devices and other equipment that can be used to diagnose a patient.

Title II of the Americans With Disabilities Act prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in places of public accommodation, such as medical offices, and grants disabled people equal opportunity to access the services offered. But much of the equipment in these spaces is inaccessible to disabled people because there are no specific standards for what constitutes accessible MDE.

In January, the Justice Department proposed revisions to regulations implementing federal disability law that would establish these specific standards. The department opened the proposed revisions up for public comment until Feb. 12, but there have been no updates on finalization of the rule.

The Justice Department did not immediately respond to HuffPost’s request for updates on the rulemaking process.

The letter sent by Pressley, which was signed by 11 other members of Congress, also called for an increase in the percentage of each type of equipment that must comply with MDE standards in all facilities, a requirement for every department, clinic or specialty within a facility to have at least one piece of functional, accessible MDE on site and proper training for staff in assisting disabled people.

“While the proposed rule takes unprecedented steps towards achieving accessibility standards that are long overdue, we believe several improvements would further strengthen it and result in more timely and accessible care for the disability community,” the letter says.

The DOJ’s proposed revisions followed several complaints received it had received from disabled people about health care professionals not providing them with basic, vital health care because of a lack of accessible MDE, according to the Justice Department’s website.

Data shows disabled women are at a higher risk of dying of cervical cancer and late-stage breast cancer but are less likely than non-disabled women to receive Pap tests and mammograms because of a lack of accessible equipment, such as height-adjustable examination tables.

“The status quo has failed the disability community,” Pressley said in a statement to HuffPost, “and subjected our disabled neighbors to daily injustices, including in health care spaces. Improving access to medical diagnostic equipment for people with disabilities is a step in the right direction towards achieving accessibility standards that are long overdue. Our systems are fundamentally flawed and will not change until we recognize that disability rights are human rights. I look forward to partnering with the Biden-Harris Administration to see this to the finish line.”

Last month, disability advocate Imani Barbarin posted on TikTok about lack of access to reproductive education and health care for disabled people, adding in the caption that she didn’t see an accessible exam table at an OB-GYN office until she was in her 30s.

“Individuals with disabilities often experience great difficulty obtaining routine or preventative medical care because of inaccessible medical diagnostic equipment. From examination tables to weight scales to mammography equipment, accessible MDE is critical to ensuring equal access to medical care,” Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division said in a statement in January.

The pressing need for improved access to MDE for the disability community arrives as numbers have grown since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. About 1 in 4 adults in the U.S. have a disability, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The CDC also found that 17.4% of Americans have experienced long COVID. Data shows that from August to September 2023, an estimated 10.5 million adults reported having COVID-19 symptoms that at least somewhat affected their day-to-day activities, according to the Center for American Progress.

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