Ethical Considerations When Working with Individuals with Disabilities: A Student's Perspective on Curriculum Design and Development
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Over the past several decades, disability rights have emerged as a growing concern within American society. A push for legislation to establish and uphold the rights of individuals with disabilities resulted in several landmark changes that affect the services and entitlements of those with disabilities. In addition, disability rights activists have worked to create a paradigm shift, in which disability is not thought of as a problem but rather as a difference. These societal-level changes have affected the ways in which medical professionals interact with patients with disabilities. Coupled with advancements in medical, reproductive, and assistive technology, changing perceptions about long term care and “death with dignity”, and a more global society in which patients may come from varying backgrounds and belief systems, these changes will require that medical professionals be well-versed in ethical considerations specific to working with individuals with disabilities. It is important to not only examine ethics through the eyes of various healthcare professionals, but also to examine the ways in which scholars from other disciplines may approach the topic of healthcare ethics relating to disabilities. This paper provides a first-hand account of the process of devising a university course on medical ethics to meet the growing needs of health care practitioners and others who will be working with individuals with disabilities. The first section of the paper discusses the necessity of such a course within an undergraduate curriculum. The second section discusses the author’s personal experience in designing the ethics course curriculum, providing the reader with a rationale for specific structural components of the course design. The third section provides an analysis of the readings and pieces of media selected for course inclusion and how such media contributes to the students’ experience in the course. The paper concludes with a reflection by the author on the process of curriculum design and development.