When Dr. Brandy Duhon started attending Louisiana State University’s School of Veterinary Medicine, asking her to swap the door handles so she could open them.
Dr. Brandy Duhon, an animal sanctuary and surgery clinical instructor at Louisiana State University’s School of Veterinary Medicine, had both hands amputated after contracting bacterial meningitis in 1995. She turned the surgical gloves over when using them. (Courtesy Dr. Duhon)
Dr. Duhon, now the veterinary school’s clinical instructor in animal shelter medicine and surgery, contracted bacterial meningitis in 1995, which resulted in damage to both legs and both hands.
“I had a lot of challenges, to say the least, but overall I have mastered them,” said Dr. Duhon. “I’m upset and discouraged, but I’ve never looked at a task and said no.”
In recent years, veterinary colleges have made efforts to break down barriers for people with disabilities in veterinary education, but people with disabilities have historically struggled to gain acceptance or succeed in higher education.
According to 2015-16 data released by the National Center for Education Statistics, approximately 19% of undergraduate students report having a disability.
According to a recent report by the National Science Foundation’s National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics on Women, Minorities, and People with Disabilities, people with one or more disabilities make up about 9% of academic scientists. The report was published in May.
Wherever you teach, your campus is full of stairs. The steps have something to say. Access to university is on an upward trend, and only the really fit survive the climb.
Jay Dolmage, PhD, Founding Editor of the Canadian Journal of Disability Studies and author of Academic Ableism
Jay Dolmage, PhD, founding editor of the Canadian Journal of Disability Studies and author of Academic Ableism, spoke during the Ableism in Graduate Education session at the American Association of Veterinary Medical Colleges Annual Meeting, March 4-6 .
“Wherever you teach, your campus is full of stairs,” said Dr. Dolmage during the keynote. “The steps have something to say. Access to the university is an upward trend, and only the really fit survive the ascent. “
Research has shown that many high school students are looking for housing, but college students are not. Dr. Dolmage said there is likely something preventing college students from seeking help, whether it is that disability services offices are low on budget or that access to housing can be challenging, especially for racially and ethnic groups underrepresented students.
Dr. Dolmage suggests administrators look at their campus and ask questions. Where is the office for the disabled and is it accessible? Are all buildings accessible? Do students with disabilities feel welcome?
Dr. Kenita Rogers, Executive Associate Dean and Director for Diversity and Inclusion at Texas A&M University College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, said faculty, staff and administrators should work to ensure that students with disabilities can succeed in the program.
There was a veterinary student at her facility who was paraplegic and used a wheelchair.
“The person with the disability helped us figure out what they needed from us,” she said. “We don’t have that experience, and they were actively involved in deciding what helped them.”
Dr. Rogers said it was also helpful to consider what is required in the curriculum for veterinary training. What does it mean to be a vet? And are there things that need to be done during veterinary studies or are some things optional?
“We address this with all of our students when we include them in the program. We intend for them to be successful, ”said Dr. Rogers. “We want them to live up to their dreams. They know what they can do. It’s our job to help them get there and get them to safety. “
She and others in college found they had limited ideas about what people can do. “These students taught us what people can do and how valuable they can be in their jobs.”
The TAMU Veterinary College moved to a new building in 2016. Previously, classes were held in an older building, and while this facility complies with all the requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act, some changes had to be made, such as the location of the facility. B. retrofitting rooms to be more accessible, creating more parking spaces for access to certain buildings and building larger toilet cubicles for easier access for wheelchair users.
Dr. Melinda Frye, assistant dean of veterinary academics and student affairs at Colorado State University College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, suspects that most veterinary college facilities in the United States meet all mandatory ADA requirements. However, speaking to students with disabilities about their specific needs can greatly improve their experience.
“We have a student who uses a wheelchair and we had all the usual facilities and things on site. We thought we were good to go, ”said Dr. Frye. “We quickly discovered that he couldn’t stand sitting for long periods of time because of his handicap. We had to think about additional modifications. In his case we got a mattress for the lecture hall floor so that he can take notes there. “
Dr. Frye said that most students who have a disability service letter of residence have easy access to necessary changes. Faculty members are usually in the best position to make changes after communicating with the student and are usually happy to do so, she said.
For students with disabilities, “it is so important to have discussions in advance to ensure that the culture is open to the provision of housing and that it is supportive,” said Dr. Frye.
She added that it is also important for faculty, staff and students to understand that accommodation creates equality of opportunity, not advantages. She suggests that veterinary programs work closely with disability services on campus and develop good working relationships.
Dr. Rogers said that justice means everyone has a fair chance of success.
“What we forget and overlook when we are able to work is that we all need help at times,” said Dr. Rogers. “To ensure everyone has a great opportunity to be successful, both in their curriculum and in their careers, we try to keep inclusion in mind. … Being inclusive is a skill we all learn and that is part of it. “
Out in the world
Dr. Douglas Aspros, Chief Veterinary Officer of Veterinary Practice Partners, suffered a stroke at age 51 that resulted in paralysis and speech loss. Rehabilitation and outpatient treatment helped him learn to walk and speak again, but said he was still not very good at that either.
At that time, Dr. Aspro’s full-time practitioner, but after physical rehabilitation he decided not to visit patients again.
“I can use my right hand, but I don’t have much control over it. I was worried about being bitten, ”said Dr. Aspros. “Communication with customers would also have been difficult.”
Dr. Aspros still struggles finding words at times and language can be challenging. He said that when you have a disability, the whole world and the built environment become something you can navigate.
“When you spend time in a wheelchair, the world looks different there,” he said. “We make a lot of adjustments in our educational environment, but the real world doesn’t make that many adjustments. People can be transported into a world that is much more difficult because it is not as prepared for you as educational institutions are. “
In his opinion, this is the case in veterinary medicine, which goes back to the emergence of the profession of animal health practitioner in the 1960s.
“This job description was made for people like me – fully capable, white, manly,” he said. “That was the worker, the cohort. Now, 50 years later, we are in a different company, the workforce. … I think a lot of institutions, organizations and employers do things because they have always done it that way and don’t have to. Accommodation options exist, but they just don’t.
“When you talk about people who need flexibility, you have to re-imagine their role and function in it. I think veterinarians need to remember that their world is more flexible than they imagine. The way you do things is just the way you do them, but it’s not the only way they need to be done. Be open to people whose needs are obvious and not obvious. “
He suggests employers ask questions like, “What do you need to do your job?”
While Dr. Aspros did not visit patients again, he became more active in the AVMA after his stroke and became president from 2012 to 2013.
Dr. Brandy Duhon said that since graduating in 2013, people with disabilities interested in veterinary medicine have reached out to her to ask about their experiences. She suggests knowing your limits and asking for help if you need it. She enjoys teaching students and hopes that her presence will also serve as a lesson.
“It is good for students to see me and see that I am teaching them and they are learning from me. You will not doubt it if someone with a disability comes to you, ”said Dr. Duhon. “Disabilities are all different, and just because you can’t see them doesn’t mean they’re not there. I think knowing that I went to veterinary school and am now a veterinarian means a lot. “