We all know that discrimination exists in the real world, but when it happens to you, it’s like a hard slap in the face. Here’s what happened to me recently: For years I’ve had Botox bladder injections at my urologist’s office. It was easy, low-stress and cost-effective.
But when I called the office a few months ago to make an appointment for a treatment, I learned that the policy for wheelchair users had been changed. We now had to go to the out-patient surgery department at a local hospital.
Why? Because a staffer had been injured helping a disabled person onto the table, I was told. Why doesn’t the practice get the equipment — like exam tables that lower and raise — that would let us transfer by ourselves, or at least make the transfer easier and safer? The response: “We think our ‘non-ambulatory’ patients would be safer undergoing treatments at the hospital.”
So I made an appointment at the outpatient surgery department and it was — no big surprise — high stress, more expensive, and harder to maintain even a shred of dignity. I was put into a patient cubicle with the curtain drawn, and told to wait. As I waited, and waited and waited some more, I could clearly hear the staff discuss my need to be lifted onto the bed. Could they do it or should they call for some orderlies? What was the proper procedure? Why weren’t they told they had a disabled patient on the schedule that day?
I thought seriously about fleeing the scene just to avoid further embarrassment, but I desperately needed the treatment, so I did what we all do in similar situations: swallowed my pride. Eventually I was lifted onto the bed, but the staff clearly had no training in working with people with disabilities.
Stewing about the experience for a couple of months, I finally wrote a letter to the management of the urology practice to point out that sending patients like me to the hospital was discriminatory and that the ADA requires them to provide the accommodations necessary for us to receive treatment. I said that the hospital was no better equipped to care for me, and that treatment at an outpatient surgery department was much more expensive — a cost nondisabled patients did not have to pay.
I did not expect to get a response, but — surprise! — I received a letter stating that the practice would “make modifications to our current policy for treating non-ambulatory patients.” That included buying necessary equipment.
I’ll test the “policy modifications” in a couple of months when it’s time to have the procedure again. I’m a cynical sort, though, and wonder if they will stick to their promise.
Until then, I wonder if any of you have faced discrimination in your dealings with the medical community. How did you handle it?