Patients to Peers: Barriers and Opportunities for Doctors with Disabilities

29 Pages Posted: 18 Sep 2012 Last revised: 8 Oct 2012

Date Written: September 17, 2012


More than twenty years after Congress passed the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) to end disability-based discrimination, many U.S. medical schools will not give a seat to applicants with certain sensory or mobility disabilities. In some cases, the barriers to admission are explicit. They take the form of “Technical Standards” that define baseline qualifications for applicants. These standards typically include the ability “to speak, to hear and to observe patients” and make it clear that “the use of a trained intermediary is not acceptable.” They also make clear that the ability to use one’s hands for fine motor tasks and the ability to perform gross motor tasks with coordination and equilibrium are prerequisites for admission. Such Technical Standards deem most deaf, blind, and physically impaired applicants unqualified for admission to medical schools, despite their academic credentials and potential for success in several medical specialties.

This Article exposes the fact and origin of explicit barriers to medical school admission faced by people with sensory and motor impairments. It then argues that inclusion of persons with sensory and motor disabilities in medical schools – as students and teachers, not just as subjects and patients – is necessary not just as a matter of justice to applicants with disabilities, but also as an essential component of a medical system that respects persons with disabilities. Finally, it sets forth a road map for removing the barriers without compromising patient safety.

Suggested Citation

Ouellette, Alicia R., Patients to Peers: Barriers and Opportunities for Doctors with Disabilities (September 17, 2012). Nevada Law Review, Forthcoming, Albany Law School Research Paper No. 11 for 2012-2013, Available at SSRN:

Alicia R. Ouellette (Contact Author)

Albany Law School ( email )

80 New Scotland Avenue
Albany, NY 12208
United States

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