Advocating for Nurses with Disabilities


About 10% of working adults have disabilities, according to the United States Census Bureau. These disabilities can be temporary or permanent and can progress with time. While many individuals with disabilities lead rewarding careers, those pursuing roles in nursing can find it difficult to establish themselves. To foster an environment in which all nurses can work and deliver quality patient care, the industry needs passionate healthcare leaders who support and advocate for nurses with disabilities.

Nurses with Disabilities

When people think about the medical field, they may make assumptions about healthcare workers. As in any area, however, nurses may have a wide range of disabilities, seen or unseen. Some disabilities nurses may have include:

  • Respiratory issues
  • Neurological disabilities
  • Dyslexia
  • Hearing loss
  • Vision loss
  • Digestive or circulatory issues
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Endocrine or lymphatic problems
  • Limb loss
  • Sickle cell anemia
  • Spina bifida
  • Lupus

While some of these challenges are temporary, others are chronic and lifelong. Many nurses with disabilities manage their conditions and enjoy long careers, but others leave their roles due to discrimination from patients, patients’ families, fellow nurses, or other medical workers. For example, some nurses may feel excluded and lack a sense of community among their coworkers. Others may try to hide their disability due to fear of discrimination.

How Healthcare Leaders Can Advocate for Nurses

Nurses with disabilities are most likely to find satisfaction in their work when they have the support of leaders, administrators, and coworkers. At the most basic level, healthcare administrators and leaders can advocate for nurses with disabilities by ensuring that their facilities are compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and its 2008 amendment (ADAAA). Among many protections, the ADA prohibits the discrimination of job applicants during the hiring process. If an individual is qualified for a position as a nurse in a medical facility, their disability cannot be a cause for discrimination. Nurses also have rights and protections under the American Nurses Association’s Code of Ethics. Both nurses and healthcare leaders should familiarize themselves with these legal laws and protections.

In addition to being legally compliant, healthcare leaders can advocate for nurses with disabilities by cultivating a safe and supportive work environment. Through continuing education regarding the rights of workers with disabilities, nurse managers can create a community in which nurses feel safe disclosing information about their physical or mental limitations or disabilities. If a nurse has had a stroke and has noticed motor impairment in their ability to walk or bend over, they should feel comfortable disclosing that information to their nurse managers. Nurse managers and medical leaders can also support nurses by informing them about potential benefits and protections they qualify for and by providing them with the accommodations they need to work effectively.

A key element of advocating for nurses with disabilities is helping to establish a network of support. While being careful not to single individual nurses out, nurse leaders can help nurses with disabilities reach out to one another for emotional and physical support. For example, if a new nurse with hearing loss is hired to a unit, a nurse manager could—with permission, and respecting all parties’ right to confidentiality—connect her with a more experienced nurse with a similar disability for advice on how to manage her impairment in the workplace. Nurses can also gain support from their peers who may be able to offer day-to-day support. If a nurse doesn’t have use of one arm, other nurses in the unit can help him transfer patients or the nurse manager can supply one-handed syringes and one-handed keyboards.

Advocates emphasize that these issues do not only affect nurses with disabilities, but all nurses. All nurses, nurse managers, and human resources staff should be aware of the provisions of the ADA and the ADAAA to ensure that nurses are not being discriminated against. When nurses feel they are being marginalized, their colleagues should support efforts to address inequities, including filing complaints with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

Pursue a Leadership Role in Nursing

Too often, people overlook the fact that nurses and other medical workers may be dealing with physical or psychological limitations in the workplace. To ensure that nurses with disabilities excel, nurse managers and administrators must advocate for them.

Healthcare professionals interested in pursuing leadership roles must develop the skills necessary for supporting diverse teams. Many programs, such as the Master of Science in Nursing at AdventHealth University Online, are designed to help students cultivate a wide range of leadership skills.

Nursing professionals who pursue an MSN at AdventHealth University Online can choose specialties within the program to tailor their coursework to their career goals. The Administration and Leadership track, for example, features interdisciplinary courses such as Strategic Leadership in Healthcare, Ethical Issues and Public Policy, and Quality Management and Patient Safety in Nursing.

After earning an advanced degree, graduates can consider a variety of leadership positions with a positive job outlook. There were 406,100 medical and health services managers in 2018, according to the BLS, which predicts an 18% increase in the employment of these professionals between 2018 and 2028. Medical and health services managers earned a median annual salary of $99,370 in 2018. MSN graduates can also work as nurse managers, leading nursing departments or units. Nurse managers earn a median annual salary of $85,680, according to April 2020 PayScale data.

Earn a Master of Science in Nursing

Professionals with the right combination of education and experience in the medical field should consider pursuing administrative roles in nursing. If you are interested in a leadership role that will put you at the forefront of advocating for nurses with disabilities, explore AdventHealth University Online’s Master of Science in Nursing degree program. Learn how the Administration and Leadership track can help you pursue your professional leadership goals.

Recommended Readings

MHA vs. MBA: What Are the Differences?

What Do Healthcare Administrators Do?


AMA Journal of Ethics, “Just and Realistic Expectations for Persons With Disabilities Practicing Nursing”

Health Leaders, “3 Ways Nurse Leaders Influence Change in Healthcare”

Job Accommodation Network, “Occupation and Industry: Accommodating Nurses With Disabilities”

Minority Nurse, “7 Tips for Nurses With Disabilities Going Back to Work”

National Organization of Nurses With Disabilities, Vision & Mission

PayScale, Average Nursing Manager Salary

United States Census Bureau, Disability

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Medical and Health Services Managers

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Registered Nurses

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