Disability Matters: a welcome addition to the medical school curriculum

Elizabeth Lawson, a final year medical student, discusses the benefits of learning about disability medicine via this online resource and recommends its use alongside traditional undergraduate teaching methods.
Photo of Elizabeth Lawson
Elizabeth Lawson

What is Disability Matters?

Disability Matters is a free online educational resource. It consists of individual sessions, concentrating on specific issues such as independence, advocacy and hidden disabilities, and these can be completed independently or as part of a package constructed for a specific audience. As part of my 'modified elective' during lockdown, I completed many Disability Matters sessions, including those relevant for the paediatric workforce and I subsequently created a package specifically relevant for medical students.

Achieving the benefits of patient contact without direct patient contact

Medical students learn greatly from meeting with patients and hearing their personal experiences. Whilst Disability Matters online platform does not facilitate direct interaction with patients, it does allow its learners to achieve the same benefits through its co-authored component. Each learning session has input from disabled young people and their families through video interviews, audio or typed quotes and this enables the benefits of learning directly from a patient to be accessible through pre-recorded content.

Furthermore, I found that I could actually access a greater number and variety of disabled patients’ and their families’ views through this material than I could have achieved on clinical placements. By condensing multiple interviews into one location, a dozen voices can be heard succinctly addressing a particular topic in a 20-minute session. This allowed me to hear from a multitude of viewpoints and gain knowledge regarding a wide range of conditions that I had not encountered before.

Simultaneously, this pre-recorded method has benefits for the participants. Disabled young people and their families often already spend a lot of time at hospital and may not want to spend more by sharing their personal and sometimes upsetting accounts to help medical students learn. Through Disability Matters an interview can be recorded at a convenient time and then can be viewed by an unlimited number of students.

Taking the social approach to disability

Disability Matters embodies the social approach to disability and encourages the learner to view the disabled young person in their broader context as opposed to concentrating solely on their medical issues. For example, the Continence Matters session provided insight into the impracticality of many ‘disabled’ public toilets. By suggesting that their unsuitability for changing a child with complex needs disables the child and their caregiver from using them, it recommends making modifications to society and current practice to better accommodate disabled children. I recognised that these non-medical areas of the disabled young person’s life, are insufficiently covered, yet important to learn about as a medical student and I envision that adopting this social perspective of disability will assist me as I progress to make better decisions for my patients.

User-friendly, engaging and flexible

Disability Matters is well designed and easily navigable. Students can complete as many sessions as they please, and each session can be paused and restarted. There are many interactive features such as drag-and-drop, options, clicking on photos for information to appear and imbedded videos and audios to play. This combination of learning by reading, listening and doing, accommodates all types of learners and shifting between the three modalities keeps the content stimulating. Moreover, opportunities for reflection are interwoven throughout and prompt the learner to actively analyze their own attitudes and behaviours and then consider new ways to improve health, educational and social outcomes for disabled people through change to their own current practice. Finally, at the end of each session or package a certificate is awarded, which provides a useful addition for students growing portfolios.

Future implications

Medicine amid COVID-19 consists of markedly reduced patient contact. Recognising and utilising online resources such as Disability Matters is thus particularly pertinent but even as clinical contact resumes, traditional medical school teaching would benefit from incorporating Disability Matters into their curriculum. It does not aim to replace direct patient contact, yet it would equip students with an enriched awareness of disability and the confidence to then implement this in practice.

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