Each fall, students from colleges and universities all over the country gather on campuses to discuss books assigned through a program called The Common Read. The Common Read provides a shared experience of intellectual and community engagement and was primarily designed to engage first-year students, but often includes an entire university community, as has been the case with the University of Saint Joseph’s reading this year of “Sitting Pretty: The View from My Ordinary Resilient Disabled Body” by Rebekah Taussig. For USJ doctoral Nursing student Jeslyn Dinowitz, of West Hartford, Conn., the reading of Taussig’s book about living with a disability was personal, as she herself has cerebral palsy. As part of USJ’s Common Read program, Dinowitz gave a talk, “Defining and Redefining Disability in Health Care,” to offer more understanding of disability, particularly in health care.
Dinowitz said, “I felt like Rebekah Taussig’s book about disability and advocating for people with disabilities really spoke to me as a registered nurse. Being able to talk about disability in a health care setting is important, but more than that, having cerebral palsy gives me a unique perspective of what it’s like having a disability and how we can make improvements to health care and in society.”
“Make society more inclusive by taking into account the contributions of people with disabilities, Dinowitz said. “People who have bodies that function differently should be included and welcomed.” She observed that the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was not that long ago; some places still don’t have handicapped wheelchair accessible bathrooms and entrances.
Dinowitz gave another example—this one in health care—of a common problem that is easily fixed: accessible examination tables for people with disabilities. Dinowitz also said there’s documented evidence that people with disabilities tend to have poor health and poorer health outcomes, but research studies tend not to include a lot of people with disabilities. “Research suggests that including disability training tends to improve health professions students’ and health care providers’ knowledge, comfort, and attitudes for caring for people with disabilities.”
Dinowitz shared her own experience as a model for that dialogue. She grew up in West Hartford and says she was fortunate to be diagnosed with cerebral palsy at a young age—six months old. “At six months old, I had physical therapy, speech therapy, and occupational therapy.” Cerebral palsy is a neurological condition that affects people in different ways and to varying degrees and for Dinowitz, the disease affects her muscles, balance, and motor planning. She explained that early diagnosis provides a better outcome, because then the individual can get therapeutic support to reach developmental milestones.
“Growing up, I often felt different from others. I often think about advocating for those who don’t have a voice, or the opportunity to change the mindset of others.” Dinowitz continued, “We are all equal; we all have something to offer. It’s important to understand disabilities and to have conversations with people who have disabilities. From a health care perspective, training health care providers about people with disabilities involves training while in school and in the profession.” In 2019, broad disability standards were developed for health care education that have begun to be used in schools, according to Dinowitz.
“Most health care providers want to know how to help people with disabilities. They want to know what they can do to change their practices to better meet the needs of those with disabilities.”
Speaking of her experience at USJ, Dinowitz said, “I’ve had a great experience at Saint Joe’s. People have been really supportive here.” Her specialty in her doctoral program is Psychiatric Nursing. “I’m interested in the mental health of people with disabilities. I’m particularly interested in working with children, possibly in a school setting.”
To learn more about USJ’s Common Read visit here.