By Wendy Sarubbi | May 12, 2014 2:34 pm

Nearly 50 million Americans — 1 in 5 — live with a disability, and as result may have special needs on the job and with their physicians. That point was illustrated through interactive theater at the latest College of Medicine Diversity Lunch & Learn on May 6.

The Had to Be Productions theater company presented a play to faculty, staff and students based on the stories of people with disabilities. The play, called “Not Just Ramps,” began with performer Carrie Gibson portraying a blind woman and Tony Curry a man paralyzed in war. The two talked about their feelings of powerlessness, alienation and their keen desire to be treated just like everyone else, and not like a “disabled person.” “We’re doing this theater because we really believe that there’s a lot of power in imagining what it’s like to be treated differently.” Gibson said. Added Curry: “We want them to actively empathize with the people in the play, and hopefully create a more positive relationship with the people around them,”

With several physicians and future physicians in the room, the play provided valuable insight into the needs of a disabled patient. “All you have to do is imagine what it would be like to be treated in a ‘special way‘ and realize that you wouldn’t want that, and why would you think someone else would want it?” Gibson said. “My advice is stop being careful, and be yourself.” Gibson talked about interviewing a man who was in a wheelchair, who said he is frequently “coddled” at the doctor’s office and pitied by the medical staff. He has been in a wheelchair for most of his life, and doesn’t consider himself different from anyone else. “Allow the disability to be there, but see the person for who they are,” Curry advised. “And don’t ignore them.”

The Lunch & Learns are designed to help College of Medicine colleagues communicate and engage in an increasingly diverse world. Previous sessions highlighted generational differences and gender identification. The session was on ways to create a more inclusionary culture for people with disabilities allowed participants to discuss an often overlooked diversity issue. “I hope that people walked away with an understanding that people with disabilities have the same wants, needs and desires as they do,” said Dr. Lisa Barkley, assistant dean for diversity and inclusion. “It’s important for us to highlight people with disabilities from an inclusion perspective.”

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