Working with a Disability
There are certain employment criteria that need to be met to become a PT or PTA. However, certain provisions can be altered, provided the therapist is able to maintain safety precautions with the patient and himself while performing the skills required.
Some state licensing provisions may incorporate restrictions in addition to the lifting and positional (standing, sitting, squatting etc.) work-related requirements that a therapist will need to meet to become employed. These barriers can limit therapists in employment opportunities and decisions about where to apply for a position. Is there a discriminatory nature against therapists with a disability or does this become a safety issue when dealing with patient care?
I've spoken out against state boards that ask about mental disabilities because they often ignore other health-related concerns regarding the safety of patients. For instance, if I'm HIV-positive (not every state asks about this, nor do they require a blood test), I could potentially infect patients and other health workers if I'm not careful. State licensing boards don't ask if I'm in a wheelchair either but they are concerned about my mental health. Doesn't the Americans with Disabilities Act protect disabled workers from discrimination? The ADA does make provisions for alcoholics and recovering drug addicts but state boards are apparently not concerned about those disabilities.
What happens if I acquire a disability after I have a license? I can simply check the box "no" that asks if I've ever been convicted of a felony, send in my licensing fee and get a new license to practice and the state is no wiser. Does the state need to know I have a head injury or that I'm now confined to a wheelchair for the rest of my life? No, because they never asked me. And they certainly don't need to know if a therapist has been in a psych unit for two weeks with a new diagnosis of schizoaffective disorder.
What happens when a therapist has a surgery that may limit him in his job performance? Should a PT who had carpal tunnel surgery have to tell the state he had the procedure because it could potentially interfere with how he puts his hands on the patient and adversely affect a manual muscle test? What about a PTA who had a surgical repair of the Achilles tendon? Couldn't that affect patient safety during a transfer? This then opens up a question regarding the correct definition of a disability in relation to patient safety in the physical therapy environment.