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This is us: ‘Providing access for the disability community will create better access for all’

This is us: ‘Providing access for the disability community will create better access for all’

Dr. ONEW ORLEANS – Seating and mobility professionals help people with disabilities “live their best lives,” setting off a positive chain reaction in society, says Oluwaferanmi Okanlami, MD, MS, the keynote speaker for the upcoming RESNA Annual Conference

Here’s what “Dr. O” – the director of student accessibility and accommodation services at the University of Michigan; an assistant professor of family medicine, physical medicine & rehabilitation, and urology at Michigan Medicine; and an adjunct assistant professor of orthopaedic surgery at David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA – had to say about how increased access helps us better see the beauty in disability. 

HME News: Why do you believe we need a broader definition of disability? 

Dr. O: Disability does not discriminate, and it actually represents the largest "minority" demographic that we have. However, people still see disability as something that is about "them" and not about "us." Providing access for the disability community is something that will create better access for all of us, because I like to remind people that almost everyone can use the ramp, while not everyone can use the stairs.  

HME: Share why you believe disability doesn’t necessarily mean inability. 

Dr. O: Many people operate based on the "medical model" of disability. In this model, disability is seen as a pathology – something wrong, broken, or less than. However, if we recognize that disability is just another difference, we recognize that there should be no good or bad quality assigned to disability. In fact, it is truly the inaccessibility of our world that leads to people looking at those of us with disabilities as less than in the first place. If we merely provided the access that individuals needed, we wouldn't feel like disability always means inability, and I believe we would be able to better see the beauty in disability.  

HME: What do you see as the role of appropriate equipment/services/technology in accelerating independence? 

Dr. O: While that’s not the only answer, it can absolutely be instrumental in supporting independence and bridging the gap between prejudice and privilege. We can provide new and innovative solutions to create a world where someone who identifies as disabled should have the same opportunities that a non-disabled individual has. I often talk about the push for more autonomous vehicles. We have come so far in that technology, allowing individuals who already have plenty of options for vehicles to be driven by their own vehicle now. Yet, we are quite limited in the vehicles that wheelchair users can purchase that are accessible to them.  

HME: If attendees leave your keynote remembering one thing, what should it be? 

Dr. O: I would want people to remember that in their roles as seating and mobility professionals, they are well positioned to provide people with the resources they need to live active lives. That will help others begin to see more and more individuals with disabilities out and about, living their best lives, due to the resources they have been provided to address the barriers that currently exist.


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