By Guest Blogger Marsha Mazz, Director of the Office of Technical and Information Services, U.S. Access Board
Access to proper medical care is essential for everyone, yet barriers persist for people with disabilities. In particular, the accessibility of examination and diagnostic equipment remains problematic, especially for people who use wheelchairs. Those unable to transfer to examination tables, dentist chairs and other types of equipment have received a lower level of medical care or, in some cases, no care at all. Also, the use of prescribed medicines remains difficult for people with vision impairments or the elderly because important information contained on the labels is provided in print form only and often in font sizes that can be difficult to read. The U.S. Access Board is undertaking initiatives to improve the accessibility of medical diagnostic equipment and prescription drug labels.
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires equal access to goods and services, including health care. The detailed standards issued under this law also govern the design of doctors’ offices, clinics, hospitals and other types of medical care facilities. However, these standards apply only to built-in elements and not to moveable furnishings or equipment. Access barriers often stem from a lack of information and detailed guidance on what makes a particular element accessible including medical diagnostic equipment.
Congress recognized this knowledge gap in passing the “Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010,” which includes a provision that authorizes the Access Board to develop accessibility standards for medical diagnostic equipment in consultation with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). These standards will address examination tables and chairs, weight scales, mammography equipment and other equipment used for diagnostic purposes. They also will provide detailed criteria for independent access to such equipment, including types that require transfer from wheelchairs and other mobility aids.
The Access Board released a proposed version of the standards for public comment in February of this year. By the close of the four-month comment period in June, the Access Board received detailed feedback on the substance of specific provisions, their impacts on equipment design and manufacture and other topics. The Access Board has organized an advisory panel to provide recommendations on how the standards should be finalized based on this input. The Medical Diagnostic Equipment Accessibility Standards Advisory Committee includes representatives from disability groups, equipment manufacturers, health care providers, standard-setting organizations and other stakeholders. The committee will hold its first meeting September 27 and 28 in Washington, D.C., and is expected to meet several more times during the next few months. The Access Board will finalize the new standards taking the committee’s recommendations into consideration. Committee meetings are open to the public.
The Access Board also plans to convene a stakeholder working group to develop best practices for making information on prescription drug container labels accessible to people who are visually impaired or elderly. This group, including representatives from advocacy organizations and industry groups, will develop best practices for pharmacies on providing independent access to prescription drug container labels. Various alternatives will be explored, including braille, large print labels and auditory technologies such as “talking bottles” and radio frequency identification (RFID) tags. The Access Board has the authority to address this issue due to the “Food and Drug Administration Safety and Innovation Act,” which was signed into law in July.
The Access Board believes that these initiatives, along with the resulting standards and best practices, will greatly improve access to health care for people with disabilities. For further information, visit the Access Board website at http://www.access-board.gov/.
Marsha Mazz is Director of the Office of Technical and Information Services at the U.S. Access Board, a federal agency that promotes equality for people with disabilities through leadership in accessible design. The Access Board develops accessibility guidelines and standards that address access to the built environment, transportation, communication and information technology under the ADA and other laws. The Access Board also provides technical assistance and training on accessible design and enforces accessibility standards covering federally funded facilities. In addition to its work on medical diagnostic equipment and prescription drug labels, the Access Board is currently developing accessibility guidelines for public rights-of-way, outdoor environments, emergency transportable housing, and classroom acoustics.