Purpose: To determine the nature and frequency of impairments and related underlying conditions of medical students with physical and sensory disabilities (PSDs), and to assess medical schools' use of relevant publications in setting admission criteria and developing appropriate accommodations.
Method: A 25-item survey addressed schools' experiences with students known to have PSDs and their related policies and practices. The survey instrument was directed to student affairs deans at all 163 accredited American and Canadian medical schools. The authors limited the survey to consideration of PSDs, excluding psychiatric, cognitive, and learning disabilities.
Results: Eighty-six schools (52.8%) responded, representing an estimated 83,327 students enrolled between 2001 and 2010. Of these students, 0.56% had PSDs at matriculation and 0.42% at graduation. Although 81% of respondents were familiar with published guidelines for technical standards, 71% used locally derived institutional guidelines for the admission of disabled applicants. The most commonly reported accommodations for students with PSDs included extra time to complete tasks/exams (n = 62), ramps, lifts, or accessible entrances (n = 43), and dictated/audio-recorded lectures (n = 40). All responding schools required students' demonstration of physical examination skills; requirements for other technical skills, with or without accommodations, varied considerably.
Conclusions: The matriculation and graduation rates of medical students with PSDs remain low. The most frequent accommodations reported were among those required of any academic or clinical setting by the Americans with Disabilities Act. There is a lack of consensus regarding technical standards for admission, suggesting a need to reexamine this critical issue.