Dealing with disabilities


Whether you suffer from a disability or you're trying to make your practice friendlier for disabled clients and team members, consider this advice.

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Veterinary medicine can by a physically and emotionally demanding job, and it’s not surprising that respondents to the 2013 Firstline Veterinary Team Trends Study report they sometimes struggle to perform some physical tasks.

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If you’re a team member with a disability or a medical issue, whether it’s a mobility problem or even a short-term condition such as a broken bone or pregnancy, obtaining a doctor’s note is a good place to start because it helps your manager understand your condition and limitations, says Marianne Mallonee, CVPM, a Firstline Editorial Advisory Board member and hospital administrator and part owner of Wheat Ridge Animal Hospital in Wheat Ridge, Colo.

If you’re a team member who needs accommodations, it’s a good idea to plan conversations with your manager to identify other duties you can perform as alternatives, Mallonee says. This plays an important part in keeping the practice functioning, so your manager can schedule another team member who can handle tasks you should avoid, whether it’s lifting or operating the radiograph machine. For example, a veterinary assistant who can’t lift or restrain pets might transition into some receptionist work that involves making followup calls with patients.

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7 steps to help disabled clients

Even if your practice doesn’t have any team members who need adaptations, you likely have clients who could use more attention. Making your practice more convenient for them makes it easier for pet owners to provide the care you recommend. Sharon DeNayer, a Firstline board member and practice manager at Windsor Veterinary Clinic in Windsor, Colo., offers up these easy adaptations every practice should make for disabled people and their pets:

1. Assign at least one parking place for the disabled. Be sure the special signage is easy to see. And have at least one of your entrance doors accessible to wheelchairs.

2. Build a culture of caring and sensitivity. Train your team accordingly. For example:

> Continually develop your team’s listening skills.

> Recognize that every client may have special needs from time to time.

> Confront any prejudices or incorrect beliefs regarding disabilities. Prejudging clients builds barriers to communication and care.

> Ask clients how they want to be treated and how you can help them—and then build trust by

doing it.

3. Find alternatives when needed. If your exam room is not large enough for a wheelchair, then find another place where the pet’s exam can be done. The client deserves to be with the pet when examinations and treatments are done.

4. Consider your seating. Seats in the reception room and examination room should have arms on them to make sitting down and getting up easy.

5. Help the home-bound. Offer to deliver pet food, medicine and supplies to them.

6. Arrange a ride. If the pet owner can’t drive, offer transportation for the client and pet to and from your practice.

7. Use a large font on written materials. People with visual problems will appreciate being able to read your handouts.

“Always ask, ‘What can we do to make life easier for you and your pet?’” DeNayer says. “Remember that many disabilities are invisible to others.”

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Angela Elia, BS, LVT, CVT, VTS (ECC)
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