Eliminating Access Barriers in Public Health Meetings

  • Date: Jan 01 2000
  • Policy Number: 200025

Key Words: Disabled Persons


Noting that Congress, in enacting the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), has recognized that persons with mental or physical disabilities have been “subjected to a history of purposeful unequal treatment and relegated to a position of political powerlessness”1 which “continue(s) to be a serious and pervasive social problem”2 in many realms including “health services,”3 and that barriers to participation in such critical areas as education, employment, housing, public accommodations, access to public services,4 etc., have contributed to the fact that “people with disabilities, as a group, occupy an inferior status in our society, and are severely disadvantaged socially, vocationally, economically, and educationally”;5 and

Recognizing that some discrimination against persons with disabilities occurs through intentional exclusion whether because they are undervalued as members of society or because of overprotective rules and policies, and that other discrimination occurs through unintentional discriminatory effects of architectural, transportation, and communication barriers;6 and

Recognizing that persons with disabilities constitute approximately 20.6% of the total population;7 and

Recognizing that the “new paradigm” in disability policy focuses on the interaction of an individual’s characteristics and the environment as determinants of outcomes;8-10 and

Recognizing that the health, productivity, and social integration of our society depends on addressing the health care needs of the total population in an efficient and effective way,11 and creating equalization of opportunities for persons with disabilities;12-14 and

Recognizing that inclusion of persons with disabilities is an important public health objective which must be promoted by universal design backed up by provision of reasonable accommodations to create more competent healthy communities;15,16 and

Believing that disability, like gender and race, is a natural and normal part of human experience that in no way diminishes a person’s right to fully participate in an organization’s activities;17 and

Recognizing that removing the barriers to participation and creating a more accessible society will be greatly enhanced by the involvement of persons with disabilities in the formation and implementation of public policy18-20 through public health organizations; therefore, urges public health organizations to begin discussions of ways to initiate the following or to have policies and implementation mechanisms in place to promptly and effectively:

  1. Select accessible sites21 in accessible communities to hold public health meetings; whereby accessible facilities22 include meeting spaces, exhibit booths, public use areas, sleeping areas, restaurants, and social events, etc.;
  2. Ensure physical accessibility by using rooms set up to accommodate wheelchair users in the audience as well as at a speaker’s table, and to provide amplification equipment if needed such as table or lapel microphones that permit persons with disabilities to speak without having to hold the microphone;
  3. Provide accessible and timely transportation including accessible buses and vans as well as accessible parking;
  4. Promote accessible communication23 in the form of conference materials in accessible formats, qualified sign language interpreters, assistive listening devices such as induction/hearing hoops, decoders, and real-time captioning; and provide guidelines to speakers for accessible methods of presentation such as providing handouts in alternative formats (e.g., large print, Braille, or audio cassette), providing an oral description if visual materials are included, and presenting material in easily understandable language and at a pace that is suitable to professionals with cognitive differences as well as to most meeting participants;
  5. Provide personal assistance for meeting site orientation and other assistance when requested and feasible in the form of a note taker, reader, etc., enabling persons with disabilities to participate in all scheduled conference activities;
  6. Utilizing planning process to promote cost-effective accessibility by:
  • Identifying access needs of persons with disabilities through pre-registration and membership procedures; 
  • Ensuring that all contracts are sensitive to needs of persons with disabilities and comply with ADA standards, including those for conference arrangements, transportation, audio visual and computer equipment, exhibit booths, hotels meals, receptions, etc.;
  • Conducting site visits with the assistance of accessibility specialist consultants such as individuals from Independent Living Centers in the local community prior to the meetings to ensure compliance with nondiscrimination standards, provide disability sensitivity training to public health organization staff to increase their awareness of architectural, communication, and attitudinal barriers, and designate knowledgeable person(s) in the organization as an “access troubleshooter” to correct problems as they arise;
  • Evaluating effectiveness of accessibility through targeted surveys, focus groups, advisory committees, etc., of persons with disabilities who are members or participants in the public health organization activities; and
  • Using public health organizations’ communication channels including newsletters, publications, web site, etc., to inform membership about an organization’s commitment to accessible meetings and organizational procedures.
  • Ensure that persons with disabilities have an equal opportunity to participate in all governance functions and decision-making by the organization.


  1. ADA Finding 7, Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, Public Law 101-336.
  2. ADA Finding 2, Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, Public Law 101-336.
  3. ADA Finding 3, Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, Public Law 101-336.
  4. ADA Finding 4, Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, Public Law 101-336.
  5. ADA Finding 6, Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, Public Law 101-336.
  6. ADA Finding 5, Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, Public Law 101-336.
  7. McNeil JM. Current Population Reports, Americans With Disabilities: 1994-1995, Washington, DC: Census Bureau, US Department of Commerce. 
  8. World Health Organization. International classification of impairments, activities, and participation (ICIDH-2). A manual of dimensions of disablement and functioning. Beta-1 draft for field trials. Geneva: World Health Organization, 1997.
  9. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Office on Disability and Health 1996/97 Strategic Plan, Atlanta, GA.
  10. National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research (NIDRR) Long Range Plan: Fed Regist. December 7, 1999; 64, (234): 68575- 68614.
  11. Healthy People 2010: National Health Promotion and Disease Prevention Objectives. Washington, DC: US Department of Health and Human Services, 2000.
  12. Pope AM and Tarlov AR (eds.). Disability in America: Toward a National Agenda for Prevention, Washington, DC: National Academy Press, 1991.
  13. Brandt EN and Pope AM (eds.). Enabling America: Assessing the Role of Rehabilitation Science and Engineering. Washington, D.: National Academy Press, 1997.
  14. United Nations Standard Rules on the Equalization of Opportunities for Persons with Disabilities, in United Nations General Assembly Resolution 48/46, December 20, 1993.
  15. Healthy People 2010: National Health Promotion and Disease Prevention Objectives. Washington, DC: US Department of Health and Human Services, 2000. 
  16. Zola I. Toward the necessary niversalizing of a disability policy. The Milbank Memorial Fund Quarterly, 1989; 67 (supplement 2, part 2): 401-428.
  17. Silverstein Robert. Federal disability policy framework reflecting the nation’s goals relating to people with disabilities as articulated in the Americans with Disabilities Act. Iowa Law Review, 2000; 85(5) Section 2(a)(3) of the Rehabilitation Act (29 U.S.C. 701(a)(3)); Section 601©(1) of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (20 U.S.C. 1400 ©(1)); Section 101(a)(2) of the Developmental Disabilities Assistance and Bill of Rights Act (42 U.S.C.6000(a)(2)). 
  18. Hahn H. Towards a politics of disability: definitions, disciplines, and policies. Social Science Journal, 1985; 22(4):87-106; consider also cites to Paul Longmore, Richard Scotch, etc.
  19. National Council on Disability, Towards Independence, Washington, DC., 1986.
  20. DeJong G. Independent living: from social movement to analytic paradigm, Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, October 1979;60:435-446.
  21. Kailes JI, Jones D. A Guide to Planning Accessible Meetings, Houston, TX: ILRU Research & Training Center on Independent Living, The Institute for Rehabilitation and Research (TIRR), 1993.
  22. ADA Accessibility Guidelines. 28 C.F.R. Part 36, January 1992.
  23. Stoddard S., Kasnitz D,. and Wahl L. Making conferences accessible: Experiences from 1995 SDS. Disability Studies Quarterly, 1998; 18(1).

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