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Nurses with disabilities going back to work

The melody to “Where have all the flowers gone?” by Pete Seeger could easily be sung with the words “Where have all the nurses gone?”

Part of the answer rests with nurses with disabilities who have left the workforce. Many are eager to return to patient care but are “scared silent.”

Hospitals have varied ways of supporting nurses with disabilities. The passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act has helped, but hearts and minds are slow to change.

How do I know this? Well, it all began with my daughter and a carpenter….

My daughter faces life challenged by autism. As a pediatric nurse, I found my advocacy surrounding her life evolving into research about the experiences of nurses with disabilities. I learned that nurses with disabilities often feel alone and disconnected from others who share a similar path.

One day a carpenter who was working at our house mentioned that he developed web sites. I shyly asked, “Could you create a web site for me?”

Soon after, the carpenter created a web site which later became a nonprofit resource network for nurses with disabilities called

The site grew over the years and now provides support through:

  • disability related organizations
  • mentors
  • equipment, technology
  • scholarships, employment opportunities
  • message board postings, newsletters
  • related articles

Success stories:

In one hospital a nurse with hearing loss works with an amplified stethoscope. The hospital purchased an amplified telephone and other nurses and staff alert the nurse when her call lights are on.

Another experienced nurse worked as a supervisor. She walked miles to cover all of her units. Arthritis and complications of surgery required her to use a scooter. The nurse presented a request for reasonable accommodations under the Americans with Disabilities Act. She outlined the cost benefits of purchasing a scooter and compared it with the cost of advertising and orienting a new nurse.

The hospital purchased the scooter for her.

Helpful hints if you are or become disabled:

  • Get connected with other nurses with disabilities
  • Learn about your rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act
  • Maintain your license, certifications and computer skills
  • Go back to school…the more education you have the more options available
  • Network, get involved in professional organizations, volunteer
  • Paint your paradise…try a new area in nursing

If you know a nurse with a disability, encourage him or her to return to work. Disability can present as mental illness, chronic pain or mobility limitations. Be a role model of acceptance and open the door of opportunity a little wider. Treat the nurse the way you would want to be treated.

Who knows, you may be able to write a new verse to the melody of Pete Seeger’s song!

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Donna Maheady

Donna Maheady, the mother of a daughter with disabilities, is a Pediatric Nurse Practitioner. Dr. Maheady is the author of "Nursing Students with Disabilities Change the Course" and "Leave No Nurse Behind: Nurses working with disAbilities." She is the founder of

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6 Responses to Nurses with disabilities going back to work

  1. Thanks for this and the link. It seems like sometimes we’re “forgotten” …

  2. I need to know how to find a personal mentor to talk to as I have been told I need to get a desk job and can no longer do the hospice nursing that I loved. Please have someone contact me as I am very upset about this. I know I cannot fight it, but I need to talk to someone who understands what it is that I have lost

    • annemcgrathrn

      Janet, I would suggest that you “like” the Exceptional Nurse Facebook page. You would find support there! What about intake coordinator or remote on-call support or Nurse Educator in Hospice, to name a few?

      If you can believe in yourself, I would advise you against throwing away your valuable experience. Best, Anne

  3. Ckosicek

    GREAT insights Donna!

    Everyone should realize that we are all made in special ways to in turn help others who may not embrace their specialties or perhaps simply need help seeing all that they can do :)

    Nursing is an AMAZING profession yet sadly, many focus on the traditional roles or roles that are challenging for them even though they are exceptional.

    Nurses can work in case management, wellness nursing, as nurse navigators, telephonic nurses, nurse liaisons, computer fields within nursing, etc, etc, etc!

    Think about it…..for the visionally challenged nurse, computers can now help as she/he speaks to the computer and it is written out, visual images can help nurses who have challenges focusing on written words, nurses who relish in a slower paced environment are perfect for our aging senior population as it takes them time to process information too!

    Think OUTSIDE the box and it is clear that those who feel ‘disabled’ could actually be located incorrectly in the fabulous field of nursing!

    Carmen Kosicek, RN, MSN is an innovative nursing visionary and public speaker who specializes in helping nurses capitalize on their strengths, and expand their nursing career opportunities. Carmen offers a guided, step-by-step approach for seasoned and new nurses alike which helps them to initiate and advance their personal nursing careers. Carmen offers resume revamping, career coaching, keynote speaking and more! Her book, ‘Nurses, Jobs and Money – A Guide to Advancing Your Nursing Career and Salary’, live national CE workshops and online workshops, center around insights to help nurses further their careers. For more information visit today! Interact with Carmen in the’s Student Center that she personally hosts! Ask questions, participate in on-line webinars and more at: .

  4. Anonymous

    Nurses with disabilities should be able to continue working just as disabled people in many other fields do, as long as they can perform the work. If some concessions are required, that’s fine, everybody can work together to make it happen!

  5. Thanks for sharing this story. The people you mentioned are so inspiring. I hope others who have skills would not shy away from the world. I hope others who have the same situation would find courage to live like the way it was before. Keep up the good work.