The Voice of Disability in Nursing: NOND Promotes Equity through Support and Resources

Being a nurse or doctor usually means working around the clock and running from one patient to the next. Having a disability can make finding (and sometimes performing) a job in healthcare more challenging than it is for those who don’t have disabilities. Individuals with a disability or chronic health condition may be less inclined to earn a degree in medicine or nursing for a variety of reasons.

However, they shouldn’t feel like this option is off the table. The National Organization of Nurses with Disabilities (NOND) was created to provide resources, services, and support to students and nurses with disabilities and chronic health conditions, so they know they aren’t alone. 

The mission of NOND includes making sure this demographic is given equal opportunity to be represented within the field of nursing. Bringing more providers with disabilities into the fold will help facilities and organizations better meet the needs of patients like them who face various challenges. Learn more about this organization and its commitment to this important issue.

What is NOND?

The National Organization of Nurses with Disabilities defines itself as “an open membership, cross-disability, professional organization that works to promote equity for people with disabilities and chronic health conditions in nursing through education and advocacy.”

The organization provides services to:

  • Parents, youth, and students of all ages with disabilities
  • Nursing students with disabilities
  • Nurses who develop a disability or chronic health condition after licensure
  • Nursing programs, nurse educators, and nursing organizations
  • Employers within the healthcare industry, recruiters, and for-profit corporations
  • Boards of Nursing and Professional Regulators 

NOND educates about barriers that impact the acceptance of people with disabilities entering healthcare careers, as well as those who want to return to work or keep working after becoming disabled. The Board of Directors represents nurses with many different disabilities, and works to match up a Director or Advisory Committee member to a person with the same or similar disability when possible as part of its Peer Support services.

Not All Nurses Work in the Clinical Arena

Not all nurses work at the patient bedside, surrounded by technology and telemetry. New fields of nursing are developing because of the ingenuity and intelligence of nurses with disabilities who want to remain within the profession. Some nurses who develop a disability or chronic health condition after licensure may need to tweak their careers according to their skills and the area of nursing in which they are most interested. They must determine how those skills and interests can create their own niche within the profession. NOND has had some members of its Board move from the clinical arena and continue working creatively as nurses, and is driven to help others do the same.

Graduating nursing students must choose the right area of nursing before interviewing for jobs. These students quickly become aware of which areas would work best for them. A med-surg unit, with its fast-paced, high-performance, increasingly demanding flow, may not be the right fit for some. Thoughtful consideration of strengths and weaknesses is critical, and NOND is committed to helping students find the area that fits them.

A Story of Perseverance

NOND is connected to and familiar with many people with disabilities who have been able to find a career in the healthcare industry. Such is the case with Registered Nurse Andrea Dalzell. 

She’s known as “The Seated Nurse” on Instagram, where she regularly shares stories of her experiences on the job. Even though she depends on her wheelchair at work, she hates the term “wheelchair bound.” Instead, she refers to herself as boundless, citing the fact that she uses her wheelchair to break boundaries, not build them up. 

Dalzell talks about some of the challenges she has faced on the job and how she overcame them. She says, “There are preconceived biases that come with being a nurse with a disability. Oftentimes, I’m questioned on my ability before an opportunity is even provided. There is this ‘need to know how’ or the thought that I should have to prove my ability to those questioning me.”

She says she gets frustrated when people make assumptions about her abilities. “We don’t look at an able-bodied nurse (a nurse with no visible ailments) and ask them to prove if they can do CPR or if they can lift a patient up in bed. We don’t question their ability because they walked into an interview. When I roll into an interview, there’s a thought process that leads to thinking that my ability can’t nearly be the same because I’m in the seated position.”

She understands what it’s like to be on the other side of the nurse-patient relationship, which can be an asset on the floor. These unique experiences have helped her be there for her patients when they needed her most. As a professional, she approaches every situation and patient with empathy and understanding.

She goes on to give some advice to aspiring healthcare professionals with disabilities. 

For student nurses, don’t give up! I know you’re not allowed to just be a student. I know you’re struggling to balance life, your disability and school all at once and it can feel like you’re suffocating. It is not that you can’t do it, you’re just having to prove yourself over and over and that is the mental agility you will need when you are a nurse in your dream job. Stick the course!” 

As for those directly seeking employment, she says, “Get the names of who you spoke to, interviewed with, and start writing letters to the institutions you are applying to. Your ask is powerful. Show them you deserve an opportunity because you’ve already got the credentials.”

Knowledge is Power

Nurse Andrea Dalzell would like to see more nurses with disabilities working in the industry, considering it’s not exactly clear how many health professionals fit this category. Many say they are afraid to disclose their condition for fear of being turned down for a position, losing their job, or receiving special treatment. This fear of disclosure causes many nurses to self-accommodate; oftentimes, it is only when there are concerns for patient safety that the nurse might disclose information to receive accommodations. 

However, no one should be denied a job or a chance to pursue their dream because of a pre-existing condition.

NOND is here to work towards making this fear a thing of the past. 

One of the most important issues that the organization addresses for those with disabilities is to know their civil rights and rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) 1990, and as amended in 2008. 

Supporting an All-Volunteer Organization

For the past 17 years, NOND has been a volunteer organization with no paid staff. Members of the Board of Directors are involved in the due diligence of the governance of the organization, and also conduct all the work for it, even though most have other full-time jobs. The Board must have 60% of its members as people with disabilities, and a majority are nurses. Most directors have experienced some form of barrier, obstacle, and even discrimination, but these incredible volunteers are passionate about what they do. It is for this reason that the organization can move mountains!

NOND is always working to recruit volunteers and board candidates. Please contact NOND2003@gmail.com, include your resume, and share how you can help to ensure no student, nurse, or healthcare professional with a disability or chronic health condition has to endure discrimination. There are also opportunities to assist with research, financing, fundraising, social media, and more. Share with NOND what you would like to do.

NOND is not well-known because much of its work is done through one-to-one peer support. The organization needs us all to spread word! NOND would like people with disabilities to know that support is available, and members want to accelerate membership, raise funds for important initiatives, and recruit individuals to serve as Board members. 

Please visit the NOND website at https://www.nond.org to learn more.

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