RN’s website is a fruitful resource for nurses with disabilities

By | 2019-10-18T16:59:18-04:00 October 14th, 2019|3 Comments

Donna Maheady, EdD, ARNP, wanted to create a virtual space for nurses with disabilities. So, that’s what she did.

nurses with disabilities - Donna Maheady, ARNP

Donna Maheady, ARNP

Maheady is the founder of ExceptionalNurse.com a website featuring real-life stories, information and resources for nurses with disabilities, as well as nursing students and those interested in the profession who are affected by disabilities.

“Lauren, my daughter, was born in 1986 and later diagnosed with autism, [obsessive-compulsive disorder], epilepsy and a host of other autism-related challenges,” Maheady said.

“I quickly became an advocate for her, and over time expanded my advocacy efforts to include nurses and nursing students with disabilities,” she said.

Maheady said she learned working with children with disabilities was her passion while working on a pediatric unit of a large teaching hospital early in her nursing career.

She chose to study the experiences of nursing students with disabilities as the research topic for her doctoral dissertation and found few resources existed to help guide nurses.

“Most nursing students with disabilities struggled to become nurses and find employment with or without reasonable accommodation,” Maheady said.

So, Maheady did something about it. She launched ExceptionalNurse.com in 2001.

“The 501(c) 3 nonprofit provides information, support, mentors, employment opportunities, resources related to legal issues, social media groups, links to adaptive equipment and articles and research related to nurses and nursing students with disabilities,” Maheady said. “ExceptionalNurse.com also awards scholarships to nursing students with disabilities every year.”

Advocating for nurses with disabilities

Maheady has written three books:

  1. “Nursing Students with Disabilities Change the Course”
  2. “Leave No Nurse Behind: Nurses Working with DisAbilities”
  3. “The Exceptional Nurse: Tales from the Trenches of Truly Resilient Nurses Working with Disabilities”

She also has written articles about the experiences of nurses and nursing students with disabilities.

nurses with disabilities - Donna Maheady, "Color Me Exceptional!" coloring book

Donna Maheady’s “I Am a Nurse: Color Me Exceptional!” coloring book

The books offer first-person accounts from nurses and nursing students with disabilities, including those affecting hearing, vision and learning as well as limb loss, spina bifida, lupus and bipolar disorder.

Details within the chapters include the journey through nursing school, requesting reasonable accommodation, equipment and support and finding employment. Each chapter includes resources and contact information, Maheady said.

Maheady also created the coloring book, “I Am a Nurse: Color me Exceptional!”

The illustrations are inspired by real-life nurses with hearing or vision loss, spina bifida, dyslexia, sickle cell anemia, asthma, osteogenesis imperfecta, cerebral palsy or epilepsy, as well as nurses who are amputees, use wheelchairs, service dogs or sign language, according to Maheady.

These nurses work in hospitals, clinics and camps, as well as for organ transplant registries, NASA, cruise ships and amusement parks.

“I want children and adults with and without disabilities to know a nursing career is possible for everyone,” she said. “We often hear comments such as ‘we need to change the conversation or narrative,’ but we also need to see more visual representations of people with disabilities in healthcare settings.”

Maheady plans to continue advocating for nurses and nursing students with disabilities.

“Perhaps, another book or coloring book about nurses with disabilities,” she said. “Doing the coloring book was fun! More fundraising and writing grants for scholarships for nursing students with disabilities (not so much fun, but very rewarding). As the back of the coloring book says: ‘The sky is the limit!’”

Proceeds from sales of the coloring book support the Exceptional Nurse scholarship program for nursing students with disabilities.

More resources on nurses with disabilities

For more information, check out these resources:

Take these courses related to nurses’ rights and responsibilities:

The Nurses’ Bill of Rights
(1 contact hr)
The Nurses’ Bill of Rights is a statement of professional rights rather than a legal document. It establishes an informal covenant between nurses and their employing institutions to help guide organizational policy and to focus discussions between nurses and employers on issues related to patient care and working conditions. Nurses can advocate more effectively for patients’ rights when they have critical information about their own rights. Not every nurse is familiar with the Nurses’ Bill of Rights or related rights described by various state boards of nursing and nursing associations in their position statements. This module provides an overview of them.

Protect Yourself: Know Your Nurse Practice Act
(1 contact hr)
Nurses have an obligation to keep abreast of current issues related to the regulation of the practice of nursing not only in their respective states but also across the nation, especially when their nursing practice crosses state borders. Because the practice of nursing is a right granted by a state to protect those who need nursing care, nurses have a duty to patients to practice in a safe, competent, and responsible manner. This requires nurse licensees to practice in conformity with their state statutes and regulations. This course outlines information about nurse practice acts and how they affect nursing practice.

Everyday Ethics for Nurses
(7.3 contact hrs)
This course provides an overview of bioethics as it applies to healthcare and nursing in the U.S. It begins by describing the historical events and forces that brought the bioethics movement into being and explains the concepts, theories, and principles that are its underpinnings. It shows how ethics functions within nursing and on a hospital-wide, interdisciplinary ethics committee. The course explains the elements of ethical decision-making as they apply both to the care of patients and to ethics committees. The course concludes with a look at the ethical challenges involved in physician-assisted suicide, organ transplantation, and genetic testing.


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About the Author:

Lisette Hilton
Lisette Hilton, president of Words Come Alive, has been a freelance health reporter for more than 25 years and loves her job.


  1. Avatar
    Robert Valderas July 21, 2020 at 1:30 pm - Reply

    My wife is a nurse of over 30 years. She worked as a Psych nurse at Shepard Pratt in Baltimore for 7 Years. She then transitioned over to be an OR nurse after that with The University of Maryland Medical System at BWMC and various surgery centers. I was a paramedic and dealt with nurses my whole career.and from what other nurses and Doctors said of Jan I realized she’s one of the best. 5 years ago she became disabled with undiagnosed Cervical Myelopathy. A doctor thought and treated her for MS. By the time she had neck surgery it was late and now she has trouble walking and with balance. She lives in fear of falling. When she fell twice at the surgery center she was working the supervisor had to let her go. She now mentors her granddaughter who is a nursing student. Jan herself was such a great student in nursing school that when the instructor took ill and could not finish the course, She gave all the learning material to Jan and asked her to finish teaching the course. Is there something you can help her with? She naturally has gone through depression and really needs to get off the sidelines and back in the game. The beautiful world of medicine. Please advise us of what we can do, and what opportunities we can explore. Thanks so much.

    • Avatar
      Sheila Levings May 18, 2021 at 3:23 pm - Reply

      Please check out the National Organization of Nurses with Disabilities website for the information and community your wife needs.

  2. Avatar
    Kim Siegrist January 25, 2022 at 5:33 pm - Reply

    The most frustrated I’ve ever been in nursing is now. I’ve been a nurse with MS for years and done fine. But recent cancer treatment has left me with low CD4 and after 3 years, they are saying this is likely not going to change. I’ve worked in just about every area of nursing including as an NP and in peds focused in psychiatry but now I’m trying to return to a case management desk role and keep hearing I’m over qualified. I’m desperate to work and feel productive and I know my stuff. I have a lot to contribute but can’t have direct patient contact. Why is it that nursing is such a difficult field to show care to our own?

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