Donna Maheady, EdD, ARNP, wanted to create a virtual space for nurses with disabilities. So, that’s what she did.
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:
- “Nursing Students with Disabilities Change the Course”
- “Leave No Nurse Behind: Nurses Working with DisAbilities”
- “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.
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:
- “Nurses with Disabilities,” The American Journal of Nursing, Feb. 2016
- “Registered Nurses With Disabilities: Legal Rights and Responsibilities,” Journal of Nursing Scholarship, March 24, 2015
- “Success for Students and Nurses with Disabilities: A Call to Action for Nurse Educators,” Nurse Educator, Jan./Feb. 2016
Take these courses related to nurses’ rights and responsibilities:
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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.
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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
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