Neera Jain

A University of Auckland student has co-authored a first-of-its-kind study into medical students with disabilities.

Neera Jain is a Doctoral student at the University’s Faculty of Education and Social Work where she is writing her PhD.

But she has already published related research as the co-principal investigator of Accessibility, Inclusion, and Action in Medical Education: Lived Experiences of Learners and Physicians With Disabilities.

The report, published by the Association of American Medical Colleges and the University of California San Francisco, has studied the current state of disability services in undergraduate medical education across the United States.

“We challenge medical schools to re-evaluate their expectations of people with disabilities and their images of the ideal physician, and we applaud the commitment to build a more diverse physician workforce,” she says.

“We hope that the commitment to diversity that includes disabled people continues to grow and spread.”

Neera is a doctoral student at the University under the supervision of Professor Janet Gaffney and Associate Professor Jay Marlowe.

She came to New Zealand over four years ago and is two years through her PhD thesis, “A culture of access? The medical school social environment for students with disabilities”. Like the report, the thesis studies the social environment of US medical schools for disabled students, this time with larger perspective, including viewpoints of academic staff and administrators, physical spaces and communications.

She is hoping to see more open access for disabled students through New Zealand’s medical schools in the future.

In the US, 2.7 percent of medical students disclose a disability. This can range from physical impairments like quadriplegia, chronic health conditions, learning disabilities, mental health and other conditions such as ADHD and visual and hearing impairments.

“Having health professionals that are themselves disabled would benefit patient care and hopefully shift peer perspectives about disability.”

Neera is a passionate advocate for equity and has ten years’ experience working in disability access in higher education, specializing in the health sciences.

She was formerly the Director of Student Disability Services at the University of California, San Francisco, and the Assistant Director of Disability Services at Columbia University in New York City. She provides expert consultation to universities regarding disability access in the health sciences. She is the Policy Advisor to the Coalition for Disability Access in Health Science and Medical Education.

Prior to starting her PhD she was the manager for Auckland Disability Law, New Zealand’s only Community Law Centre dedicated to serving disabled people, their family and whānau.

Neera’s interest in disability rights stems from a strong sense of social justice instilled by her family. “Disability rights are human rights – improving inclusion for disabled people in education is important for all of us. As Martin Luther King said, ‘Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.’”

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