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Caring for People with Disabilities: The Nurse Practitioner Tool Kit




Did you know?

Disability affects one in every four or five people in the U.S.  It is estimated that there are 60 million or more individuals across all age groups in the U.S. who have a disability. This number is expected to increase because of aging of the population, survival of many children with developmental disabilities and childhood illnesses well into adulthood, improved management of chronic illnesses and trauma, and adoption of healthy lifestyles by many.

Disability has been identified as inevitable in all people at some point during their lifetime.  Although great variability exists among definitions, causes, severity and consequences of disability, an experience shared by many is the likelihood that they have greater difficulty obtaining health care, including primary health care and screening, than people without disabilities. There is a strong and growing body of empirical evidence that indicates that people with disabilities receive primary health care less often and of poorer quality than that provided to people without disabilities.  Further, available screening and treatment options are often not offered to or even discussed with those with disabilities.

Solutions for knowledge gaps in education and practice

Faculty at Villanova University M. Louise Fitzpatrick College of Nursing, in conjunction with national experts and people with disabilities, have developed a Tool Kit to address this gap in curricular content.  This project, the end result of a 3-year HRSA grant, addressed incorporating information about people with disabilities across the lifespan into NP curriculum to improve the skills and knowledge of NP students. 

One major hurdle in development of this content was the realization that no standardized competencies existed for NPs, or for registered nurses, caring for people with disabilities.  Therefore, a major focus of this project was to develop a set of competencies for NPs caring for these patients.  Additionally, a parallel set of competencies for RNs caring for people with disabilities was developed and can also be found in the competencies document linked on the right hand side of this page.   Focus of the project was on development of materials for NP faculty to incorporate into existing NP curriculum. The goal is to fill a significant gap in the knowledge, attitudes, and skills of nurse practitioner students, faculty, and ultimately nurse practitioners in practice, in caring for people with disabilities across the lifespan. This is consistent with the national objectives for the nation identified in Healthy People 2020 and in the U.S. Surgeon General’s Call to Action to Improve the Health and Wellbeing of People with Disabilities.

The value of the Tool Kit

This content addresses a long-standing problem that affects a very underserved and vulnerable group that is growing exponentially.  The materials found on this website provide nursing faculty with curricula content that can be integrated into the existing curriculum.  Content includes competencies for NPs caring for people with disabilities, references and resource lists, standardized patient cases/case studies, a pre/post quiz and slide presentation, and video clips depicting positive and negative NP patient interactions to help address the lack of knowledge about people with disabilities in NP education. Preparing NP graduates who are sensitive to this issue has the potential to ensure that nurse practitioners are part of the solution rather than part of the problem. 

Content may also be used by practicing NPs who wish to expand their knowledge of disability and help improve care to their patients who have a disability.   As a result, future NPs will be better able to provide quality primary care to their patients across the lifespan

Development of this tool kit content was partially supported by a grant from HRSA (D09HP18998-01-00).


Contact us

Want to learn more about the grant? Have questions about the tool kit? Contact us! 

Elizabeth Blunt, PhD, RN, APN, BC, Coordinator Nurse Practitioner Programs, Assistant Professor; Principal Investigator  (610) 519-4928

Suzanne Smeltzer, EdD, RN, FAAN, Professor and Director, Center for Nursing Research   610-519-6828

Educational Materials


Disability Resources and References



The following videos may be used online or in the classroom.  The videos portray either a positive or a negative NP-Patient with a Disability interaction.  Both videos have 2 stop-points where a question about the interaction is raised for student discussion. These questions can be discussed in a classroom or could be assigned as an online viewing assignment with written comment to be submitted to faculty.

Following the interaction videos are two videos in which a patient with a disability discusses some of her experiences with health care providers. 

Positive NP-Patient with a Disability Interaction

Negative NP-Patient with a Disability Interaction

Young Patient with a Disability Health Care Experiences

Elderly Patient with a Disability Health Care Experiences

Disability Standardized Patient Cases/Case Studies