Leveling the Field for Those with Disabilities

Professor Suzanne C. Smeltzer, EdD, RN, FAAN, Director, Center for Nursing Research


“Ask the person with a disability about his or her disability. They want you to ask and consider it in order to get the best care,” advises Dr. Suzanne C. Smeltzer. With her is Kate Matalan, a standardized patient who was assisting with a simulation.

Nursing research improves patient care. But what if patients—especially those with a disability—can’t even access that care? Disability will affect one in four Americans. It is estimated that there are at least 60 million Americans with a disability. Who is their voice?

Dr. Suzanne C. Smeltzer is an internationally recognized scholar and author in the area of health care and health-care access for those with disabilities. With the aging of the population, plus increased survival rates for those with developmental disabilities, illnesses and trauma, this is a group that is growing in number. “It’s the largest group facing health disparities. We need to address it,” she notes. Her research has demonstrated that people with disabilities are not happy with the care they receive in hospitals, and often cannot physically access or are not offered the same level of care as others. This includes health screening and health promotion. Through qualitative and quantitative studies funded by private foundations and federal and disability-related agencies, Dr. Smeltzer has used the outcomes of her research to advocate for people with disabilities and to abolish disparities in care. In parallel, she investigates knowledge and attitudes of nurses and disability-related content in the College’s graduate and undergraduate curricula. She has incorporated people with disabilities into clinical simulations, enabling them to use their own voices in effectively advocating for quality care through interactions with Nursing students. She further advances the agenda by leveraging her position on national task forces and organizations to encourage the development of competencies among those providing care to individuals with disabilities.