Technical Standards Versus Essential Functions: Developing Disability-Friendly Policies for Nursing Programs

Technical Standards Versus Essential Functions: Developing Disability-Friendly Policies for Nursing Programs
by Martha Smith

What do technical standards mean for nursing?

Under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, schools can, in fact, have technical standards. Technical Standards are all the non-academic requirements a students must have/meet to enter a program. For most health sciences programs, there are usually a list of skills or experiences students must have prior to entry. Technical Standards cannot be written to exclude a class of people, including students with disabilities, and must have the “tag-line” “able to meet these requirements with or without a reasonable accommodation.” Most schools have difficulty writing good technical standards. They often use physical attributes as a skill, e.g, “must be able to talk to patients directly” versus “must be able to communicate effectively”. Also, technical standards should be written as the “what” of a skill, not the “how”, e.g., “must be able to gather vitals using variety of means” versus “must be able to hear a heart murmur through a stethoscope” (actually specifying how the task will be accomplished). Many technical standards are written based on skills that students will actually learn how to do in the program (e.g., “must be able to hear/detect a heart murmur through a stethoscope”). Because students will learn this skill in school, it is not a requirement for entering the program.

How are technical standards used in nursing programs?

Most institutions write technical standards on a page or two. Once students are admitted, they are asked to read and sign the technical standards page saying they can meet these requirements. Some schools ask all their students to have the page signed by their physician. If a school is a asking a particular student to “prove” they can, in fact, meet the technical standards, then they should be asking all the students to prove they can also meet the technical standards.

Do they write them for students already in a nursing program?

Yes. They should write them and give them to students up front so they know what to expect and what they will encounter but they are not used as admissions requirements.

What are some of the issues related to technical standards?

One of the big problems with technical standards is if you use them purely as admissions requirements how do you “test” folks (all folks) to make sure they can do all those things?

Where are some examples of technical standards for nursing?

What does the term “essential functions” mean for nursing?

“Essential functions” is a term used in employment, not education. The essential functions of a nurse are not the same, nor should they be, as the technical standards for a nursing student.

Smith, M. (2012).
Technical standards versus essential functions: Developing Disability-Friendly Policies for Nursing Programs, NOND FAQ Resources. NOND, Chicago, IL.

Disclaimer: The National Organization of Nurses with Disabilities (NOND) does not offer legal advice but NOND does offer resources to help you understand your rights, protections, and responsibilities within various Disability Rights Laws.

Open the Door, Get ‘Em a Locker: Educating Nursing Students with Disabilities

This documentary film produced by Bronwynne Evans, RN, PhD and Beth Marks, RN, PhD chronicles the experience of a nursing student who entered a baccalaureate program using a wheelchair. The 23 minute film provides a forum for the voices of nursing students, faculty, administrators, and agency nursing staff to discuss trials and triumphs encountered during this experience. It is a real life example of the exploration of roles and responsibilities in nursing education, experiential learning, shifting perspectives, and being a part of old ways turning into new ways in the world of nursing.

Watch on YouTube.

Off to College: Tips for Students with Visual Impairments

Off to College: Tips for Students with Visual Impairments
By Laura Magnuson

College is full of new experiences. You will meet new people, learn new things, and perhaps be away from home for the first time. As a person who has a visual impairment, you may be wondering how you’re going to do it all. How will you pick a good school? How will you find all your books and do all your homework? How are you going to find your way to class? Will you be able to make friends with other students? This article will answer these and other questions.
First Steps
The first step in transitioning to college is finding the best school for you. Don’t worry; you don’t have to do it alone. Your parents, school counselors, and teacher for the visually impaired will all help you choose a school that meets your needs and goals and best fits with what you want to learn in college.
If you and your parents are able to take a college’s campus tour, you can begin to develop a good feel for the school’s atmosphere. You also can stop by the office for students with disabilities, which will be an important resource for you in college. This office provides supports to students with disabilities so they will have the same opportunities to complete their education as students without disabilities. Talking with department staff and finding out what kinds of services they provide can help you decide about attending that school. (The name of this office is different for every college, but the title is similar enough that you should be able to find it.)
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The Americans with Disabilities Act and Afterwards: Disabilities in Medical Education and Practice


Disabilities: Looking Back and Looking Ahead
Sue Sun Yom, MA, University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine

Neither numbers nor definitions come easily when considering disabilities. Although 35 to 49 million Americans are formally classified as disabled,1 many more disabilities may be unreported or undiagnosed. Disabilities differ in kind and degree of functional impairment and in the role they play in shaping a person’s identity.

In this issue we explore how the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) has affected medical education and medical practice, since the ADA’s major provisions were implemented 5 years ago.2 Additionally, we were curious to learn about the experiences of individuals living with a disability. In our authors’ candid accounts we saw their focus on adaptation and success rather than failure, and their development of insights and compensations that may bring a special compassion to the profession.

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