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Disability Management…More than Wheelchairs and Accessible Pathways

July 25, 2018

By Leigh Fickling

The phone rings and I turn in my office chair to prepare to answer the call.  I am not familiar with the phone number displayed on the Caller ID and I answer the phone with my usual greeting, “Disability Management, this is Leigh!”  I’m excited about the phone call because every day at work is different for me.  No two days look the same and no two phone calls are the same.  Will this call be from a prospective student or their parent calling to learn more about disability resources at Duke?  Will it be from an employee who wants to learn more about the options available for employee accommodations in the Health System?  Maybe it will be a visitor to campus looking to learn more about accessible seating at Football games.

Accessibility and the “face” of disability is changing.  It’s changing at Duke, and it’s changing in society, in general.  In the past, society may have only considered people with “visible” disabilities to be truly disabled—those that are wheelchair users, those that might be deaf or hard of hearing, or those that are blind or low vision.  When we encounter someone with a “visible” disability, one that we can see on the outside, we are able to recognize that the individual might need possible accommodations.  But, what about those people with “hidden” disabilities?  Hidden disabilities are the ones that you can’t see when you look at another individual—chronic health conditions, learning disabilities, and mental health conditions.  If the disability is hidden, how will we recognize that an individual might need accommodations?

Recent changes to the Americans with Disability Act have led to a greater number of individuals who are “disabled” and who may need possible accommodations to access services, goods, and employment.  The Disability Management System serves as a one-stop resource on all things disABILITY related.  I capitalize the word “ability” in disability because all people that come through our doors, or over our phones, or across our emails, bring ability to Duke.  We welcome people with disabilities in our offices and know that disability can bring great diversity to our classrooms, to our workspaces, to our health system, and to Duke, as a whole.  I’d love to help you learn more about how we help to create and foster an accessible and hospitable working and learning environment for people with disabilities.  Learn more about our office at

Will you be my next phone call?

Leigh Fickling is the Director of the Duke Disability Management System and she serves as an instructor for the Duke Integrative Medicine Cultural Competency for Health Professionals program. If you would like to learn more about the Cultural Competency for Health Professionals program, visit the Duke Integrative Medicine website. Register before September 7, 2018 to receive a 10% early registration discount.


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