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April 4, 2024

Pressley, Colleagues Urge Biden Admin. to Improve Access to Healthcare for People with Disabilities

Lawmakers Urge DOJ to Strengthen & Finalize Proposed Rules to Boost Medical Equipment Access for Disability Community

Text of Letter (PDF)

BOSTON – Today, Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley (MA-07) led 11 of her colleagues in urging the Department of Justice (DOJ) to strengthen and quickly finalize its proposed rule to improve access to medical diagnostic equipment (MDE) for people with disabilities. MDE refers to any equipment used to diagnose a patient’s condition, from weight scales and examination tables to dental chairs and radiology devices.

In their letter to Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke, the lawmakers highlighted the increasing number of adults with disabilities who rely on the federal government to protect their civil liberties under the Americans with Disability Act and underscored the need for health care facilities to have functional and accessible MDE for people with disabilities.

“Unfortunately, specific standards for what constitutes accessible MDE have never been adopted, allowing medical facilities to lack adequate equipment while contributing to severe health disparities,” the lawmakers wrote. “The data makes clear that whether they are seeking routine screenings, reproductive healthcare, or complex medical treatments, people with disabilities are not receiving equal attention.”

The lawmakers cited devastating stories from constituents who must live the reality of these statistics daily. One constituent, who uses a wheelchair, detailed exhausting accounts of traveling to multiple dental practices only to be denied treatment because he was unable to be transferred to the patient chair. Another shared that it is common for her weight to be guessed by a physician in lieu of using a proper scale, jeopardizing her ability to monitor any conditions and drug dosages that interact with body weight.

“These stories are tragically commonplace and result in individuals with disabilities routinely having their conditions misdiagnosed, worsened, or untreated altogether,” the lawmakers continued. “That is why we are encouraged by the Biden-Harris Administration’s efforts. The life-changing and life-saving policies that DOJ is advancing through its accessible MDE rule, as well as its proposed rule that would improve web access for people with disabilities, complements the work of other federal agencies in this space.”

The lawmakers also proposed the following improvements to strengthen the proposed MDE rule:

  • Stronger scoping requirements – increasing the percentage of each type of equipment that must comply with MDE standards in all facilities.
  • Departmental requirements – requiring that every department, clinic, or specialty within a facility have at least one piece of functional and accessible MDE on-site.
  • Non-diagnostic equipment – applying the proposed rule to non-diagnostic equipment, such as treatment and recovery equipment.
  • Training – ensuring the provision of proper training and education to staff who assist individuals with disabilities.

“We urge DOJ to consider stakeholder comments and quickly finalize its accessible MDE rule,” they continued. “Thank you for your consideration, and we offer our partnership as we continue pursuing high-quality healthcare for all.”

The letter has the strong support of the Center for American Progress’ Disability Justice Initiative.

“The Department of Justice must prioritize the finalization of its Rehab 504 and ADA Title II proposed rules to ensure disabled people are able to get equitable access to quality health care,” said Mia Ives-Rublee, Director for the Disability Justice Initiative at Center for American Progress. “The Center for American Progress appreciates that Representative Ayanna Pressley and others are pushing to ensure the government prioritizes the needs of the disabled community.”

In addition to Rep. Pressley, the letter was signed by Representatives Pramila Jayapal (WA-07), Barbara Lee (CA-12), Stephen F. Lynch (MA-08), James P. McGovern (MA-02), Seth Moulton (MA-06), Eleanor Holmes Norton (DC), Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (NY-14), Delia C. Ramirez (IL-03), Jan Schakowsky (IL-09), Rashida Tlaib (MI-12), and Paul Tonko (NY-20).

A copy of the letter can be found here.