These are the words that come to me over and over when I’m thinking or writing about accessibility and inclusion. It applies regardless of the setting or subject matter—healthcare, employment, neurodiversity, gender diversity, racial or ethnic diversity, or the intersection of any or all marginalized identities. My particular area of interest is healthcare, an industry in which I have worked in some capacity for over 30 years, 20 of which were as a primary care physician.
My identities as a queer, gender diverse, neurodistinct, and disabled human have given me a special understanding and empathy for my patients who struggle to access healthcare and equitable treatment by medical practitioners. Marginalized individuals and groups across the board suffer from shocking and disgraceful health inequities. This is part of my “WHY.”
The other part is the intersection between my own experiences as a consumer of healthcare and my interactions with patients as a medical professional. The challenges I’ve faced in accessing providers who are informed about all of my issues and work in spaces which are affirming, welcoming, and accessible have made me a more compassionate physician.
On the other hand, observing the experiences of patients who have similar issues to mine, as well as those with other accessibility needs, has helped me to modify my own procedures and advocate in the healthcare space by educating my colleagues on how to make their practice environments safer and more accessible.
Through personal encounters with my colleagues, teaching groups of students and healthcare professionals, speaking, writing and posting content in various forums, and participating in podcasts and panel discussions (such as the ones Carole Jean is hosting this month), my main aim is to promote empathy by telling my own story and weaving it into the stories of patients so that others can get a feel for what it’s like.
In a nutshell, accessing healthcare as a neurodiverse, queer, and gender diverse person is a lot like traveling in a foreign country where you have no familiarity with the language or culture. Granted, going to the doctor can be a bewildering and unpleasant experience for anyone. But when you add the ableist and heterosexist assumptions that exist everywhere we go, that experience can be so terrifying that many of us avoid it altogether. This is certainly one of the major reasons for the health disparities that exist for autistic, queer, and trans people.
Here are just a few of the barriers that people like me face when accessing healthcare:
The energy required…that is perhaps the most all-encompassing issue we face. The world is exhausting. Being autistic is already exhausting and co-occurring health conditions make life extra challenging. Going to the doctor is already difficult and most of us don’t do it because we’re feeling perfectly well. So having to muster up the energy just to get there and then gather together more energy to advocate for our accessibility needs, counter the microaggressions and assumptions, and then be expected to actually understand and absorb what we are told by our providers make the whole experience almost untenable.
I believe there are ways in which healthcare spaces can be made more accessible just by looking at each of the processes in place and asking if these processes include everyone or do they just assume that everyone experiences the world the same way.
What if we drop all our assumptions about how the world works, how people think and perceive their environments, identify their gender, or experience their sexuality?
What if all the barriers were eliminated and I, as an autistic queer trans person, could go to the doctor knowing I could drop the masks and trust that I would be looked after kindly and gently? Maybe I could actually end up feeling a bit better when I left!
About the Amazing Dr. Bex Canner and Where to Connect
After over 20 years experience in clinical medicine in rural and urban family medicine, general practice, and youth health, I am looking to transition into a non-clinical role. My primary mission is health improvement for LGBTQ+ individuals and others who suffer from inequitable access to healthcare and all of the social determinants of health.
Dr. Bex Canner:
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No one seems to ‘get it’. Friends and family think you just need to push through or "self-care" more. Internally, so many people in late identified life (me included) feel broken, ashamed or like they are failing or have never reached their full potential, when all along they've had a brain and sensory system that is different from the masses. It can take a lot of strength to keep going.
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