Lessons Learned in the Emergency Room

by dpreyde

Here’s the necessary context for this blog post:


So about a week or so after I sent that e-mail, they got back to me. I’m not going to reprint their response verbatim, but basically here’s what they said:

Dear David,

I apologize for the misunderstanding. It is our policy not to discriminate against any child, but in order to ensure a good experience for all involved, we have to assess the needs of the children who wish to participate and whether they’re at the appropriate level. Some children, regardless of their disability, have needs that are too great for volunteers without specialized training.

I thought about this one for a long time. On the surface, it seemed completely reasonable, though my first impression was that there was something disingenuous about the response. I couldn’t specify why I felt that way, which led me to distrust the feeling.

If all children were screened to ascertain suitability for the program, it wasn’t a discriminatory policy.

I continued to think about it.

Last Sunday I had to go to the emergency room with Hannah, because she was having some serious pain issues. Access is always a huge fucking deal when it comes to hospitals, so we contacted a few people in order to figure out what was the most disability-friendly hospital in downtown Toronto.

Someone suggested Mt. Sinai, so that’s where we went.

When we got there, we couldn’t get into the emergency room because there were a bunch of stretchers blocking our way. A security guard led us through the back entrance. Not a great start.

We were admitted quickly, which was great, although the nurse who dealt with us was rude and standoffish.

The emergency room was pretty busy, and I knew that sometimes people had to wait for awhile to be seen. That’s fine. I had a book, and Hannah had taken Advil before we’d left.

Time passed. All the people who came in before us were seen. More people came in. They were seen by doctors as well. The sky turned to black outside. Things slowed down considerably. We continued to wait.

Both Hannah and I knew what was going on. We weren’t being seen because she was in a wheelchair.

There are many factors that have to be juggled by those in charge of emergency rooms. Doctors, stretchers, and beds are all limited resources. Patients’ needs must be evaluated and prioritized.

The fact that this system exists is not problematic. But the fact that it has a disproportionately negative impact on disabled patients is inexcusible.

When a doctor eventually saw us, he admitted that the wait was due to Hannah’s disability.

“There weren’t any rooms available that were big enough for your chair,” he said.

But as it turned out, Hannah didn’t need a room. She didn’t need a bed to be examined on. She explained her symptoms to the doctor, he prescribed her some pills, and that was that.

Before he left, he apologized again, and promised to see what he could do to make sure the situation wouldn’t repeat itself.

Our afternoon (and evening) in the emergency room gave me lots of time to think. I thought about the youth mentorship organization, and about their screening process.

I realized that, in all likelihood, the process would have a disproportionately negative impact on disabled children. Not just autistics, but children with any kind of exceptionality.

We live in a society in which the presence of disabled people is considered optional. We are allowed to participate only if we don’t somehow inconvenience or burden the non-disabled.

This is wrong.

The next day, I wrote another e-mail to the organization:

Hi, [name of person].

Thanks for replying. I’ve thought a lot about this, and was wondering how the
organization goes about determining what the needs of a child are, and whether they’re at the appropriate level.



They have yet to respond.