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National Public Health Week promotes health care inclusivity

National Public Health Week opened Monday, April 1, with “Breaking the Boundaries: ‘Other’ Health Concerns for Young People with Disabilities,” a panel specific to health issues faced by this population. Spearheaded by senior community health major Felicia Leto, the panel discussed emergency preparedness, sexual health and oral health inclusive to disabled individuals.

National Public Health Week,  which has events scheduled until Thursday, April 18, is a collaborative effort between the School of Health Professions and Human Services and the Division of Student Affairs.

Martine Hackett, a professor of health professions and one of the panel’s organizers, stated that the placement of the panel was coincidental. “I hope [this being the first panel presentation of the week] does sort of set the tone about how important it is to be able to address all populations when you think about improving health efforts,” she said.

The overall theme of the panel revolved around providing health care – with disabled individuals in mind from the start, not with provision for them being made as an afterthought.

Hackett said, “You have to build into your practice the way that you are going to address people with physical and intellectual disabilities. People with disabilities are the largest group of people who are considered to be minorities. About 25 million people have disabilities, and also there’s a high likelihood that someone could have a disability at some point in their lives, so I feel like this is an issue that doesn’t really get the attention it deserves based on the sheer number of people who are affected.”

Panelists at the event included Barbie Vartanian, executive director of Project Accessible Oral at the Viscardi Center, Mary Greenfield, a sexuality educator of over 30 years and Therése Aprile-Brzezinski, the director of planning and public policy for the Long Island Center for Independent Living.

Leto, a student with a disability herself, helped organize the event and conducted interviews to find out what people would want to hear about at the panel.

“I thought by having this event, it would give people the knowledge to not be afraid to discuss these certain topics,” Leto said.“Hopefully, for future generations, this won’t be something that they will be afraid to discuss.”

Jenna Park, a senior journalism major, thought that the panel accomplished its purpose. “I thought the panel was very specific and informational. I gathered a lot of information that I didn’t know about people with disabilities and their day-to-day life.”

Park said this included a need for specific understanding in terms of communication about sexual health, knowledge about the heightened prevalence of sexual abuse among health professionals for people with disabilities and comprehension of the additional steps that need to be taken to ensure emergency preparedness centers can adequately support the disabled population.

Zainab Nassar, a junior psychology major, said the panel was “extremely enlightening. I was able to learn about issues – both large and minor – that can have an extreme impact on this population.”

Hannah Ferrugio, a senior speech-language-hearing sciences major, agreed.“I thought this panel was super informative. As a student going into a health-related field, I think the topics covered today ... are areas that are not immediately thought of [by] someone [who] will work with people with disabilities but should be thought of.”

Ashley Andree, a graduate student in the rehabilitation counseling master’s program who also works in Student Access Services (SAS), said that “as a person with a disability but also as a professional who is going to be helping these types of populations, I really felt like, again, it’s a conversation that needs to continue to go on.”

Andree said, “A lot of people who are here today maybe didn’t realize that these are genuine issues that need to be addressed ... I hope that in the future, more discussions like these can be had, both inside and outside of the Hofstra community.”

“I think it’s important for college students, especially college students who are interested in being health care providers, to recognize that people with disabilities are a sizable part of the population,” Hackett said. “... unless we start preparing for and recognizing their specific needs, it is going to be very difficult to be able to address them.”

Leto summed up the goal of the panel and continued awareness of topics regarding disability as making it so that, “We [people with and without disabilities] can all work together and focus on how we can function as a society that includes everyone.”

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