Equitable Health Care for LGBTQIA+ Individuals with Disabilities: A New Frontier for Vanderbilt Kennedy Center (TN IDDRC, UCEDD, LEND) and the Tennessee DD Network

August 2, 2022

Vanderbilt Kennedy Center leaders serve on the Executive Diversity Council for Vanderbilt University Medical Center (VUMC). In Tennessee, the VUMC’s Program for LGBTQ Health is one of the only networks in the Southeast with health care providers who understand and welcome sexual and gender minorities. However, the Center does not have specific training in disability. We know we must forge a new frontier.

Sexual and gender minorities are part of every community but are often the least seen, welcomed, or understood:
  • An estimated 3-5 million people in the U.S. identify as being LGBTQIA+ (an acronym typically used to mean Lesbian,Gay, Bisexual,Transgender, Queer, Intersex, Asexual, and Pansexual) and having disabilities.
  • Both people with disabilities and people who identify as sexual/gender minorities report more health problems and more barriers to accessing healthcare than the general population. Research that has focused on some version of the intersection of those identities has found even greater barriers. 
  • The Tennessee Councilon Developmental Disabilitiesfunded a Vanderbilt University study last year on disability services and how people access them. People with disabilities who identified as LGBTQIA+ reported higher rates of; problems finding information they needed; problems connecting with service providers; and lack of existing resources.
Vanderbilt Kennedy Center (TN IDDRC, UCEDD, LEND) director Jeffrey Neul, M.D., Ph.D., Vanderbilt Kennedy Center for Excellence in Developmental Disabilities (VKC UCEDD) co-director Elise McMillan, J.D., and Vanderbilt Consortium LEND (Leadership Education in Neurodevelopmental Disabilities) director Evon Lee,Ph.D., serve on the Executive Diversity Council for Vanderbilt University Medical Center (VUMC).
 
In Tennessee, the VUMC’s Program for LGBTQ Health is one of the only networks in the Southeast with health care providers who understand and welcome sexual and gender minorities. However, the Center does not have specific training in disability.
 
We know we must forge a new frontier.
 
Tennessee’s Developmental Disabilities Network (TN DD Network) has connected with the VKC’s Tennessee Disability Pathfinder and organizations serving LGBTQIA+ communities across the state of Tennessee. As usual with a new frontier, we must start by building relationships. From there, we can start building that bridge between the disability and LGBTQIA+ health care worlds.
 
This is what the TN DD Network is best on: forging new frontiers in the disability field.
 
  • Twenty years ago, we forged the path to Employment First. Back then, most people were still not sure that people with developmental disabilities could work.
  • More recently, we forged the path to protecting the decision-making rights of people with developmental disabilities. The Center for Decision-Making Support–the first of its kind in the U.S. – came from that work.
We are just beginning the work to understand healthcare for gender and sexual minorities with disabilities, but we know where we are going. Together, we will work to:
 
  • Bridge the disability and LGBTQIA+ communities and more fully understand the needs of people who experience both identities.
  • Develop a place to find health care resources specifically for this community. These resources will live on the Tennessee Disability Pathfinder website.
  • Make sure Tennessee’s healthcare providers have resources and training to best serve people with disabilities who are LGBTQIA+.
If you or someone you love is an LGBTQIA+ person with a disability, your input on the health care needs you have experienced is welcome. You can contact Tennessee Disability Pathfinder with your perspective at [email protected] or 1-800-640-4636. Your story will be kept confidential but will inform how the TN DD Network works for progress for Tennessee’s disability community.