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ADA Day: Breaking Down Barriers to Improve Accessibility

Donna Parker talking to a table of people

Having grown up with a supportive family of physicians who encouraged him to pursue higher education and athletics, Oluwaferanmi Okanlami, MD, MS, achieved great feats as a young adult. After attending elite higher education institutions — serving as a captain of the Stanford track & field team during his undergraduate studies, earning his medical degree from the University of Michigan and beginning his orthopedic surgery residency at Yale University — his entire ethos changed after a diving accident left him paralyzed from the waist down.

Oluwaferanmi Okanlami

“I have to admit I did not know of any physician with a disability up to this point in my life,” said Okanlami, the director of student accessibility and accommodation services at the University of Michigan. “This was the first time I started to recognize how inaccessible not just the health care system is, but also the entire world. Despite being someone who took care of patients with disabilities, I had no idea how they got to the office. I didn’t know whether they drove themselves or put on their own shoes. I didn’t realize some of the things that were barriers to entry for getting into the office until that day.”

Okanlami virtually joined the UF College of Medicine to initiate Celebration of Diversity Week, which included discussions aimed at increasing access to high-quality health care for all, in a dean’s grand rounds conversation April 10. During the discussion, Okanlami shared his story and provided insights on how to improve accessibility for communities. By actively thinking about how we can improve accessibility for people with varying levels of mobility, hearing, sight and more, he said, we can suggest improvements and hold people — including ourselves — accountable to provide better opportunities for equity.

Recently, Okanlami was asked to join the President’s Council on Sports, Fitness & Nutrition, a federal advisory committee that aims to promote healthy eating and physical activity for all Americans, regardless of background or ability. And through his work at the University of Michigan, Okanlami founded an adaptive sports program that allows anyone, regardless of ability, to participate recreationally and competitively in sports like tennis, basketball and track & field.

“We’re educating students and we’re educating teachers that adaptive sports are for everyone,” he said. “That if you can sit, you can play.”

Various projects at the UF College of Medicine similarly improve the ability for groups of people with different skills to become involved as members of the health care work force, such as Project SEARCH, and increase access to care among vulnerable community members, such at the UF Mobile Outreach Clinic and Equal Access Clinic.

Donna Parker, MD, the UF College of Medicine associate dean for diversity and health equity, said Okanlami’s passion for accessibility and teaching others about how it can be improved serves as an inspiration for the UF Medicine community members who are also interested in serving others.

“Thank you for reminding us that one person can make a difference,” she said. “Leadership matters, communication matters. This presentation is a reminder to all of our students, residents, faculty and staff that we can use our passion to drive success.”

Takeaways: how to increase accessibility in health care

1. Acknowledge areas where access can be increased

Can this building be accessed via a ramp? Can you verbally describe a slideshow presentation image to a viewer who may not be able to see it? Consider the ways access may be limited for some people, then strive to make or suggest changes on how to improve accessibility.

2. Find resources in your area

Become familiar with nonprofits and other organizations in your area dedicated to increasing equity among community members. If a patient expresses an interest in connecting with such a group, you will be able to provide them with informed guidance and suggestions.

3. Talk with patients about adaptive sports

Every person, regardless of their body, can benefit from physical activity. By talking with patients who may not realize the option of playing sports is available to them about ways they can establish or maintain an active lifestyle, physicians can help their patients break down barriers to accessibility.

About the author

For the media

Media contact

Peyton Wesner
Communications Manager for UF Health External Communications (352) 273-9620