Jan 15, 12-1pm, MGH 024, Christine Toma

Physical Therapists with disabilities: Assessing the impact of disability on physical therapy education and the PT workforce

Christine Toma

Accessibility information:

Please do not wear any strong fragrances, for the health and wellness of community members with chemical sensitivity. We have requested CART captioning and ASL interpretation for this talk.


Purpose: This presentation reports a survey of the impact of impairments on individuals in the workforce and educational barriers with respect to people with disabilities, assessing the advantages and disadvantages of having a disability as a Physical Therapist, PTA, or Physical Therapy/PTA student.

Methods: The survey design used the New General Self-Efficacy Scale (Chen, Gully, & Eden, 2001) to describe therapists’ perceived self-efficacy, and a newly developed tool that assessed participants’ limitation(s), experiences and performance in the physical therapy profession, as well as perceived discrimination. Three sub-scales of 8-9 items were designed to assess different dimensions of discrimination: severe negative, moderate negative, and positive.  A separate survey was sent out to PT/PTA administrators to explore educational barriers. 

Results: 54.3% of participants changed their practice setting due to their impairment.  25% of participants stated their limitation had a strong negative impact on their job, 41.7% reported a slight negative impact, 16% reported no impact, 8.3% reported a slight positive impact, and 8.3% reported a strong positive impact on their job.  Only 2.7% of participants report that their employers are dissatisfied with their performance.  The biggest barrier to educating students with disabilities was determining reasonable accommodations and transferring such accommodations to the clinic.

Conclusion: The findings reveal facilitators and barriers of working as a Physical Therapist with an impairment, and are a first step to improving disability diversity such that the field would be more representative of the population it serves.


Christine Toma is a graduate of the Masters of Physical Therapy Program at the University of Toronto (2008). She worked several years in orthopedic outpatient Physical Therapy, then worked as a Teaching Associate in the Physical Therapy program at the University of Washington for several years. Having an impairment of her own, her research interest lies in exploring fair education and employment opportunities for persons with disabilities within the field of Physical Therapy.

Her project was supported by a Harlan Hahn Disability Studies award.

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