Women’s Health Issues

Disabled Women's Health Issues
Disabled Women’s Health Issues
Proceeds from the Rolling with Style fashionevent will fund research into spinal cord injury and women’s health issues at The Spinal Cord Injury Project at Rutgers University, the Christopher Reeve Paralysis Foundation and The Miami Project to Cure Paralysis. Discovery Through Design is also collaborating with the United Spinal Association on programs to meet the needs of disabled women.

The statistics tell a frightening story. Due to the limited access for disabled women to many of these services, the numbers in the following article are most likely undercounted.

There are approximately 5.9 million women in the United States between the ages 16-64 with a physical disability.

Reproductive Health
Women with disabilities often do not receive adequate reproductive health care services.

According to the National Women’s Health Information Center, women with disabilities often do not receive adequate reproductive health care services. Women with disabilities receive fewer pelvic exams than other women because of difficulty accessing the examining table, the lack of doctors who understand their disability, and the attitude of health care providers who assume that women with disabilities are not sexually active.

Members of the disability community are concerned that some women with disabilities, particularly early onset disabilities, are having medically unnecessary hysterectomies for the purpose of birth control.

Breast Health
Women with disabilities have less access to breast health services than any other group of women.

Information from the National Women’s Health Information Center reveals that women with disabilities often have less access to breast health services than any other group of women. Overall, women who are not disabled receive mammograms 11 percent more often than women with limitations.

Although many women with disabilities are familiar with the guidelines for breast cancer detection, a variety of issues preclude the ability of many to pursue the widely recommended methods of breast screening such as, monthly breast self-exam (BSE), annual clinical breast exam, and mammograms. Various physical impairments may affect abilities to perform standard methods of breast screening. Women with limited hand and arm function, lack of sensation in their fingertips, and/or low vision may have difficulty performing BSE according to recommended procedures.

Even if women with disabilities schedule mammograms or clinical breast exams, many cannot receive these services due to the inaccessibility of both health care facilities and medical equipment. Medical and societal biases compound the problem. According to the Breast Health Access for Women with Disabilities program (BHAWD) in California, these barriers and biases contribute to the delayed diagnosis and prevent treatment of breast disease in women with disabilities.

People with disabilities are more likely to be victims of domestic violence and abuse by their loved ones than is the general population. People with disabilities are more likely to be abused for a longer duration and to suffer abuse from more than one individual. Compounding the problems, people with disabilities are more likely to be dependent on their abusers for food, personal care, health care, financial support, and other vital roles.
In a national sample of women with physical disabilities, sixty-two percent reported emotional, physical, or sexual abuse. A comparison group of women without disabilities reported similar percentages of abuse, but women with disabilities experienced abuse over longer periods of time.

For both groups of women, the most common perpetrators of abuse were husbands and parents. Women with disabilities, however, were significantly more likely to experience emotional and sexual abuse by attendants and health care workers.

There have been no studies which examine the existence, feasibility, or effectiveness of abuse interventions for women with disabilities.

Women with disabilities face serious barriers in accessing existing programs to help women remove violence from their lives. In both the disability rights movement and the battered women’s movement, it is generally acknowledged that programs to assist abused women often are physically inaccessible, lack interpreter services for hearing- or speech-impaired women, and are unable to assist women who need help with daily self-care or medications.

Typical crisis interventions and escape plans simply are not possible for many women with disabilities. Escape is hampered because these women are unable to pack necessities, hide money or flee to a shelter. In addition, many women with disabilities depend on the abuser for assistance with all personal and financial personal needs.
There is no question that abuse of women with disabilities is a problem of epidemic proportions that is only beginning to attract the attention of researchers, service providers, and funding agencies. The gaps in the literature are enormous.

Pregnancy and Parenting
Women with disabilities report difficulty in finding obstetricians or midwives willing to assist them with their “high risk” pregnancies.

With sexual activity comes another rite of passage into community living – motherhood. Contemporary laws prohibit random sterilization of women with disabilities; yet, society still discourages them from becoming parents. Adoption agencies regularly reject disabled women as prospective adoptive parents. Parenting classes for pregnant women very rarely think to consider those who will be changing their newborn’s diaper from a wheelchair.

Employment and Socialization
The National Information Center for Children and Youth with Disabilities (NICCHY) reports that women with disabilities achieve less in terms of employment and socialization into the mainstream of life than do males with disabilities. This stage is set in childhood, as society expects less of girls with disabilities than it does of boys with similar restrictions. NICCHY states that the vast majority of these girls become women who, often relaying on state assistance, live in dependent and comparatively impoverished circumstances.

Issues such as lack of transportation and suitable functional clothing compound the problems of isolation, unemployment, and lack of self-confidence faced by women with disabilities. These factors complicate the problem-solving process.

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