Getting routine medical screenings can be a stressful challenge for women with physical disabilities but it’s also a matter of life and death. Women with mobility impairments aren’t at a higher risk for breast cancer but they are one-third more likely to die from it.
This sobering statistic has motivated Marilyn Saviola, who runs the Women’s Health Access Program for Independence Care System, to fight for care that every woman deserves. In seven years, Saviola has greatly increased the accessibility of breast and gynecological care for many women who haven’t been to a doctor in years because of past bad experiences.
The women’s health project launched in 2008 with a grant from Susan G. Komen Greater NYC. It was a difficult and slow beginning, but Saviola found a local partner to provide mammography services to her clients. Soon three other partner sites were added along with gynecology services. The New York City Council also budgeted $5 million to purchase accessible medical equipment for the program’s partners.
Education has been a core component of the program. Often medical professionals haven’t received any training on disability and aren’t aware of their responsibilities to the patient. “Many times they think they can’t transfer someone because if they get hurt, it’s a liability,“ she says. “They don’t realize there’s a greater liability if you refuse people services.“ The program notifies medical professionals about their legal responsibilities in providing care to patients with disabilities.
It’s been a long, rewarding journey for Saviola, but there is much that is left to do. “It’s late in the health care game to finally address these crucial issues, but the health of people with disabilities has suffered for far too long,” she says. “It’s time to make health care accessible throughout New York City.”