By Kara B. Sheridan
Considering the mountain of barriers blocking access to health care services for women with disabilities, it’s easy to become overwhelmed. First, there are financial concerns, such as unemployment, poverty, and being single that make it more difficult for many to access wellness checkups, prescriptions, eyeglasses, and mental health care – and, of course, insurance is its own peak to be scaled. And for wheelchair users, “Will I even be able to fit my chair through the front door?” is still a common question.
Nearly a third of women with physical disabilities have been denied services at a doctor’s office based solely on their disability, according to the 1999 National Study on Women With Physical Disabilities, published by the Center for Research on Women with Disabilities. Kristen Jones is one of these women. “I called every doctor on my insurance plan! The mere idea of having a quadriplegic patient frightened most doctors, so they wouldn’t see me,” says Jones, a doctoral student in the multicultural special education program at the University of Texas.
The discrimination Jones experienced was blatant. But some health care providers mask their intent through demeaning policies. According to Theresia Degener, a visiting professor of law at University of California, Berkeley, a woman with cerebral palsy was refused contact with the doctor and told not to return to the office unless she brought an attendant with her. What merited this exclusion? She took more than 15 minutes to undress and put on a gown.
Once a woman with a disability is granted an appointment with a doctor, she may face further insults to dignity and access when she arrives. Many women report having to park their wheelchairs outside the office and being carried inside for treatment. More than a few women undergo pelvic examinations while lying on the floor bec