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October 2014
Promoting the Status of Women with Disabilities 

Promoting the status of women with disabilities: Bethany Hoppe at TEDxNashville

Check out the TEDTalk video of Bethany A. Hoppe, an author and speaker that advocates for the rights of women with disabilities through writing, speaking, performance, and educational outreach. She holds a master's in communication studies and is a lecturer in the Speech & Theatre Department of Middle Tennessee State University.   

Save the Date!  

The Greater Kentucky Chapter of the March of Dimes will host their annual Perinatal Summit on Friday, November 7, 2014 at the Louisville Airport Crowne Plaza. For more information about the summit and to view the agenda click here.


The Georgia March of Dimes will host its annual Prematurity Awareness Summit on Thursday, November 13, 2014 at the Loudermilk Center in Atlanta, Ga. This year's theme will be "Reducing Disparities in Birth Outcomes and Maternal Mortality in Georgia."  Click here to learn more about the summit.    


On Friday, November 14, 2014 the Alabama Department of Public Health and the March of Dimes will be hosting a Prematurity Summit.

Click here for more information.   

The Initiative for Women with Disabilities (IWD) at the Elly & Steve Hammerman Health & Wellness Center is a multidisciplinary center committed to providing respectful, high quality gynecological, medical and wellness services for women and adolescent girls with physical disabilities. The IWD is the only facility of its kind to offer women with disabilities medical, health and wellness services under a single roof. It offers more than 20 medical, health and wellness services and programs  in an environment that respects their unique physical and emotional needs.


The Healing Pathways program is an evidence-based,peer implemented group mental health treatment that has shown value in treating depression in women with physical disabilities. Their mission is to promote and support the education and self-empowerment of women with disabilities, using the strength-based Healing Pathways program to promote lifelong positive changes.   


The Women's Refugee Commission's Disability Program seeks to advance the rights and dignity of refugees and displaced persons with disabilities through researching and advocating for initiatives that develop their capacity to lead full lives and to make meaningful contributions to their communities.    


The Public Health Division of the Oregon Health Authority developed the Preconception Health Recommendations for Young Adults with Disabilities: A Final Report from an Action Learning Collaborative. The purpose is to draw attention to and contribute to knowledge about young adults with disabilities.    


From the Baylor College of Medicine, the Center for Research on Women with Disabilities (CROWD) is an establishment whose aim is to promote, develop, and disseminate health information on sexuality, violence, access to health care, stress management, and more in order to improve the health and expand the life choices of women with disabilities.   

The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists: Women with Disabilities website has information for physicians on women with disabilities, including a link to an interactive training module, an abuse assessment screen, as well as video training on health care for women with developmental disabilities.   

The WomensHealth.gov - Illnesses and Disabilities website provides information and resources important to women with disabilities, as well as caregivers, friends, family members, and others. The site includes information on types of disabilities, everyday living, parenting, caregiver support, and more.

Health of Women with Disabilities  


In the U.S., one in five women has a disability. Many of these women are in their reproductive years, and when they become pregnant, they report experiencing challenges in receiving comprehensive preconception and prenatal care. Receiving quality preconception and prenatal care is especially important for women with lupus and multiple sclerosis, since such conditions can pose complications and unique problems during and after pregnancy.  


Some of the barriers women with disabilities experience in accessing healthcare include physical and structural obstacles, communication and provider bias, and financial and systemic barriers. One commonly-cited structural obstacle is the height and design of equipment, such as that needed for a mammogram or Pap test. Provider bias occurs when health care practitioners make assumptions of sexual inactivity and do not screen women with disabilities for STIs, provide regular gynecological exams, or communicate advice about preconception health and healthy pregnancies. In terms of systemic barriers, for many women with disabilities, coordinating transportation for medical appointments and home care services is another barrier to seeking healthcare. Nearly two-thirds of women with functional limitations rely on family, friends, and volunteers for personal assistance services.


Stress and depression tends to be more of a problem for women with disabilities than for non-disabled women. Women with disabilities who report a combination of social isolation, lack of social support, pain, and experiencing abuse in the past year are more likely to report high levels of stress. In addition, high levels of stress are linked with high levels of depression. Like all women, women with disabilities are more likely than men to experience life stress related to poverty, violence and other forms of victimization, and chronic health problems. Women with disabilities are faced with stress, such as the uncertainty of their underlying health condition, barriers to health care, unemployment, and lower wages. Other disability-related stress include increased time and effort to accomplish basic activities.


Intimate partner violence and other forms of abuse are experienced over the lifespan among women with disabilities. About 37.3% of women with disabilities have experienced emotional, physical, or sexual abuse at some time in their lives. Disability-related abuses come in the form of emotional abandonment and rejection, threatening, belittling, denial of disability, accusations of "faking," physical restraint or confinement, withholding orthotic devices or medication, and refusing to provide assistance with essential personal needs, such as toileting, hygiene, and eating. As reported by the Center for Research on Women with Disabilities, there are two key factors that may contribute to the tendency for women with disabilities to be subjected to abuse for significantly longer periods of time than most women. First is the perceived and real lack of options for escape and for receiving assistance from programs for battered women and other abuse relief services. Second is the general inability of disability-related service providers to identify women who are in abusive situations and refer them appropriately.


 Modifying shelters and ensuring all services for women who are experiencing violence are fully accessible and integrated for women with disabilities; providing or referring legal assistance for obtaining restraining orders and managing court systems; assisting and encouraging police to record disability status in their crime reports; and training staff on how to communicate with persons who have hearing, cognitive, speech, or psychiatric impairments are a few recommendations for increasing the capacity for agencies and organizations to provide social services for women with disabilities. Furthermore, healthcare systems can work with healthcare facilities to design and update buildings to comply with  Americans with Disabilities Act (ACA) requirements; work with providers to ensure accessible medical equipment is available; provide patient follow-up information and health promotion materials in accessible formats; and work with other agencies to ensure an integrated system of accessible, coordinated, comprehensive, and linguistically and culturally competent care for women with disabilities. 


It is important to understand that disability, itself, is not an illness, and people with disabling conditions can be healthy and live a productive life. Some of the recommended tips for achieving or preserving optimal health in women with disabilities include maintaining a healthy diet, getting regular exercise, avoiding tobacco and excess alcohol, and getting preventive and reproductive care.

Disability-related Resources 

While there is more that needs to be done to systemically transform healthcare delivery and services that fully meet the needs of women with disabilities, there are some good disabilities related services, resources, and information for healthcare providers and consumers.   

Disability.gov is the US federal government website for information on disability programs and services nationwide. The site connects people with disabilities, their families and caregivers to helpful resources on topics such as how to apply for disability benefits, find a job, get health care or pay for accessible housing. You can also find organizations in your community to help you get the support you need. This website provides information on disability-related programs, services, laws, and benefits and connects people with disabilities to resources from government and other agencies.



The Women with Disabilities Education Program provides continuing medical education to inform, expand, update and illustrate state-of-the-art health care services for women with disabilities. Using two parallel medical education tracts - a self-management curriculum for patients and a training curriculum for health professionals - patients and providers alike gain valuable information on a wide range of topics, from how to build better patient-provider relationships to how to diagnosis and treat acute medical problems in women with disabilities.

mobileWOMEN.org is an online magazine created by women in wheelchairs who were having difficulty finding answers to their questions about health, fashion, and other topics. Their mission is to bring together current and accurate information on issues of interest to their community.  


UAB School of Medicine's Spinal Cord Injury Model System Information Network houses a video series on their website for women and healthcare professionals on specific medical issues and care of women with spinal cord injury. Part 1 of the video educates healthcare providers on providing women with SCI an accurate, safe and comfortable annual GYN examination. It features interviews of women with SCI and their views on reproductive health issues.

Read Our Blog!

Check out our blog which features a post from Tracie Hayward with Family Connections about her experience as being a first-time parent of a child with special healthcare needs, and from Kay Freeman, one of our Leadership Team members, about the the American Indian Women of Proud Nations annual conference. Interested in submitting a blog post? Click here for more information.     

Tell Us What YOU Think!   


Do you know of comprehensive programs and initiatives in your state that are working comprehensively to meet the needs of women with disabilities? We'd love to share any resources - books, websites, apps, etc - that you find useful!  

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Every Woman Southeast Coalition | http://www.everywomansoutheast.org 
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill 
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