Inaccessible Diagnostic Tools Risk Lives of Women with Disabilities


Esther Jones, a power wheelchair-user from the Bronx, N.Y., who lives with numerous disabilities including diabetes and arthritis, spent years fearing for her health and well-being, but was unable to do much about it. Jones, whose mom had been diagnosed with breast cancer, knew the importance of yearly mammograms. The only problem was she couldn’t get one.“For someone who lives with a disability, doctor visits can be extremely uncomfortable — physically and mentally. There’s nothing worse than being turned away when you know you need exams that are supposed to be routine, because the facility or equipment can’t accommodate you,” says Jones.Despite these barriers, Jones still tried to get mammograms and other important tests such as pap smears, but they were far from routine –– bordering on inhumane. And each time she had to prepare to be handled like a rag doll, her body twisted and pulled at the hands of health care staff with limited training in assisting people with disabilities and, worst of all, a lack of sensitivity.“Just to get onto an exam table for some tests was a battle. To get a mammogram, I’d have to stand up for long periods of time — although I can’t even walk — and have my breasts mashed and stretched by the technicians. It was very stressful for me,” she adds.Unfortunately Jones’ health care experiences are far from uncommon. Despite the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act in 1990, many women with physical disabilities –– especially those who use wheelchairs –– are not only unable to access breast exam equipment, but many health care facilities that use them. This has led to women with disabilities receiving fewer clinical exams than women without disabilities, resulting in a greater risk of serious illness and death.The Barriers
Common barriers that prevent women with physical disabilities from receiving diagnostic tests such as mammograms include exam rooms, dressing rooms and bathrooms at healthcare facilities that are too small to accommodate wheelchairs; no Hoyer Lifts to transfer wheelchair users to exam tables; health care staff unfamiliar with treating people with disabilities; and blatant discrimination.

“No woman should feel powerless to improve their health. I’m sure a lot of women who have disabilities would like to get mammograms but don’t even bother because they are treated so poorly,” says Jones.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, aside from non-melanoma sk