Women’s Healthcare Access: The Power of AT

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Over the years, research has revealed a stark reality that women with disabilities have historically faced and still do face significant barriers when accessing healthcare services. Access and utilization of assistive technology (AT) can assist in bridging this gap between women’s health inequities.

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Studies, particularly those conducted post-COVID, have consistently shown that women with disabilities face substantial barriers to healthcare access, stemming from attitudes, stereotypes, and misconceptions that originate from healthcare providers and systems. Limited knowledge amongst service providers further impedes access, particularly concerning sexual and breast health. This CDC article, Women with Disabilities & Breast Cancer Screening, highlighted that disabled women are less likely to have received mammograms in the past two years compared to those without disabilities. This Women’s Health Issues article dives deeper into specific statistics regarding women’s health inequities.

This TEDx Talk found below, Forgotten: Reproductive Health in Women with Disabilities, gives a full overview of said disparities as of 2021, specifically regarding women’s reproductive health.

How Can AT Be Utilized to Close the Divide?

The use and adoption of assistive technology (AT) can help narrow the divide experienced in women’s healthcare disparities. Two of the main ways that we can look at how AT can be best utilized to assist in closing the gap is by looking at:

  1. Accessibility Options at Appointments
  2. Gender Bias in Medical Technology Development

Let’s dive deeper into these two utilization techniques and how they can further assist in closing inequity gaps.

Accessibility Options at Appointments

Healthcare providers can use assistive technology to address physical access and communication barriers, ensuring respectful care tailored to women with disabilities’ preferences and abilities.

Physical Accessibility Barriers

Women with disabilities commonly face barriers like scheduling difficulties and limited appointment times in accessing healthcare. Assistive technology can help overcome these obstacles, by including:

A few more AT items that can assist in breaking the barriers in physical accessibility are:

Communication Barriers

Gender Bias in Technology Development

Gender bias in medical technology development for women with disabilities can manifest in many ways, often resulting in inadequate or inappropriate solutions for an individual’s unique needs. Some of the most notable gender biases in this context include:

  • Underrepresentation in Research
  • Assumption of Homogeneity
    • Medical technologies often overlook individual differences within disability groups, assuming homogeneity or sameness. Treatment protocols may fail to address the intersectionality of gender, disability, race, ethnicity, or socioeconomic status, thus lacking inclusivity and effectiveness for all women.
    • Assumptions of homogeneity may lead to inadequate communication and information-sharing between healthcare providers and trans patients, hindering the patient’s ability to make informed decisions about fertility treatments and reproductive options.
  • Neglect of Reproductive Health Needs
    • Access to birth control, fertility treatments, pregnancy care, and support during childbirth reveals a problem in reproductive health services that current medical technology might not fully address.
    • This leads to gaps in care and limited options for family planning and reproductive health management.
    • Transgender people with disabilities may face intersecting forms of discrimination based on their gender identity, disability status, and other factors, contributing to systemic barriers in accessing Assistive Reproductive Technologies and reproductive healthcare.
  • Limited Accessibility Features
    • Medical Technologies may often lack accessibility features that cater to the needs of women with disabilities like adjustable sizing for AT, user-friendly interfaces for women with dexterity impairments or inclusive design principles with diverse sensory, cognitive and mobility abilities.
  • Stigmatization and Stereotyping
    • Gender biases shape medical technology design, potentially stigmatizing women with disabilities.
    • For instance, technologies addressing menstruation or pelvic health may perpetuate negative stereotypes, affecting dignity, autonomy, and access to care for these women.
    • When healthcare providers hold biased attitudes or assumptions about gender, they may not adequately address the unique healthcare needs of people who are transgender. This can result in barriers to accessing essential services such as hormone therapy, reproductive health care, and screenings for conditions like breast or cervical cancer.
  • Barriers to Assistive Reproductive Technologies
    • Limited access to reproductive technologies like IVF, surrogacy, or egg freezing can result from financial constraints, discrimination, or lack of awareness of reproductive rights.
    • Medical technology often fails to address the specific barriers and ethical concerns encountered by disabled women seeking reproductive assistance.
    • Transgender people may require specialized care or accommodations during fertility treatments, such as assistance with physical tasks or communication support, which may not be readily available in standard Assistive Reproductive Technologies.

Empowering Women Through Assistive Technology

Healthcare providers can ensure equitable access for women with disabilities by addressing accessibility challenges and mitigating gender biases in medical technology innovation. Prioritizing diversity, inclusion, and active involvement of disabled women in technology design fosters a more inclusive healthcare system. Let’s advocate for tailored assistive technology solutions and inclusive initiatives to prioritize accessibility and equity for all.

Together, we can create an empowering healthcare environment where every woman thrives.