In Canada, standard health protocol recommends that women receive a Pap test every few years in order to detect cervical cancer as early as possible. However, health practitioners at ACCESS, a clinic in Vancouver which provides sexual health services exclusively for disabled women, have identified a significant deficit in the accessibility of such services for the demographic they serve.
This inaccessibility is derived in part from a widespread lack of appropriate equipment. Many offices do not possess an accessible exam bed with a lift, preventing gynecological screening for disabled women. Additionally, many doctors, in providing care to these women, draw upon the misguided assumption that individuals with disabilities are not sexually active and thus neglect to ask their patients for a comprehensive history of their sexual health.
Because this discourse does not occur, or is not prioritized due to more immediate health issues directly relating to the disability, cervical cancer is rarely screened for amongst disabled women, and thus persists largely undetected. This demographic is made even more vulnerable by the reduced sensation which often accompanies disability, as these women are less able to physically feel for themselves when something is wrong.
Recent studies found that many women with disabilities “are fertile and participate in sexual activity without adequate knowledge,” placing them at increased risk for pregnancy complications. Within this same vein, many disabled women, unaware that they are fertile or capable of having a healthy pregnancy, miss their reproductive window. ACCESS thus highlights a great need for more clinics of its sort, to both inform primary care physicians about the needs and concerns of their patients with disabilities and reduce barriers to reproductive care such as time and travel.