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Is our health care system forgetting a large group of Canadians?

Canadian Living
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Is our health care system forgetting a large group of Canadians?

Disabled women in Canada There is a group of individuals in Canada who are being under-served by our health care system. Deaf and disabled women have less access to regular screenings and doctors’ visits and therefore are at a higher risk for late-stage cancer diagnoses. How would you get a mammogram if you were in a wheelchair and couldn’t stand? How would you know where to go for care if you couldn’t see? And how would you communicate with your doctor if you couldn’t hear her speak? Women who experience deafness or disability are the largest minority group in the world and they make up one in five Canadian women. The DisAbled Women's Network (DAWN) of Canada is trying to give them a healthier future. DAWN recently partnered with the Canadian Association for Community Living to head up a project to help women who are deaf or disabled get better cancer screening. They brought dozens of workshops to more than 100 health care providers throughout the country, reaching out to create awareness about some of the biggest barriers to individuals with disabilities. Those barriers start with inaccessible clinics and doctors’ offices (whether due to transit, parking, entrances, bathrooms, narrow hallways, etc.) and continue into medical equipment and—worst of all—attitudes. Once the women get in to see a doctor, many find their health care providers want to attribute all their problems to their disability.“If women can successfully find their way to the screening centre, they may encounter their first set of barriers at reception,” says Bonnie Brayton, national director of DAWN Canada. Brayton, who developed post-polio syndrome after having polio as a child, knows first-hand about the barriers that many women face. “Every day when I come to work I drive around the corner and hope that the one and only handicapped parking spot is open,” she says. Aside from the structural and attitudinal challenges, women with disabilities face a higher risk for violence and other discriminatory behaviours, the trauma from which can make simple medical procedures (like that mammogram) more distressing, particularly when communication is a challenge. So how can we make our health care more inclusive? Being aware and considerate to all Canadians is a good first step. “Many women who are disabled will not say they are and will not ask for assistance if something difficult happened," says Brayton. "Women with disabilities reside in every community and they need to be supported to represent themselves.” Read about three more ways we can improve health care in Canada. (Photography: Thinkstock)
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Is our health care system forgetting a large group of Canadians?

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