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Houston, Texas

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Going Beyond Assumptions

Researching the Health of Women with Disabilities

Margaret A. Nosek, Ph.D.
Professor, Department of PM&R
Baylor College of Medicine
Houston, TX

[link to PowerPoint show]

Learning Objectives:

1. Students will be able to describe the characteristics and magnitude of the population of women with disabilities.
2. Students will recognize ungrounded assumptions about women with disabilities as participants in research studies and as consumers of health care.
3. Students will be able to name three critical health issues facing women with disabilities above and beyond those health issues all women face.
4. Students will be able to name three ways they can modify their research to be more inclusive of women with disabilities.

Presentation Outline:

I. Importance of the problem

a. Demographics
b. Trends
c. Cost
d. Equity
e. Discrimination

II. Common ungrounded assumptions about research and women with disabilities

a. They will contaminate the integrity of the sample.
b. If they can't access the facility or necessary equipment, they can be excluded.
c. If its true for disabled men, its true for disabled women.
d. Sexuality is not a concern for disabled women.
e. Childbirth is not a concern for disabled women.
f. Aging is the same for women with and without disabilities.
g. Girls with disabilities have the same physical, psychological, and social development patterns as girls in general.
h. Women with disabilities need to see disability-related specialists for their primary care.
i. Women with disabilities do not need clinical breast exams or mammograms.
j. Women with disabilities receive government income support and health coverage.
k. Women with disabilities would not be able to understand the informed consent process.

III. Key health issues for women with disabilities

a. Information about disability and women's health, "secondary conditions"
b. Access to health insurance
c. Access to health care services
d. Health maintenance services
e. Reproductive health
f. Psychological health
g. Social health
h. Abuse
i. Effect of demographic and environmental factors

IV. Techniques for making research inclusive of women with disabilities

a. When examining disability or rehabilitation topics, be sure to test for gender effects.
b. Remove unnecessary enrollment criteria that would exclude or tend to exclude women with disabling conditions, such as:

    • Limiting age to under 65
    • Conducting exams in inaccessible facilities, re architecture and equipment (e.g. scales, exercise equipment)
    • Requiring telephone response to questions
    • Requiring attendance at a clinic or event
    • Using procedures that require manual dexterity or mobility when these are not essential for the phenomenon under investigation (e.g. minimum competency screens)

c. During recruitment, take special measures to ensure that announcements reach minority, low income, low education, and sensory impaired women.
d. Set the parameters for your study carefully and state exclusion criteria in all publications of findings.
e. Advance the careers of researchers who are women with disabilities.


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