Health care providers under any type of health care plan generally do an inadequate job of meeting the health information needs of women with disabilities.

  • Health care provided under both fee-for-service and HMO plans did a poor job of meeting the information needs of patients with multiple sclerosis, three-quarters of whom were women.
  • Primary care physicians and obstetricians/gynecologists generally receive very little if any training in the effect of disability on the reproductive health of women.
  • Women with disabilities report that medical professionals often regard them as being asexual.

Women with disabilities from diverse ethnic backgrounds and sexual orientation may differ greatly in their definitions of health problems, health care seeking behaviors, and access to quality health care.

Lesbians often avoid health care or do not disclose their sexual orientation, because of experience with negative responses from health care providers, including inappropriate treatment, refusing to provide care, and sexual harassment. Gynecologists and nurses have revealed in surveys that they do not accept lesbians and feel uncomfortable dealing with them. Revealing to a doctor that one is a lesbian may jeopardize disability and medical benefits and services. Disabled lesbians, especially those who are nonwhite, face multicultural discrimination in accessing quality health care.

Within cultural or ethnic categories, important differences may exist in languages, levels of acculturation based on immigrant status, socioeconomic status, ways of understanding illness and health care, expression and meaning of illness, differences in outcome from illness, pain and pain coping, and psychological dysfunction in relation to stressors. There are racial disparities in health care access and treatment of certain chronic conditions, but not for others.

For Physicians:

"Gynecological Considerations in Treating Women with Physical Disabilities"
An instructional module for physicians presenting various gynecological considerations for treating women with disabilities.