Health Care Access and Support for Disabled Women in Canada – Falling Short of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons With Disabilities: A Qualitative Study

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Women’s Health Issues 22:1 (2011) pp. e111-e118


Purpose: The United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and other international human rights conventions guarantee the fundamental human rights to physical, social, and psychological health. The purpose of this study was to examine whether these rights are being upheld in Canada for disabled women. Methods: An interpretive, qualitative, focus group design was employed. Participants were women 18 to 67 years of age with a self-identified physical, sensory, cognitive, and/or psychiatric impairment. Eleven focus groups were conducted with 74 disabled women from urban and rural settings in Northern Ontario, Manitoba, and Nova Scotia. The data were analyzed for themes using a flexible coding system derived from and consistent with the research objectives and the study’s human rights framework. Findings: Participants described multiple intersecting factors that impeded or facilitated access to health care. Services included both generic health services and impairment-specific services. Participants experienced a number of barriers accessing professionals, support programs, and services. These are described under three broad themes: 1) Labyrinthine health service ‘systems,’ 2) assumptions, attitudes, and discriminatory practices, and 3) inadequate sexual health or reproductive services and supports. Conclusion: The results suggest that Canada falls significantly short of guaranteeing disabled women’s human rights to access health care supports and services. Access barriers resulted from the inefficiencies and complexities of the multiple agencies and programs that disabled women had to navigate, difficulties accessing information on available services, and negative attitudes of some health and social service providers.