by Wendy Crawford
It is easy to focus on health issues related to our specific disability, and to forget that there remain many other health challenges that everyone is vulnerable to, with age. Unfortunately, having a disability does not exempt us from other illnesses, including cancer.
As women, we must still take preventative measures when it comes to breast health although, for us, doing so can be more challenging. Women with disabilities often have less access to breast health services than any other group of women, according to the National Women's Health Information Center. Overall, women who are not disabled receive mammograms 11 percent more often than women with considerable limitations.
What are some of the reasons for this unsettling statistic? Medical facilities and medical equipment are often inaccessible. Although examinations tables that raise and lower for easy transferring do exist, they are very difficult to find. Locating an accessible mammogram machine close to home can be frustrating, especially when you live in rural areas. Monthly self examinations are difficult for those with limited hand function and/or lack of sensation.
One organization working hard to overcome such barriers is Breast Health Access for Women with Disabilities (BHAWD). It provides breast education and accessible breast screening for women with physical disabilities and vision impairments. BHAWD's goal is to call attention to the breast-screening needs of women with disabilities, the numerous barriers that impede their access to screening and the serious neglect of this special population in local, state and national programs designed to improve screening utilization. For more information, please visit their Web site, http://www.bhawd.org/.
The bottom line is that it is our responsibility to take a proactive approach to our own health care and not let these hurdles get in the way of receiving the adequate health care that is necessary to live a long, healthy, active life. Be informed, be resourceful and be persistent until all your healthcare needs are met.
For those of you in wheelchairs, here are some helpful tips when you do find that accessible mammogram machine:
-When booking your appointment, make certain that they understand that you are in a wheelchair, cannot stand and require an accessible mammogram machine. If you just say “I need an accessible machine” often that can be misinterpreted and they think that you are concerned about stairs to the machine. They need to understand it means you need a machine that lowers to your height in the sitting position.
-Prior to the test, explain your disability and limitations to the technician, especially if you have balance issues, so they can help support you. It’s possible that you may need two technicians to assist. Also, if you lack sensation, make certain they are aware of your limitations.
-If possible, use a manual wheelchair for the test. The machine lowers and you must get under the equipment. It may be a challenge for you to access the joystick of a power chair while in certain positions. You definitely don’t want someone inexperienced manipulating your chair while you are in close proximity to the equipment. Also, it is best if armrests are removable to get your chair in the proper position.
-If you are unable to lean forward, ask the technicians ahead of time to have pillows available that can be placed behind your back or beside you for support.
-Most facilities will most likely not be familiar with your disability. Use your visit as an opportunity to educate the staff by giving feedback and constructive criticism so that others in similar situations can benefit.