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Women with disabilities need healthy sex chat, too

Navigating the health care system can be especially hard for women with disabilities. Jocelyn Maffin knows first-hand the difference in care she received compared to her able-bodied peers.
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​Jocelyn with her husband

​Jocelyn has paralysis, meaning she can’t stand, walk or even hold her legs in certain positions. She uses a wheelchair full-time. Most medical offices aren’t equipped to accommodate people in wheelchairs, which is particularly hard for women when they require gynecological exams. Even if patients like Jocelyn can make these inaccessible offices work for their care, physicians aren't always comfortable offering care to women with disabilities in that setting. For example, after years of being seen in her former family doctor's medical office, the doctor became reluctant to do those basic exams on the high, narrow exam tables in her office. It’s the little things that most of us take for granted that prevent others from getting the proper care they require.

Not only is physical accessibility an issue, but there can also be subtle attitudinal barriers around the sexual health of women with disabilities:

“I know that women with disabilities have been traditionally assumed to be not sexually active or perhaps clinicians feel out of their depth in discussing sexual health with women who have complicated medical conditions or disabilities,” says Jocelyn.

As a young woman in her 20s, Jocelyn realized she was missing out on most of the conversations with her physicians that her peers were having about basic preventative health care for women of reproductive age. Jocelyn's background of working in academic medicine provided her with the insight and recognition of the health care gap she experienced.

Jocelyn first became a patient at the ACCESS clinic over 10 years ago, when she had issues with missed periods – what she found at the clinic, were clinicians who understood that her gynecological health and complex disability needs didn't occur in isolation.

It was a huge relief for Jocelyn to discover that not only does the clinic have proper exam tables fit for people with physical disabilities, but the health-care providers are well-informed on how average gynecological issues are affected by other complex medical or disability-related concerns and that their expertise crossed specialities.

“Having a clinic like this one [ACCESS clinic] where I can get the care I need as a woman, where they have the appropriate equipment to make visits safe and even reasonably comfortable and the clinician knowledge from treating many other women with disabilities like mine is a treasure that makes basic health care accessible to me. Every woman should have access to basic primary preventative care, and without a clinic like ACCESS, I’d be without it myself.”
Patients can self-refer to the clinic and then be triaged to the nurse practioner (NP) or gynecologist as needed or be directly referred by their doctor. The clinic is currently accepting new patients.

BC Women's Hospital + Health Centre; Access Clinic
Women's Health
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