Inequity to Equity: Promoting Health and Wellness of Women with Disabilities

Women with disabilities are significantly more likely to have diminished quality of life, due to inequity in access to health care

The American Psychological Association (APA), Gallaudet University, and the Howard University Women’s Health Institute sponsored a major conference, “Inequity to Equity:  Promoting Health and Wellness of Women with Disabilities,” held in Washington, DC on October 17-18, 2011 to bring much-needed attention to the often-ignored problems women with disabilities face when navigating the current health care system. 

According to the 2000 Census, approximately 26 million women in the U.S. have disabilities, and more than 50% of women older than 65 report living with a disability.  Women have a higher rate of disability than men generally, partly due to their higher average longevity.  According to the Center for Research on Women with Disabilities, women with disabilities are significantly more likely than women without disabilities to have limited access to health care, increased prevalence of secondary complications, and diminished quality of life.

Bottom: Susan Robinson-Whelen, PhD, Caroline Signore, MD, MPH, Linda Mona, PhD, Lawrence Pick, PhD. Top: Shari Miles-Cohen, PhD, Karen Wyche, PhD, MSW, and Irene Leigh, PhDWith this information in hand, APA’s Women’s Programs Office (WPO) and Office on Disability Issues in Psychology (ODIP) secured a grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office on Women’s Health to plan a conference.  Recognizing the good work already underway to address strategies for promoting health and wellness of women with disabilities, WPO, ODIP and other planning committee members developed plans for the interdisciplinary Inequity to Equity Conference.  The conference goals included:  educating psychologists and other health care providers on the major barriers to health care confronting women with disabilities, and to strengthen the capacity of psychological and health services professionals to provide informed and appropriate health care to women with disabilities.

Dr. Suzanne Bennett Johnson, APA President-elect, opened the Inequity to Equity Conference with a welcome from the APA and framed the conference goals and objectives.  Dr. Isaac Agboola, Dean of the Gallaudet University College of Liberal Arts, Sciences, and Technologies, and Dr. Celia J. Maxwell, Assistant Vice President for Health Sciences, and Director, Howard University College of Medicine Women’s Health Institute, also brought greetings from their respective institutions.

To accomplish the major goal of the meeting, to develop recommendations for future research, practice, education, and policy to positively influence the lives of women with disabilities, the Inequity to Equity Conference included a full schedule of thought-provoking symposia, platform presentations and posters that launched the process of drafting the agenda to guide on this issue work over the next 5 years.  Almost 150 conference attendees, psychologists, other health care providers, researchers, educators, policymakers, women and girls with disabilities, and advocates engaged in vigorous dialogue aimed at developing an integrated health care agenda that will improve health outcomes for women with disabilities.

In addition to the paper sessions, the conference featured invited addresses given by The Honorable Kathleen Martinez, Assistant Secretary of Labor for Disability Employment Policy who spoke on the joys of work and its importance to one’s health; Dr. Marsha Saxton, faculty at the University of California, Berkeley, Disability Studies Program and the World Institute on Disability who shared her perspective on translating research on women with disabilities into practice; and Dr. Linda R. Mona, Director of Training for the VA Long Beach Healthcare System, who presented on the intersections of disability, femininity, and parenting. 

Moving forward, the Inequity to Equity Conference Planning Committee will distill the ideas generated during the conference to produce concrete recommendations to assist individuals who deliver and facilitate the delivery of health care services (both physical and mental health) to women with disabilities in responding appropriately and effectively.  Updates on the research agenda and other project developments will be made available on the conference webpage.

Members of the Inequity to Equity Conference Planning Committee: Rosaly Correa-de-Araujo, MD, MSc, PhD, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services; Anju Khubchandani, MA, American Psychological Association; Gloria L. Krahn, PhD, MPH, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; Irene W. Leigh, PhD, Gallaudet University; Shari E. Miles-Cohen, PhD, American Psychological Association; Linda R. Mona, PhD (Chair), VA Long Beach Healthcare System; Margaret A. Nosek, PhD, Baylor College of Medicine; Susan Robinson-Whelen, PhD, Baylor College of Medicine; Harilyn Rousso, CSW, LCSW, Disabilities Unlimited Consulting Services; Renee Royak-Schaler, PhD (Deceased), University of Maryland School of Medicine; Caroline Signore, MD, MPH, Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development; and Karen Fraser Wyche, MSW, PhD, Howard University Women’s Health Institute.