WPO and ODIP convene first APA women with disabilities conference in Washington, DC.

Disabled women are more likely to have limited access to health care, increased prevalence of secondary complications and diminished quality of life

Inequity to Equity: Promoting Health and Wellness of Women with Disabilities, sponsored by the American Psychological Association (APA), Gallaudet University, and the Howard University Women’s Health Institute, was 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. 

APA President-Elect, Dr. Suzanne Bennett Johnson at the Inequity to Equity Conference Poster SessionAccording to the 2000 Census, approximately 26 million women in the US 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, disabled women 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.

With this information in hand, APA’s Women’s Programs Office (WPO) and Office on Disability Issues in Psychology (ODIP) secured a contract from the US 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, the staffs from WPO and ODIP and the other planning committee members developed plans for the interdisciplinary Inequity to Equity Conference.  The conference goals included: To educate 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 that can guide our work over the next five years.  Approximately 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 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, 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.  Margaret A. Nosek, PhD, founder and Executive Director of the Center for Research on Women with Disabilities at Baylor College of Medicine and Professor in the Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation was unable to join us because of a sudden illness.  We hope to bring her remarks to conference attendees in the near future.

Moving forward the Inequity to Equity Conference Planning Committee will distill the ideas generated during the conference to produce concrete recommendations on improving how individuals who deliver and facilitate the delivery of health care services (both physical and mental health) to women with disabilities respond appropriately and effectively.  Please check the Inequity to Equity Conference Web page for updates on the research agenda and other project developments.

For more information about the conference, to see the names of the members of the planning committee, or to view the conference program, please visit the webpage.