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No woman should be left behind

Despite the current popularity of terms like equality and inclusivity, one particular group continues to face unique and often overlooked challenges in healthcare settings, where resources are often inaccessible and same-sex care is not always a given. Gladys of The Countess Healthcare Working Group sheds light on the obstacles that women with disabilities encounter when seeking medical care, highlighting the urgent need for a more inclusive and accommodating healthcare system that can preserve the dignity of disabled women.

I am a woman, a mother and grandmother and a wife. I’m also a woman with acquired spinal damage.
In Ireland, there are over 500,000 people with disabilities, at least half of whom are women. That’s a lot of us, yet we rarely get a mention. Considering the obstacles we face day after day, one would think we would be a priority. I try to live a dignified life against all the odds, but intimate care is one area which strips me of that dignity.

Not so long ago, I had the misfortune to become extremely ill. I was admitted to intensive care and put into an induced coma. I was slowly brought back, and initially put into a mixed ward – I thought I was dreaming. Later on, I was placed in a room where I was kept under constant observation. Late one night, I found myself needing intimate care. I rang for the nurse, a male, who called the health care assistant, another male. I was shocked. I asked for a female assistant, but the nurse argued with me, saying that I had no choice and that if I refused I could be waiting hours for a female to attend to my intimate needs. However, luckily for me, having previously worked in healthcare, I knew my rights and I insisted.

When did this become a thing? How many disabled women find themselves in this position? How many are afraid to voice their rights? How many disabled women housed in mixed wards feel too frightened and vulnerable to demand that their dignity be respected? This is yet another battle disabled women have to fight, and it’s exhausting. As a disabled woman, can I at least please maintain my dignity?

Some 51.6% of women in Ireland have a disability. In our society, healthcare for women with disabilities is seriously deficient. it is difficult for a woman in a wheelchair to have a mammogram and basically cannot have a smear test, because of the lack of accessible equipment. Disabled women who suffer domestic violence or abuse also receive scant support, because there are few accessible services and little understanding of the lives of disabled women. We need to educate service providers.

In Ireland, disabled women in Ireland are among the most marginalized, yet we rarely hear their stories. Why? Are we less of women because of our disabilities? Are disabled women completely invisible? As a disabled woman, I hope to highlight and bring about the changes needed for women with disabilities to have the same access as those without. No woman should be left behind…