Disabled women having difficulty accessing basic health services, committee hears

Specific needs of many are not addressed with CervicalCheck or BreastCheck, politicians told

Disabled women are having issues accessing basic health services, including vital cancer screening, the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Disability Matters heard on Tuesday.

Selina Bonnie, vice-chairwoman of the Independent Living Movement Ireland, told the committee that many disabled women’s specific access needs are not addressed when availing of CervicalCheck or BreastCheck.

“Depending on the equipment available in individual GP surgeries, and the location of colposcopy clinics, many disabled women are faced with significant travel to access services that meet their individual support needs,” she said in her opening statement.

“Often the ability of disabled women to access these essential services will depend on accessible transport, allocation of sufficient personal assistance hours or appropriate Irish Sign Language interpretation.”


Ms Bonnie also spoke about how some women who use wheelchairs faced issues with BreastCheck.

“I have heard many stories of where disabled wheelchair users have not been provided with hoist access and they have been made to feel as if they are in the wrong for needing the access,” she said.

Maureen McGovern, a disability rights activist from Ballyfermot, also spoke at the committee and gave her own personal experience of the health services’ inaccessibly.

“I experienced this quite recently. I was looking for a hoist to attend an appointment. Although I had rang the hospital to say I needed a hoist, there was no hoist to meet me.

“I had to leave the hospital to get another appointment when the hoist was available. I shouldn’t have to do that; no disabled woman should have to do that.”

The committee also heard that disabled women were more likely to experience domestic violence.

Ms McGovern spoke about a 2014 EU survey which found that 34 per cent of women with a health problem or disability experienced physical or sexual partner violence, compared with 19 per cent of women without a health problem or disability.

“Recent research from NUI Galway found that disabled women are more likely to experience violence, with 40 per cent of disabled female students reporting experience of rape, compared with 27 per cent of non-disabled students,” she added.

Ms McGovern also said that many services for survivors of sexual assault and domestic violence are not accessible.

She added that many disabled women who live in an institutionalised setting or live with family have trouble accessing these services, due to a lack of privacy.

Another issue which the committee discussed was disabled women’s access to reproductive justice.

Ms Bonnie said many people have experienced ableist attitudes from staff in assisted human reproduction, maternity and parenting services.

“[There is also ]a lack of uniformity about the use and quality of Parental Capacity Assessments.”

According to Ms Bonnie, 63.7 per cent of disabled women are mothers, but disabled women are not mentioned in the National Maternity Strategy.

Ms Bonnie also expressed concern that disabled people’s voices and experiences were not contained in any of the 31 written submissions of the pre-legislative scrutiny of the General Scheme of the Assisted Human Reproduction Bill 2017.

“The process needs to be equality proofed so that all the relevant voices are heard. If they are absent, you should go out and find them.”