Healthcare needs of women with disabilities are often neglected, even for women who are well connected to the community and to the healthcare system. So-called “hard-to-reach” women, whose degree of disability impedes use of community resources, have even greater difficulty obtaining health care. The purpose of this study was to gain insight into the perceptions of women with mobility and sensory limitations about several healthcare issues that may affect them: barriers to obtaining care, sources of information about health issues, ways to improve access to care, and ways to help hard-to-reach women overcome barriers to health care and health information. Researchers conducted six focus groups, comprising 43 women with limitations of mobility, hearing, or vision. To validate the women's input, researchers conducted two additional focus groups: the first comprised female physicians with special interest in the health care of women with disabilities, and the second included professional administrative staff of agencies that provide services for people with disabilities. In several cases, members of the physician and agency focus groups were themselves women with disabilities. In addition, 16 women with disabilities participated in an online survey; their responses were used to validate the findings of the face-to-face focus groups. Transcribed data were content analyzed and 10 themes identified. Seven of those themes are discussed in this article: communication barriers; lack of knowledge and awareness among healthcare providers; access issues; working the system; system issues; outreach to healthcare providers; and reaching hard-to-reach women. The findings of this study can provide direction to development of more effective outreach to hard-to-reach women with disabilities, resulting in better integration of healthcare services for this population.
Questions or comments about this article may be directed to Suzanne C. Smeltzer, EdD RN FAAN, firstname.lastname@example.org. She is a professor of research and director of the Center for Nursing Research and director of the Health Promotion for Women with Disabilities Project, Villanova University College of Nursing, Villanova, PA.
Nancy C. Sharts-Hopko, PhD RN FAAN, is a professor and director of Villanova University's College of Nursing doctoral program, Villanova, PA.
Barbara B. Ott, PhD RN, is an associate professor at Villanova University College of Nursing, Villanova, PA.
Vanessa Zimmerman, MSN RN, is a clinical research nurse coordinator at the University of Pennsylvania's department of neurology, Philadelphia, PA.
Janice Duffin, MSN RN CCM, is director of Geriatric and Disability Care Management at CareDirect, Ardmore, PA.