National Organizations Join Forces to address Barriers to Breast Cancer Screening for Women With Disabilities and Deaf Women

Friday, June 21 2013

June 19, 2013 (Montreal) - The DisAbled Women’s Network of Canada-Réseau
d'Action des Femmes Handicapées Canada (DAWN-RAFH Canada) and the Canadian
Association for Community Living (CACL) are jointly implementing a pan
Canadian initiative entitled: InFocus: Bringing People with Disabilities
into the Picture - A National Pan-Canadian Community Leadership Initiative.
National meetings are taking place on June 18-19, 2013 in Montreal bringing
provincial/territorial and many local organizations together to address two
priority issues of concern for people with disabilities and Deaf people –
health access and violence and abuse - with a pronounced focus on cancer
screening. Local cancer screening sites across the country are being engaged
with support from this project, to examine their facilities and procedures
for their inclusivity for people with disabilities and Deaf people. In
particular, they will look at the experience of women with disabilities and
Deaf women in getting adequate access to breast cancer screening.

Today’s meeting coincides with the launch of a report on the accessibility
of breast cancer screening prepared by DAWN-RAFH Canada on behalf of the
Canadian Breast Cancer Network. The 2012 report, entitled “Environmental
Scan on Women with Disabilities & Breast Cancer Screening: Identified
Problems, Strategies and Recommended Next Steps” examined existing research
on women with disabilities and access to health services, in particular, to
breast cancer screening.

One in nine Canadian women is expected to develop breast cancer during her
lifetime. In 2013, there will be an estimated 23,800 Canadian women
diagnosed with breast cancer. However, survival rates have increased
significantly since the 1980s due to early detection through regular
screening and improved treatments.

For women with disabilities however, early detection is significantly less
likely than for non-disabled women. “Not surprisingly, we found that there
are a number of barriers for women with disabilities and Deaf women to
access breast cancer screening,” said Doris Rajan, author of the report and
senior consultant with DAWN-RAFH Canada. “There are the obvious physical
ones like examination tables that are too high, but more pronounced are
attitudinal and procedural barriers. Practitioners expressed feeling
uncomfortable when treating people with disabilities and noted communication
difficulties in dealing with women with disabilities. As a result, women
with disabilities are refused screening and/or have traumatic experiences in
attempting to receive it," Rajan notes.

The report’s key recommendations include: addressing physical barriers, i.e.
adapting equipment and medical procedures; conducting women-centred,
disability sensitive training for breast cancer screening health care
personnel; developing disability-positive outreach and health promotion
materials in various formats for non-verbal, low-literacy or non-English
speaking women; and finally, implementing broader policy reforms.
Today’s organizers are optimistic that they will be able to work together to
implement some of these recommendations and begin improving health equity
for women with disabilities and Deaf women. “What excites me about this
report is that it links directly to a Canada-wide project we are currently
carrying out with the Canadian Association for Community Living to address
barriers to cancer screening for people with intellectual disabilities,
women with disabilities and Deaf women, says Carmela Hutchison, president of
DAWN-RAFH Canada. We have here an excellent opportunity to begin to take
action for positive change at the community level, all across the country.
This is good news for women with disabilities and Deaf women!”

Funded by the Public Health Agency of Canada, the DisAbled Women’s Network
(DAWN) / Réseau d'action de femmes handicapées (RAFH) and the Canadian
Association for Community Living (CACL) have partnered on a national project
that will be implemented in 13 local communities (one in each province and
territory) in Canada. Project goals are to pursue secondary prevention of
cancer involving early detection and increasing access to cancer screening,
consistent to screening practice guidelines/recommendations as per The
Canadian Task Force on Preventive Health Care[1]

“This report provides us with a better understanding of what the barriers as
well as concrete recommendations on how the medical profession and
organizations such as CBCN can better serve women with disabilities and Deaf
women”, says CBCN president Cathy Ammendolea. She notes that this is part of
the CBCN’s effort to ensure that women in underserved populations are
getting adequate service.

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