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Understanding women with disabilities

Dec 28, 2008

Hesperian Foundation’s publication titled: A Health Handbook for Women with Disabilities captures real life situations of women with disabilities and their issues, experiences and desires. The manual serves as a useful tool to improve their self-reliance and overcome barriers to a healthy life.

A Health Handbook for Women with Disabilities

Authors: Jane Maxwell, Julia Watts Belser and Darlena David
Publisher: Hesperian Foundation, 2007

When women with disabilities do not have access to resources, education, and other opportunities, they are more vulnerable to poverty, exploitation, and abuse. Without confidence in and awareness of their rights, they are often socially marginalised.

This handbook is designed to help women with disabilities overcome the social stigma and inadequate care which are greater barriers to health.


Like most women, women with disabilities often find it difficult to get the health care they need. Disabled women find barriers to care when health facilities do not have ramps for wheelchair users, do not have information in Braille or on audio cassettes for vision-impaired people, do not have sign language interpreters for women who are deaf, and do not have people who can assist women who have trouble learning or understanding.

Another problem is that doctors and other health workers are not usually trained to understand the health needs disabled women may have.

The book offers useful advice for women, as well as resources for health professionals, caregivers for women with disabilities and trainers working with disability groups.

This groundbreaking handbook was developed with the help and experience of women with disabilities in 42 countries - women whose disabilities include blindness, deafness, amputations, paralysis, learning difficulties, small stature, epilepsy, arthritis, and cerebral palsy.

The book contains useful advice on:

  • Caring for daily needs with limited access to equipment
  • Having healthy and safe sexual relationships
  • Choosing family planning methods that work best with specific disabilities
  • Preparing for pregnancy and childbirth
  • Defending against violence or abuse
  • Interactions of disability medicines with other medicines
  • Organising for disability-friendly health care

It also has information about the social causes of disability, and suggests ways to help change feelings and beliefs that are harmful to the health of such women, their families, and communities.

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