What Every Woman Should Know About Reproductive Health Care

By Heather Becker, Ph.D. and Shauna O’Neal, Nursing Student

The University of Texas at Austin School of Nursing

When you are busy with class assignments and the demands of life on campus, thinking about your reproductive health may seem like a distant priority.  But for women, reproductive health care – including both sexual health and family planning– is something to think about.  Know that you have the right to quality reproductive health care.  That means health care providers should make their offices physically accessible, from the front door to the examination table. Your medical provider should have information on providing accessible facilities; in 2010, the U.S. Department of Justice Office of Civil Rights prepared a booklet entitled “Access to Medical Care for Individuals with Mobility Disabilities” (available at www.ada.gov) that explains what is required under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Yearly examinations to check for vaginal infections, cervical tissue changes, and changes in breast tissue are an important part of staying healthy. Even if you’re not sexually active, your doctor can answer any questions you may have about abnormal periods, unexplained pelvic pain, or starting sexual activity at your annual visit. The Federal Affordable Care Act now makes these well-women visits low or no cost to you. It’s possible to make your visit go more smoothly by alerting the staff about your disabling condition when you make an appointment—this allows them to plan ahead for extra time, staff, or equipment, if necessary. Your provider should discuss your reproductive health care with you – including methods of birth control, testing for sexually transmitted diseases, and answering questions about sexual behaviors. Your obstetrician/ gynecologist may not have treated other patients with a disability such as yours, so he or she may not be an expert in your disability. Choose a doctor or nurse who is willing to listen to your expertise in living with a disability, and willing to provide you with outside informational sources if there’s something they don’t know. This is a great opportunity to forge a “teamwork” relationship. You both want you to be healthy!

Down the road, you may wonder if you can or want to parent a child. Most women wonder about family planning, at some point. This is something that each woman must decide for herself, but if you do want to have a child, Dr. Coble-Temple – herself a woman with disabilities – offers the following advice:

Have a positive sense of yourself

Know how to locate information on pregnancy and disability

Get support from family and friends

Prepare and Plan; Figure out what you can do and what you will need help with

Trust yourself

The following websites provide additional information for women with disabilities about reproductive health care and parenting.

Center on Research for Women with Disabilities < http://www.bcm.edu/crowd/ >

Through the Looking Glass < http://www.lookingglass.org/>

If your doctor or nurse is not familiar with treating women with disabilities, you might suggest they check out the following website for OB/GYNs sponsored by the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists: http://www.acog.org/departments/dept_notice.cfm?recno=38&bulletin=4526

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