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To the health worker:

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HealthWiki > A Health Handbook for Women with Disabilities > Chapter 2: Organizing for disability-friendly health care > To the health worker:

Learning about disability

a health worker speaking to a woman using crutches.
I'm so glad you suggested that I examine your chest. The reason you have been getting out of breath is because you have asthma. It has nothing to do with your disability.
Listen to what a woman with disability tells you about her health. Later you can ask her whether or not she feels her disability affects her health problem.

Doctors and other health workers are usually trained to treat only people without disabilities. They often learn very little about disability in their education. Their only contact with disabled people may be in trying to `cure' their disability.

Health workers need to learn more about disabilities. They have to learn how a specific disability may affect aspects of a woman's life, such as getting pregnant or growing >older.

One good way for health workers to learn more about disability is to include women with disabilities in training programs. Health workers will gain confidence by learning from the experiences of women with disabilities, and they will learn how to best teach health workers to make their care disability-friendly.

Health workers learn from women with disabilities

The health ministry in Uganda surveyed and talked with midwives and traditional birth attendants across the country to find out what information they needed to do their jobs better. Several of them said they needed more information about how to how to help women with disabilities.

a male doctor speaking to a group of health workers; one of them responds.
Next week, the Blind Women's Association will speak to us.
Wonderful! I need to know how to help a woman who is blind get information about family planning.

Now, the health ministry in Uganda is beginning to organize training sessions to share more information about disabled women's health. Women with disabilities help lead the training sessions. By sharing their experiences with health workers, women with disabilities can answer questions about good ways to treat disabled women. And, health workers and disabled
women are able to learn from each other.

When a woman with a disability comes to see you for a health problem, remember she is a woman, just like any other woman. First, ask her why she has come to see you and how you can help her. Do not assume it is because of her disability.

Encourage her to ask questions. That way, she can explain her problems. Respect her opinions. After all, she understands her health problems better than anyone else and can make good decisions about her treatment.

Help her relax and give her time to express her unspoken questions. This will help her not to be afraid. Sometimes a woman with a disability may not have the confidence to ask questions about what is really worrying her. Or she may not have enough privacy. But you can help reduce the fears of women with disabilities, help them become more confident, and get the information and care they need.

a woman using sign language.

In my ideal clinic the health worker would say: "Is there something about your disability you think I should know? Tell me about how your disability affects your health care."
Ask people with disabilities how they would like you to do things. And when they ask questions, you do not have to have all of the answers. It is fine to admit you do not know something, and then offer to find the information they need.

Helping women with particular disabilities

A woman who is blind or has difficulty seeing

a blind woman speaking.
Explain to me where I am and guide me to a chair or exam table. Do not leave me in the middle of a room.
  • Unless it is an emergency, do not touch the woman before telling her who you are.
  • Do not think she cannot see you at all.
  • Speak in your normal voice.
  • If she has a stick, do not take it away from her at any time.
  • Say good-bye before walking away or leaving.

A woman who is deaf or has difficulty hearing

a woman using sign language.
Look at me and not at my sign language interpreter or at the family member who interprets my home signs.
  • Make sure you have her attention before speaking. If she is not facing you, touch her gently on the shoulder.
  • Do not shout or exaggerate your speech.
  • Look directly at her, and do not cover your mouth with anything.
  • Ask her what is the best way of communicating.

A woman who has difficulty moving

a woman in a wheelchair speaking.
Speak directly with me and not to my family member or caregiver.
  • Do not assume she is mentally slow.
  • If possible, sit so that you are at eye level with her.
  • Do not move any crutches, sticks, walkers, or wheelchairs without the woman's permission or without arranging for their return.
  • If she is a wheelchair user, do not lean on or touch her wheelchair without her permission.

A woman who does not speak clearly

a woman speaking.
Do not pretend you understand me if you do not.
  • Even though her speech may be slow or difficult to understand, this does not mean she has any difficulties learning or understanding.
  • Ask her to repeat anything you do not understand.
  • Ask questions she can answer by "yes" or "no."
  • Let her take as much time as she needs to explain her problem. Be patient.

A woman who has trouble learning or understanding

a woman speaking.
Give me one piece of information at a time and repeat it if necessary.
  • Use simple words and short sentences.
  • Be polite and patient, and do not treat her like a child.