Mary Smith of Oakland has lived her entire life with a disability.
“I was born with a disability. It’s got a long name to it, but basically I have limited range of motion, stamina issues. It’s a muscular-skeletal condition. And, I was born with what they called clubbed feet and clubbed hands. I cannot raise my arms above my head and I use a wheelchair for most of my mobility. As I’ve gotten older the pain has increased, the endurance has lessened.”
In her mid-20’s Mary decided she’d had enough of health care.
“Once I kind of got out on my own, I sort of said good-bye to the health care system because I had been up to my eyeballs with surgeries, with going to physicians, physical therapy. And a lot of times it was a real struggle to find places that were physically accessible to me, as well as finding physicians that were willing to treat Mary Smith the individual versus Mary Smith the disability.”
Mary’s experience is common, according Flora Toveg-Maiki, director of the center Breast Health Access for Women with Disabilities. The center, which is known as BHAWD is based at Sutter-affiliated Alta Bates Summit Medical Center and is a national model in providing accessible health care to women with disabilities.
“BHAWD has been the pioneer in bringing attention to barriers for women with disabilities to not only our health system in Northern California and throughout the country”
Founded in 1995, with vital ongoing support from the Sutter Health network, BHAWD has helped make quality health care more accessible for women with disabilities.
“We are the first accessible clinic that provided breast screening services. And one of features that we did have, besides having an accessible room, was an exam table that lowered to 19 inches.”
Supported since its inception by Alta Bates Summit Medical Center with in-kind donations, clinical resources and additional services, Toveg-Maiki says the collaboration is unique.
“It’s absolutely something to be proud of. I think it’s pretty incredible that a health system is not only going to look at what’s required but also look beyond that. And really look at and including community members and people with disabilities in those discussions. I think that’s pretty cool. I think reflective of the participatory and respectful environment that the health system operates in – particularly this medical center operates in – in terms of a collaborative approach of really trying to do the best we can and making sure we’re doing the right thing.”
For Mary Smith the impact is more personal.
“I think it’s helped me see myself as a woman. I think a lot of times, folks with disabilities often think, well we have one thing, we’re not going to get cancer, we’re not going to get diabetes, we’re not going to get any of those things. I think it’s helped me in recognizing that even though I have a disability, I still can get all these other medical conditions.”
In 2008 Sutter Health adopted comprehensive plans for improved access under the Americans with Disabilities Act, making our network a leader in disability access in the health care industry. Although more work must still be done, we’re proud our leadership to further improve health care access for people with disabilities – now and in the future.
Back to "Sutter Health Celebrates 20th Anniversary of Americans with Disabilities Act" news release
AUDIO | Hear from a patient with disabilities about Sutter’s commitment to health care access (MP3)