Women and the ADA

Bryna HelferAs a recreational therapist, a disability advocate, and a person with a disability, I learned early in my life that having a positive attitude with a willingness to try was the key to moving forward and being able to get beyond those barriers make/makes anything possible. Over the years, I had the great fortune of getting to know hundreds of women who have an amazing capacity to embrace their ability. Women with disabilities who are teachers, volunteer in their community, and take care of their families. I have met with women with disabilities who led large organizations, traveled the world, and competed in international sporting events. Women who are advocates, musicians, and artists. And, while attitude and willingness is so important, so is access and equality.

As we celebrate the 27th anniversary of the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA), I find myself reflecting on the benefits of this important piece of civil rights legislation and the direct connection between disability and women’s health. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 27 million women in the U.S. have disabilities — and the number is growing. More than 50% of women older than 65 are living with a disability, with the most common cause of disability for women being arthritis. But younger women and girls also have disabilities, because of a birth defect; as a result of chronic illness; or due to a traumatic event. Girls and women with disabilities may need specialty care to address their individual needs and also access to the same general health care as women without disabilities.

The Family Caregiver Alliance estimates that millions of women serve as caregivers for a family member with a long-term illness or disability (e.g., a child, sibling, spouse, parent). Not surprising, women are often more likely to assist with more difficult caregiving tasks, such as toileting and bathing. Caregiver stress can cause great risk and potential harmful health effects. So, I can’t underscore enough the importance of caregivers taking care of their own health and wellness.

After all of these years, I continue to embrace the importance of having a positive attitude to get through both the challenging times and the happy times. The ADA is critical for ensuring that Americans continue to have equal access to employment, health care, transportation, recreation, and other places in our community. There are seemingly simple elements in our community that we all take for granted every day that would not be possible but for the ADA. Curb cuts on street corners, ramps into buildings, accessible restrooms, automatic doorway openings, closed captioning on television, and voice-activated computer technology are just a few of the concrete things that provide equal access for many of us every day. On this 27th anniversary, I invite women across the country to embrace and celebrate the ADA and all of the positive benefits it brings for all of us.

About the author

Bryna Helfer

Dr. Helfer has a long history working to advance the quality of life for people with disabilities and their families. Diagnosed with psoriatic arthritis as a young adult, she recognizes the importance of health, wellness, and accessibility in communities across the country.

The statements and opinions in this blog post are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office on Women's Health.