Art for Equity Demonstrates the Need for Accessible Healthcare

The Raw Beauty Project is an art platform that celebrates women with disabilities. It’s based in Miami, Florida, where I lived for a few years in graduate school. I still miss the weather, the people, the food, and the fun! So, when Raw Beauty Project founders Wendy Crawford and Dr. Susan Solman contacted me about a new exhibit called “Unstopable,” I was honored to participate. “Unstopable” matched disabled artists with women with disabilities. The artists captured incredible portraits of us and we shared our stories about accessing basic healthcare and the importance for accessible healthcare. You can see the full exhibit here.

This exhibit calls for accessible healthcare for disabled women
Text reads “Raw Beauty Project Presents: Unstoppable. Portrayals of women with disabilities advocating for equality in healthcare.”

A Lack of Accessible Healthcare for Women with Disabilities

Each portrait is unique and captivating. The stories of barriers to healthcare are infuriating. One woman was asked to guess her weight because the entire hospital lacks an accessible scale for her to use with her mobility equipment. Another woman needed surgery after developing a blood clot. She was taking medication to prevent blood clots but had been given the wrong dose because she was never weighed to determine the dose she needed. Another woman had to bring a male family member to her appointments so he could lift her on the exam table.

Accessible scales and adjustable exam tables have been in existence for decades. They are not new nor costly technology. Wheelchair accessible scales are less than $1,000. Adjustable exam tables range from $3,000-$10,000. When will the purchasing of these basic pieces of equipment become commonplace?

the lack of accessible healthcare is a huge problem for people with disabilities
Kara’s portrait (left) has text that reads “It is assumed that our lives have less value so there’s less interest or urgency to medically treat us.” (Right) Artist Al Kittel is in the process of painting the portrait.

The Struggle with Healthcare and Ableist Attitudes

It seems strange that I feel fortunate to have a height-adjustable table at my primary clinic’s office. I don’t have a scale though. More often than not, I guess my weight. Sometimes I teeter-not totally safely-on the scale if I want a more accurate measurement. I look forward to a day when the tools for equitable healthcare accompany attitudes that also reflect the value of our lives. Among the stories shared by the “Unstopable” project are the judgements disabled women have faced when pregnant or just trying to live their lives. The lack of exam tables and scales are hints of a much larger problem looming below the surface of healthcare.

The “Unstopable” Project concluded with a gallery exhibit in Miami. COVID-19, unfortunately, squashed our hopes to get together in-person but we each connected with our artists. Al Kittle, an artist in New Mexico who uses a power wheelchair, painted my portrait. Check out her work here. The colors and cameo of my service dog, Rocky, made me love my portrait instantly but my favorite part is harder to see. There are fine, dark lines in the arms that resemble my curvy bones. I used to hide my bowed arms but now embrace them as me.

With the exhibit over, I was free to buy my portrait from Al. It arrived a couple weeks ago just in time for my birthday! It now hangs in my bedroom as a reminder of so many things: sunny days, curvy arms, and the need to continue my hard work towards health equity for all.

About Kara Ayers: Kara is a mother of three and lives in Ohio. She is an associate professor at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital and Medical Center. In 2021, Kara spoke to the Biden-Harris COVID-19 Equity Taskforce about the need for people with disabilities to access the COVID-19 vaccine. Click here to learn more about Kara.

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