When Fiona Anderson, a wheelchair user, tried to book her cervical screening(smear) test at her local GP practice five years ago, she was told the practice did not have the facilities she needed – a hoist – to access screening. However, Fiona, 30, says her GP reassured her: “Your risk of getting cervical cancer is low because you’re a wheelchair user.”
Perplexed, Fiona asked how using a wheelchair could possibly lower her cancer risk, and says the response was: “Well, you’re sexually inactive.” Fiona couldn’t believe what she was hearing. “I’m a mum to two young children!” she says. “Just because I’m in a wheelchair, you cannot assume that I don’t have a sex life. But even people who aren’t sexually active should still have the right to access screening for their own reassurance and peace of mind.”
Fiona’s experience is far from unique. Her change.org petition calling for accessible cervical screening now has more than 109,000 signatures. And cervical cancer prevention is not the only area of sexual and reproductive healthcare where women with disabilities face both stigma and physical barriers to care.
Kerry Thompson, 40, has muscular dystrophy and uses a wheelchair. She was left waiting 10 years for a cervical screening test, and six years for her contraceptive Mirena coil to be replaced, after being told she could no longer have home visits when she moved house.
“I’d had an abnormal result from my previous smear test, so I went into my new GP surgery and said I needed a retest. I was told they couldn’t give me a home visit – which I’d always had at my previous practice – but they also didn’t have a hoist to do it there,” Kerry tells i.