Women with disabilities say getting a mammogram in Quebec still an uphill battle

Montreal women with disabilities say they’re still having trouble getting mammograms even though they've been fighting for better access for a decade.

Residents like Francine Leduc have been told in the past that things would improve, but that hasn't been the case.

Leduc, who has muscular dystrophy, said getting around in a wheelchair in this city is already a challenge.

But as much as that bothers her, it’s a health-care issue that really gets her blood boiling. She's supposed to get a mammogram every two years, but often, when she goes to the clinic, she says technicians have no understanding of her physical limitations.

One in particular got mad at her for not being able to stay still.

"She went to take the picture and when she got back she was really frustrated and said, ‘You moved and I told you not to move!'" she recalled.

"And I said, 'I explained to you that I couldn't keep the position because my muscle is not strong enough to keep the position.'"

It’s been a longstanding problem. Eight years ago, RAPLIQ, a Quebec-based group that advocates for people with disabilities, looked into about 100 mammography clinics in Quebec and found roughly half would either not book appointments for people in wheelchairs, or urge them to have the test done in a hospital.

"Sometimes, they will tell you that the clinic is not wheelchair-accessible and it is," said Linda Gauthier, RAPLIQ's president, pointing to the fact that accessible entrances are obviously there by looking at Google Maps. 

They met with then-Health Minister Gaétan Barrette, who issued directives to clinics on ways to deal with people with mobility issues.

But they say now the problem is as bad as ever. RAPLIQ said their calls to the current health minister, Christian Dubé, have not been returned and clinics are still giving these patients either no service or subpar treatment.

"One of the answers we’ve got is: 'Are you sure you can’t stand up even for a few seconds?' I mean, we’ve had that [question] more than once," said Steven Laperrière, general manager of RAPLIQ.

In a statement, the health ministry says it’s aware of the situation and that every Quebecer has the right to receive health services in a professional and safe manner.

But those living with disabilities say, in the meantime, people are dying because they can’t get this valuable diagnostic tool on time.

"You wouldn’t want your mother, your sister, your daughter to die of breast cancer," said Gauthier. "We don’t want to either."

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