Study details barriers and approaches to reproductive autonomy for people with disabilities

Individuals with disabilities often face barriers, limited resources, and poor support in their reproductive health experiences. A new publication by CORE Lab member Katelyn Matkin provides a comprehensive review of these disparities. The study also offers guidance for rehabilitation counselors to support disabled individuals in reproductive decision-making.

Matkin, a PhD Student in Rehabilitation Counselor Education, co-authored the paper with Susan Smedema, a professor and chair of the Department of Rehabilitation Psychology and Special Education at UW–Madison. The study was published in the Rehabilitation Counselors and Educators Journal.

Approximately 61 million Americans have some type of disability, with almost 11% being of childbearing age.

Reproductive autonomy — the ability to make decisions about one’s reproductive health — has been historically limited for individuals with disabilities. For example:

  • People with disabilities have faced forced sterilization, asexualization (castration), and negative stereotyping.
  • This population also experiences worse healthcare access and outcomes for contraceptive care, abortion care, pregnancy, and birth compared to individuals without disabilities.

Rehabilitation counselors, who support the independence and well-being of people with disabilities, can play a crucial role in supporting clients’ reproductive access and autonomy. However, there are gaps within the field of rehabilitation counseling when it comes to discussing reproduction-related topics such as contraceptive access, abortion, fertility support, and the experience of pregnancy.

Matkin and Smedema’s paper emphasizes:

  • The significance of historical and current disparities in reproductive healthcare access and need among individuals with disabilities.
  • The need for greater recognition, education, and advocacy around reproductive autonomy in rehabilitation counseling to ensure that practitioners appropriately support their clients.