Research on Women and Disabilities

Women with disabilities have been described as facing a "double handicap" because of their gender and because of their disability. Consider the quotation below:

"Today's modern woman has a multitude of roles and responsibilities: caregiver, wife, mother, employee, friend, and volunteer, among others. Twenty-six million of these American women are living with disabilities, varying conditions that make these roles even more challenging because of physical or mental limitations. Various diseases and conditions produce some form of disability, and a number of them disproportionately affect women (from the Women with DisAbilities web site.”

The quote was retrieved at:  This site is titled “Women with Disabilities” and is sponsored by The National Women’s Health Information Center (NWHIC). The site was created  “to help women overcome these and some other barriers. It puts a wealth of useful information together into one place for women with disabilities, caretakers, health professionals, and researchers.”

Here is an excerpt from a chapter that I have in Gendering Disability, ed. Bonnie G. Smith and Beth Hutchison, Institute for Research on Women, Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, under contract to Rutgers University Press. The chapter is titled,  “Integrating Consumer Disabilities into Models of Information Processing: Color-vision Deficiencies and Their Effects on Women’s Marketplace Choices”

    An assumption in everyday life is that consumers come to the marketplace daily to evaluate products, make purchases, and attempt to meet their needs for a satisfactory life.   However, consumers who are female and consumers who are disabled are likely to face a “double discrimination” that is both related to their gender and to the nature of their disabilities (Asch 2001; Fine and Asch 1985; Rousso (2001).  This is particularly evident when we consider that consumer roles, values, beliefs, and norms are often linked with gender-based expectations.

    Quite simply, men and women within any society are typically assigned specific roles such as “breadwinners”, “nurturers”, and “caretakers” that embody certain skills often assumed to be innately-related to gender.  For instance, in “traditional” models of households, females are typically expected to care for home-related concerns ranging from furnishings and décor to daily shopping and childcare. In addition, by virtue of their supposed “female” interests in beauty and self-image, women are expected to incorporate socially established norms of acceptable body image, fashion, and beauty.

    Feminists have challenged the realism and worth of such demands, considering the burdens and psychological pressures placed on women, yet society’s icons continue to influence women’s perceptions of themselves. Furthermore, socially constructed gender is thought to have a major impact in the marketplace, particularly when one’s gender roles are also linked with one’s disabilities. In some cases, disabilities can make the enactment of such roles difficult, dissatisfying, and perhaps impossible.

    The current chapter utilizes consumer theories in marketing to enrich our understanding of the experience of disabled women’s choices in the marketplace.  While business disciplines have long been absent in suggesting frameworks for analysis in disabilities studies, this manuscript attempts to bridge the gap. A model is proposed linking the interaction of gender, market place roles, and disabilities, using the responses of women with color vision deficiencies to inform the discussion.

 . . . . . I have specifically chosen to examine women who have perceptual disabilities.  In particular, I have chosen color vision deficiencies since the nature of the disability suggests that women may experience difficulties in the enactment of their expected gender roles as consumers. While physically able to negotiate shopping environments without the restrictions of persons with mobility impairments, color deficient females are expected to report problems with access to consumer information related to their consumer roles as women. It is hoped that studies of perceptually disabled women can enrich our understanding of the double jeopardy that occurs in the marketplace.

 . . . . . The sixteen women indicated numerous similarities in problem areas to those reported by men, such as confusion with labels and the impact of poor lighting. However, an important distinction was found in that significant frustrations were faced uniquely by color-deficient women related to the care of their families. The themes found in the women’s responses were centered around their homes, their children, their personal self-image, and their hobbies. Examples include the following:  children, safety, measurement, makeup, decorating, food labeling, selection of detergents, sewing and needlework, color coordination of towels, sheets, clothing and accessories, matching thread and fabric, and crafting supplies.  In contrast, the men’s themes centered on problems with the selection of their own personal clothing, most often gaining assistance from their wives.  They also mentioned traffic signals and travel information, painting and home repair, and electronics.

Here is a sample of three responses that capture their feelings.

I can’t match my colors, so I can’t match clothes, furniture, paint, accessories. It is hard for me on a daily basis to shop and try to get things that look nice.  An example is when we were buying a new home, I picked out the prettiest brown carpet (at least that is what I thought). My husband said it was the ugliest green carpet he had ever seen. Without him I would have been stuck with an ugly green carpet (Female, 38).

I realize that the type of colorblindness I have (yellow-green) is fairly rare, and VERY RARE for a female.  However, I have a tendency to try to shop where products are labeled (Wal-Mart for example, does a pretty good job of this, so I will drive an extra 20  miles to shop there instead of a place where I have to ask people all the time (Female 2, 42).

Uses salespersons’ assistance - but - ASalespersons often don’t understand the dilemma and further, they think that I am not being truthful.  Being a color blind woman leads to a world of misunderstanding ... some salespersons direct me to the blue sign or the green shelves or who say to follow the brown arrow. Some colors I don’t see at all and so rather than give an impromptu color blind lesson I just go home -- very frustrated. (Female, 50)

Excerpt References

Asch, Adrienne (2001), “Critical Race Theory, Feminism, and Disability:  Reflections on Social Justice and Personal Identity,” Plenary Session Address, Gender and Disability Studies Conference, Institute for Research on Women, Rutgers University.

_____________  and Fine, M. (1988), Women with Disabilities:  Essays in Psychology, Culture and Politics.  Philadelphia:  Temple University Press.

Rousso, Harilyn (2001), “Girls and Young Women with Disabilities: What Do We Know?  What Do We Need to Know?” Gender and Disability Studies Conference, Institute for Research on Women, Rutgers University.