Effective provider-patient communication is a key element of quality health care, including perinatal care. What constitutes “effective communication” in perinatal care may vary according to the population seeking care, such as women with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD) and sensory disabilities. Research broadly indicates that communication issues are among the barriers to perinatal care experienced by women with disabilities. However, few studies have explicitly explored their communication experiences in this context. The purpose of this study was to understand the communication experiences of birthing people with IDD and/or sensory disabilities in perinatal care.
We conducted semi-structured interviews with 17 people with IDD (e.g., autism, cognitive delay) and/or sensory disabilities (e.g., d/Deaf, blind) in Ontario, Canada, who had recently given birth, to explore barriers to and facilitators of effective communication in perinatal care. A combination of deductive and inductive thematic analysis guided data analysis.
We found that birthing people with IDD and/or sensory disabilities encountered multiple barriers to effective communication in perinatal care, namely, lack of policies and guidelines, lack of provider experience, lack of provider effort, as well as ableism and provider assumptions. Facilitators included knowledgeable, aware, and supportive providers; access to communication aids and services; tailoring information to patients’ disability-related communication needs; empathic communication; and, communication among providers.
Unmet communication needs may contribute to negative health and social outcomes for birthing people with disabilities and their newborns. Accessibility policy implementation and practice change are needed to meet the communication needs of people with IDD and/or sensory disabilities in perinatal care to ensure positive experiences and outcomes.