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University of Texas at Austin Nursing Researcher Gets $1.3 Million to Study Disability Influences Among Women

Posted: July. 14, 2008

Dr. Tracie Harrison

Dr. Tracie Harrison

AUSTIN, Texas—Dr. Tracie Harrison, assistant professor of nursing at The University of Texas at Austin, has received $1.3 million from the National Institutes of Health for a study comparing experiences of women with disabilities.

Harrison wants to look at white and Hispanic women ages 55-75 to compare how women developed mobility impairment and how it impacts their lives. She is interested in how impairment affects functioning and how the timing of disability in women’s lives impacts subsequent health as they age.

Study participants should have a limitation in their ability to walk, climb steps or stand. Mobility problems may be caused by numerous diseases, including multiple sclerosis, cerebral palsy, stroke, polio, rheumatoid arthritis, muscular dystrophy, spinal cord injuries and Parkinson’s, said Harrison.

“Persons with disabilities are living longer than ever and, yet, they have accumulated more social and health-related problems than people in general,” said Harrison, adding that the healthcare system must be prepared to address the age-related issues that millions with disabilities face.

Statistics show that Hispanics with disabilities estimated at more than three million in the United States, report greater levels of disablement than white, non-Hispanic women with disabilities. Hispanics experience more functional limitations, more difficulties with activities of daily living and more unemployment due to impairments.

“The reasons for this health disparity are unclear,” said Harrison.

“Some women have equal degrees of impairment and, yet, some have more problems functioning and performing in their work, social and family roles,” said Harrison. “I want to explore what it is that is different in their lives. Are there factors, such as attitude, socioeconomic class, or culture that make impairment worse?”

In previous studies, Harrison found that women adapt to impairment in culturally specific ways. The meaning that they give to their impairment impacts how they live their lives once a limitation occurs. She wants to examine the ways different groups adapt to their impairments and learn from their experiences.

She hopes her current study will provide the knowledge needed to address health disparities in disablement among women.

The study involves personal interviews with Harrison. Participants will be financially compensated.