Women with Disabilities Australia (WWDA) hosted a National Forum to hear from women and girls with disabilities to identify our priorities and shape WWDA’s future direction.
As cliché as it sounds, it was genuinely an empowering feeling being in a room with more than 40 other women with disabilities who are at the forefront of promoting disabled women’s rights at the grass roots and structural level. If you
think disabled women are passive service recipients rather than change-makers, you need to look more closely! As several speakers at the forum put it, the vibe in the room was brilliant. It is not very often we all get to come together to share our work and
The day started – after a last minute change of agenda – with an overview by government representatives of disability related policies, followed by a speech by the Minister for Women, Senator the Hon Michaelia Cash. They each noted that
they weren’t telling us anything we didn’t already know… and they were right. There is a lot of work to be done to address the exclusion and disadvantage faced by disabled women in the fields of economic participation, violence prevention, access to disability
supports and the list goes on. Just ask us and we will tell you all about it.
We later broke off into groups each facilitated by a government representative to hear our views on various topics. The topic at my table, posed by NDIA representative Vicki Rundle, was “how can government do better at consulting women
with disabilities?”. The group raised the following issues and suggestions:
Service providers and carers are powerful groups, which can drown out the voices of people with disabilities. We want more disabled women leading the way in decision making roles such as in the NDIA and in other policy areas.
When Ms Rundle told us of the carers with “lived experience” in the NDIA the group quickly pointed out that while carers have important views, these views come from a different position to those of women with disabilities. People
with disabilities – although not homogenous – are a distinct group and the views of carers should never be seen as a substitute. By conflating carer views with those of disabled people, we are rendered invisible. Unless a carer is also is a person with disability,
they do not have “lived experience” of disability. CEO of Advocacy for Inclusion has written about this on
LinkedIn. And we need more women with disabilities represented in these positions, not just men with disabilities.
Women with disabilities need to be resourced to participate in non-disability specific projects as well as disability matters! For example, the development and implementation of the National Plan to Reduce Violence against Women
and their Children.
Information needs to be accessible. That is, easy to find, available in a range of alternative formats, in Easy English as standard, and issues with having written materials regarding the NDIS properly translated to various languages
need to be ironed out.
We have been telling government how to get better at consultation for many, many years but we are not being listened to – we are tired!
The best part of the Forum was of course the panel of women with disabilities. Key points raised by panellists:
The rights of disabled women lack recognition in the mainstream feminist movement – our work continues to fly under the radar or be pushed aside.
The economic situation for disabled women is dismal, yet there are no gender specific measures to address the exclusion of women with disabilities from the workforce.
Women with disabilities are overprotected and prevented from living our own lives, especially in institutional settings where control over our lives can extend to what we wear and when we will eat.
Violence in institutional settings against women with disabilities is often dealt with as a “service issue” and kept out of the justice system.
Disabled people are not granted the same freedoms as non-disabled people to sexual expression and family planning. Disabled people are subject to discriminatory child protection interventions and unnecessary removal of their children.
We need to remember LGBTIQ people with disabilities in our work to advance the sexual and reproductive rights of disabled people.
Aboriginal women with disabilities lack access to culturally appropriate disability services, especially in rural and remote areas. The legacy of colonisation continues, and parents are afraid of having their children assessed
for the NDIS because they fear that their children will be taken from them.
It was a HUGE day and there was so much more covered, which I think could have been spread over two days rather than one – we need more time to get into the nitty gritty; the issues facing women and girls with disabilities are so vast and
varied. WWDA will produce a report on the proceedings, which will be provided to government and disseminated to members and stakeholder networks.
It was a privilege to be there and WWDA did an outstanding job of pulling it all together. If you want to see more about what was discussed at the Forum you can check out coverage by participants on the day by searching #WWDAforum on Twitter.