Issue 10, Summer 1995
Women With Disabilities Australia (WWDA) is the peak organisation for women with all types of disabilities in Australia. It is a not-for-profit organisation constituted and driven by women with disabilities. It is the only organisation of its kind in Australia and one of only a very small number internationally. WWDA is inclusive and does not discriminate against any disability. WWDA is unique, in that it operates as a national disability organisation; a national women’s organisation; and a national human rights organisation.
In This Edition
Chairperson’s Report – by Margaret Cooper
Margaret Cooper was elected at the National Annual General Meeting WWDA’s chairperson for the coming year.
WWDA is growing in leaps and bounds! What we are trying to do is grow an organisation which will represent the wishes and the achievements of women with disabilities, Women with disabilities have been the backbone of many disability groups. But we often haven’t been given credit for what we have done. If you have written any articles or want to tell us about a battle you have won, please do.
WWDA is completely separate from any DPI organisation. The aim of the National Executive Committee is to ensure WWDA is accountable to all the members and approachable. Let’s use our women’s talents for networking, and talking things through whenever you feel an issue needs to be worked on. We want any woman to feel free to question what we are doing, or to suggest a better way of working, or bring an issue to our attention.
Maria from WA brought up a question which is sometimes difficult to answer. When someone says ‘I’m only one person … I’m already in disability groups, why should I join WWDA?”. Off the top of my head I think WWDA is essential to get a fair go for us. There are almost as many women with disabilities as there are men, BUT women with disabilities are institutionalised more than men, we have lower rates of education, training and employment, and we’re less likely to have our own home or receive support from attendant/personal care services. What do you think?
The Road Back From Beijing – by Fiona Srahan
On August 22nd I left Australia for Beijing. I was WWDA’s representative to the 4th UN World Conference on Women. I would be attending the Non Government Organisation Forum and the Governmental Conference. I left Australia to join a group of women travelling for a week prior to the conference. As we travelled we would come across other groups of women from many parts of the world on pre-conference tours, all heading for Beijing. There was a feeling in different parts of China of women from all over the world getting closer and closer to Beijing. It was a wonderful introduction to what was to come.
The journey for many women had started years before in the planning and preparation; mine had begun in late April.
Before leaving to go to Beijing we heard estimates of 35,000 women heading for Beijing. Just knowing that alone made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up with excitement and pride. If all that happened was that that many women turned up in Beijing the world could not be the same again. But women’s intentions were much, much greater and more significant than that.
The Beijing Conference followed previous UN women’s conferences held first in Mexico in 1975, the International Year of Women, followed by Copenhagen in 1980 and Nairobi in 1985. Such conferences have two main groups of participants; the non government organisations and the government delegations. Since the first conference in 1975 women have begun turning up in greater numbers than expected and insisting on participating.
It is hard to describe what being at such a conference was like, but I will try. The theme of the conference was looking at the world through women’s eyes. I know for myself that I can’t see the world in the same way since I have been back and that is both exciting and uncomfortable.
There were at least 250 women at the conference who identified themselves as disabled. There were many other women who had disabilities and I realised that in countries where the population of people with disabilities is so much higher than in Australia, the issue identification is quite different. I was also reminded that our disability is part of our identity, not necessarily the whole.
I met, watched and heard inspiring women. There were women with disabilities from all over the world; the issues were very similar, perhaps with different priorities. Poverty and the lack of economic power would be the most common experience. Women from the US had fundraised at length to provide women with travel and attendants. Other women had saved for years, others like myself had the privilege of being sent. We had all come knowing it would be hard work. Hard work physically in terms of access, and in terms of getting our experiences and issues seen in the political context of issues for all women.
Women from Mobility International organised a symposium for women with disabilities to meet, organise, develop strategies and work for the following weeks. The conference centre at the hotel where the majority of women were staying was like a large tin scout hall. The toilet was a plastic picnic chair over a tin bucket with a sheet hanging up for privacy in the corner of the laundry come storeroom. We barely could all fit in the room. But as I to witnessed throughout the conference that no matter what barriers intentional or not are put up, women always seem to keep doing what we came for and doing it well.
At the symposium we said: “The 21st century is as much a part of us, we are as much a part of women and the 21st century.” It is most important to make disabled women equal partners in women’s liberation.”
About six weeks before the disability symposium organisers were told that the accessible venue for accommodation and symposium was no longer available. It had become apartments. I think the attitude was that if there was no venue then we wouldn’t come to Beijing! It was due to international pressure from a number of countries that a new, apparently accessible venue was found. The venue was 20-30 minutes outside of Beijing and about 2 hours from the NGO Forum site. Women with disabilities staying at the ‘accessible hotel’, had to travel up to 4 hours a day to get to and from the venues.
The buses were not accessible at all and women were lifted on and off them. When women with disabilities were sightseeing they took the portable toilet with them and when a woman needed to use it they would form a circle around the woman.
Non Government Organisation (NGO) Forum
Each day there were hundreds of workshops held at the NGO Forum. The topics covered to everything. There were a number of workshops by women with disabilities or about women with disabilities issues. Reproductive rights was high on the agenda, with disabled women from Japan most active on this due to legislation affecting women and girls with disabilities in particular. There was much interest in the Chinese legislation also. Taiwan, Province of China, is also in the last stages of developing and implementing very similar legislation.
Women with disabilities’, work, economic value and power were taken up by an English group of women with visible and invisible disabilities ‘Winvisible’. They were part of a larger group ‘Women Count, Count Women’s Work’. They had probably the most accurate and articulate analysis of the value of the unpaid contribution of all women to the economy including women with disabilities. At last!
This is just a small example of what was there for and by disabled women.There were workshops I could have gone to from 8am-7pm. But there were other things that required attention and work.
The NGO forum site was controversial from the beginning, because it had been moved from a site near the government conference to a small community out of Beijing. It presented more accessibility problems; we had a disability tent which was grouped with the diversity tents, including the lesbian tent, older women’s tent, grassroots tent in the furthermost, muddiest spot. Marginalised diversity!
We spent too much time having to fight for our access, we lobbied for the disability tent and the older women’s tent to be moved, eventually the disability tent was moved, but not the older women’s tent. We had peaceful demonstrations about access and participation. It took us away from our work.
What was our work?
The Draft Platform for Action is the document written and negotiated at various ‘prepcoms’ held around the world and at the Commision on the Status of Women before the Conference. It is the central document negotiated at the conference. It is divided into sections including the mission statement, declaration, framework, critical areas of concern, strategies and actions, financial arrangements and institutional arrangements. The critical areas of concern are, equally:
- The persistent and growing burden of poverty on women;
- Inequality in access to education, health and related services and other means of maximising the use of women’s capacities;
- Violence against women;
- Effects of armed or other kinds of conflict on women;
- Inequality in women’s access to and participation in the definition of economic structures and policies and the productive process itself;
- Inequality between men and women in the sharing of power and decision-making at all levels;
- Insufficient mechanisms at all levels to promote the advancement of women;
- Lack of awareness of, and commitment to, internationally and nationally recognised women’s rights;
- Insufficient use of mass media to promote women’s positive contributions to society; and
- Lack of adequate recognition and support for womens’s contribution to managing natural resources and safeguarding the environment.
In Beijing, the government delegations at the conference had to vote on the areas in the draft platform that had not yet been agreed upon at the pre conference meetings. A UN Conference requires agreement through consensus, which means that controversial areas often result in either very prolonged and difficult discussions, or delegations allowing the decision to be made but having noted their objection and non-compliance.
Unlike many previous UN documents, women and girls with disabilities were included throughout the document rather than in a paragraph at the end. WWDA and other women with disabilities organisations or committees had all contributed through their Government delegations and disability caucuses to have areas of concern reflect the experiences of women with disabilities as well as the strategies actually pertain to us. However by the time Beijing came round there were still many areas to work on and have included in the Platform for Action.
Women at the conference formed caucuses around specific issues or communities of women. Such caucuses included women of colour caucus, indigenous women’s caucus, disability caucus, lesbian caucus, human rights caucus, East European caucus and older womens caucus. There were at least 25 caucuses meeting each day.
Most of us worked through the disability caucus which came together at 2pm each day. We had little trouble agreeing on the issues and priorities. There were some interesting dynamics surrounding the role of international groups and smaller national womens organisations. WWDA was one of only three women with disabilities organisations attending the caucus, the other two were from Africa and England. The rest were either DPI, World Blind Union or other disability rights organisations.
In the caucus we identified the work we had done. WWDA had been very active in work prior to the conference and I went to Beijing with a number of proposals that Sue Davenport and I had worked on for the Draft Platform for Action. The disability caucus produced a ‘cut and paste’ lobbying document and we went off to different government representatives and delegations to get them to support our recommendations. We also attended other caucuses to ensure disability issues could get up in other issues based groups.
The accessibility issues at the forum and the conference made our visibility difficult yet with the continual raising of the issues we have I think added to the “not yet disabled” womens understanding of the politics of disability and women. The hope is that these women will take up disability issues and be inclusive of disabled women when they return to their counties.
At times, the accessibility issues seemed like they would take over, and that women with disabilities would be remembered by our fight to get in to the conference, not what we contributed to it. This line began to be pushed loudly and publicly and has resulted in some of the best consciousness raising of able bodied women throughout the world.
We worked with women on other government delegations to try to get them to take up our issues on the platform. With some we were successful. Because the Disability Caucus was so small we had a shift of women who could go into the meetings where lobbying could take place. Quite a number of Government delegations had women with disabilities on them, including Sth Africa, Sudan, Ethiopia, and the USA. Certainly something that should be taken up in the future.
- Many, many women throughout the world now have a good consciousness of disability, including many Australian women, (including Carmen Lawrence!).
- We were eventually very visible and loud given the barriers.
- We got some changes to the draft platform.
- We made links and shared a lot of what we do and how we do it.
- We went there and contributed.
- We were challenging and were challenged.
- We learnt more about international politics.
- We were part of the international community of women.
- There is much more to tell, positive and negative and I am writing a report which will be available at the end of the year.
If you would like to have contact with me further about details form Beijing I can be contacted by phone: (053) 486591 or fax: (053) 486591 or e-mail: email@example.com
Reports From Around the States
Victorian Women with Disabilities Network
In Victoria, the Victorian Women with Disabilities Network has undergone a couple of changes. Recently a ‘new look’ newsletter was sent out to the members, as well as a questionnaire, to find out the views of the women in the network. Basically it would help out in finding out what direction the group should go and the expectations of the network.
A membership form was also put together. We now have a membership of 257+ women. Seventeen new members just joined in the last three weeks! dy Rafferty is our new acting treasurer, who is a great help in keeping our accounts in order.
The Victorian Women with Disabilities Health Project is moving on full steam ahead. A questionnaire (one of the means of collecting information) was recently piloted at a workshop for women with disabilities in September, where changes were made and is now in process of being finalised to be distributed. A brochure has also been designed to advertise the project and the Victorian Women with Disabilities Network. are also still, after months of correcting our constitution, in the final stages to be incorporated.
As you can see, we have been quite active and involved in Victoria. Until next time!
Just a short note from Perth. Things are starting to look positive for the Women’s Network here in the West. We have now got a full Steering Committee, and our membership has increased mainly due to our advertising in local organisations’ magazines. We have received our first small grant from Soundworks. Many thanks Soundworks!! This will help us with hire of the hall, and mail outs. Best wishes to you all for the coming festive season and here’s looking forward to progress in 1996.
Women With Disabilities (ACT)
We are becoming stronger and more recognised in the community. Much of this is due to WWDA including us in invitations to meetings that may assist us. At our last meeting Helen, Development Officer, joined us. As a result of her assistance we now have a free meeting hall at the Pensioners’ Recreation and Social Club. We each join the Club and then have the right to meet in the Club rooms.
Work on making refuges accessible continues slowly, but as negotiations develop the public servants become more aware of the need to provide equal access for women with disabilities and their needs are being better understood by a wider group of people working in the area either on policy or in the refuges themselves. Also our knowledge of refuge administration is developing.
The recently elected Chief Minister of the ACT agreed to attend a consultation with people with. There was remarkably good assembly because we received cab charges from the Government. Many issues were raised which will be presented to the Chief Minister. One excellent aspect of the consultation was that it did not include service providers; they had a separate meeting. I understand there was not the same atmosphere of anger and frustration at the service providers’ meeting.
Recently five members of WWDA attended the launch of the Women’s Emergency Services Network of Australia (WESNET) at Parliament House. We met the disability representative, Madge Scehira, who lives in Townsville. While I spoke with her others of our party were urging two other WESNET Committee members to understand the extent of the needs of women with disabilities who cannot get access to refuges.
I will end my report by wishing everybody a wonderful Christmas and peace in 1996.
Northern Territory News
A disability sports association has just commenced in the NT, hoping to bring together members of various sporting groups that cater for disabled members. Some office bearers are still being sought (so what’s new?).
The Northern Territory was well represented at the recent Abilympics held in Perth in September 95, and brought home several medals. A group of 14, including competitors, carers and officials attended. Three young women from the Secondary Transition Program of the Education Dept competed in dressmaking, cooking, and floral arrangements (which won a bronze medal). Several women from Bathurst Island demonstrated their skills in lino block printing, and attracted a lot of interest and media publicity in their creations of T shirts and cushion covers, but no prize. A silver medal was won in the cooking competition.
The NT council for volunteering is developing a volunteer access project, to encourage organisations to actively involve people with disabilities in volunteer projects. As a pilot project there is much ground work to be done in training, access and support and other essential issues.
The Northern Territory University is holding a ‘take a good look’ campaign during October. This campaign aims to challenge staff and students at NTU to look at their attitudes towards people with disabilities. Examination of physical accessibility of buildings on all campuses, child care centres and services provided by sporting groups and clubs. This is a great breakthrough in keeping with the growth of NTU, which recently hosted the Australian Universities Games for approximately 5000 students! No mention of whether any disabled sporties made a mark.
Profile: Kali Wilde – By Joan Hume
National Thalidomide Network Established
The possibility of a repeat of an episode similar to the shameful Thalidomide drug scandal of the early 60’s still strikes terror in the hearts of many women experiencing or contemplating pregnancy. Widely prescribed then for relief of morning sickness (and in countries like Germany put into cough medicine, aspirin and sold over the counter with no prescription or records kept) Thalidomide, if taken during 15 critical days in the early development of the unborn child, resulted in considerable damage to all bodily organs but most obviously arms and legs.
World wide there are approximately 12,000 men and women affected by Thalidomide and in Australia about 50 known survivors, according to W.W.D.A. member Kali Wilde, herself Thalidomide affected. Now in her early 30’s, Kali has become a powerful and articulate advocate for the rights of people with similarly disabled. She has just returned from an international conference in Sweden run by and for people Thalidomide affected (United International Thalidomides – UNITH) and established a support network in Australia with the aim of holding a national conference here in the near future. The network aims to reach anyone affected by the drug or with a comparable disability such as those with genetic syndromes which cause an almost identical condition e.g. Holt Oram, TAR, Femur-Fibula Ulna syndromes.
The Swedish conference covered issues such as sexuality, relationships, motherhood, parenting with a disability, body image and self esteem. Given that the disability mostly involves bodily deformity many participants explored feelings of shame and embarrassment especially in moments of intimacy like undressing in front of a family member or lover/partner. A major issue for the majority of Thalidomide survivors as they reach their 30s is increasing levels of pain and mobility restrictions as joints deteriorate from compensatory over-use.
“Simple daily tasks like washing your hair, cooking, peeling vegetables are getting harder and harder for us. How do you deal with all that, how do you balance all that when you can’t get enough home help or attendant care, does your partner have to take over more responsibilities, how do you maintain quality in that relationship when each of your roles is changing because of physical deterioration?” asks Kali.
These questions have particular relevance in Australia where there are many gaps and anomalies in benefits and service provision for people with limb deficiencies. Sales tax exemptions on the purchase of motor vehicles, Kali points out, are widely available to people with polio, spinal injury, MS and other mobility disabilities but not available to people with arm disabilities except those injured in war. Home care services are difficult to access by people like Kali because their disability is perceived as being less severe than others, that they should be cared for by relatives, and because asserts Kali: ” There’s also the impression – even in disability circles – that we’re quite wealthy because we got compensation but what we got is minimal, quite paltry.” These anomalies Kali hopes to address through the Thalidomide Network.
Another issue raised at the conference which Kali found extremely disturbing and upsetting was a hierarchy of social acceptability of particular disabilities. Some participants claimed that they would go out with people with one type of disability but not another.
“I think that’s really dangerous,” says Kali, “All those hierarchies exist out there in the world. Within a conference where everyone is affected by thalidomide, I don’t think we should be cueing into those hierarchies. I think we need to be redefining them not constructing them….. I just felt it was outrageous. To me, they were saying they would only go out with that person for their arms not the whole person. Not for their ideas, their mind, their attitude to life, their interests, who they were. It’s like only the arms mattered. And I thought: I’m not just my arms; yes my arms are part of me and that’s part of the whole me. I’m a whole person; I’m not just this person who is cut up into little bits and only one bit matters. That’s what the medical profession does to you, that’s how doctors see: two short arms.”
Thalidomide is still in use today experimentally in countries like Britain, the USA and Australia to treat – ironically – what used to be the drug’s bad side effects. As it can reduce the size of blood vessels, Thalidomide is used to prevent fast growing tumours from spreading, to alleviate blindness caused by diabetes, massive ulceration of the mouth, genitals and digestive tracts and to assist in the prevention of rejection of newly transplanted organs like hearts and lungs. In places like Brazil it’s used to treat leprosy and is being sold over the counter without prescription and with no warnings on the label so babies are still being born there to this day affected by the drug.
Kali believes that the moral dilemma posed by the reintroduction of the drug under controlled circumstances is mitigated by the relief it gives to otherwise incurable medical conditions. But its use in Brazil is criminally reprehensible and the United Nations’ medical teams negligent in preventing its spread. In Germany when babies first began being born with the effects of the drug (an estimated 5,000) there was considerable anecdotal evidence of infanticide. Similarly in Britain, some families are known to have smothered their disabled babies. Such was the official incompetence in dealing with tragedy that Kali tells of a mother who had given birth to a baby with no arms and was sent home from hospital without knowing about her baby’s disability until she gave him his first bath at home.
Attitudes may be changing slowly but there is still the challenge of more far-reaching societal acceptance. Kali hopes that the Thalidomide Network will help bring about that change.
The Thalidomide Network
PO Box 3066
Bellevue NSW 2023
ph: (02) 265 6506
National Annual General Meeting – by Helen Skeat
August 5th was a landmark day for Women With Disabilities Australia, as the inaugural National Annual General Meeting was held. This was the first time that the Steering Committee and members of WWDA had come together in one place as an independent organisation. We have come a long way since the Women’s Network of Disabled People’s International (Australia) was first formed in 1985!
State groups and representatives
Three State organisations were officially accepted as the WWDA State groups or bodies. These were: WWD(ACT), Victorian Network of Women With disabilities, and WWD(WA). One of the goals set by the meeting was to establish State groups and bodies in all States by the end of 1996, and the Development Officer was given the role of facilitating this with a visit to each State.
The National Executive Committee
Until the National Annual General Meeting, WWDA had been operating with a ‘Steering Committee’ made up of 10 women from around Australia who were interested and committed to getting WWDA going. The Meeting formed WWDA’s first official ‘National Executive Committee’ to replace the old Steering Committee.
The National Executive Committee is still in its early stages. Each of the three State groups had elected a representative to sit on the Committee – these were Maria McGrath (WA), Lina Pane (Vic) and Diana Palmer (ACT). Other members of the National Executive Committee were ‘co-opted’ on to the Committee, as there are no official groups in those States yet to officially elect them. They are: Margaret Cooper (Vic), Joyce Deering (NT), Terry Fletcher (NSW), Joan Hume (NSW), Rae Hurrell (Qld), Melissa Madsen (SA), Robyn Wilkinson (Tas). By the next National Annual General Meeting, most States should be represented on the National Executive Committee by officially elected representatives!
Eventually the National Executive Committee will also include representatives from up to six disability organisations.
Election of office bearers
Office bearers from within the National Executive Committee were elected fairly early on in the two day meeting, and Margaret Cooper was elected as the first official ‘Chair’ of WWDA; Rae Hurrell is our first Treasurer. The position of Secretary was created, and Melissa Madsen from South Australia was elected. The position of Vice Chair remains open, and a postal vote will be held among the National Executive Committee over the coming months.
Several resolutions were passed to make the administration of WWDA more efficient and more accountable. These included things such as defining the amount of money which can be spent without agreement of members of the executive ($500.00).
Membership fees were also set – a membership form is on the back page of this issue of WWDA News. After much discussion, it was decided to set the fees at $5.00 for full members, $20.00 for organisations, and $5.00 for associate members. It was also decided that fees could be waived, and that people applying for membership would decide themselves whether or not they could afford the fees.
Planning and goals
Even after working through a very full agenda for two days, there was a little time left for some planning for the next year of WWDA activities. One of the difficult things about being a national organisation working on a limited budget is that there is not much time together to do planning, or set specific goals. However, we attempted to do in an hour what we would have liked to have months and tens of thousands of dollars to do. There were a multitude of ideas for goals over the next year, and some strategies for achieving them were worked out. The goals were:
- By the end of 1996 WWDA will have State bodies or groups formed in each State.
- WWDA should maintain representation on the Australian Building Codes Board.
- WWDA should maintain representation on the Building Access Policy Committee.
- WWDA should increase membership by 20 per cent.
- Organisational policy and procedures should be developed.
- WWDA will foster links with groups of women with disabilities in other countries.
- WWDA will establish a two-way, efficient, well targeted, communication system within the organisation.
- WWDA will encourage, assist and advocate for women to be on advisory committees etc.
- WWDA will undertake promotion of the organisation and community awareness of issues for women with disabilities.
- WWDA will promote and undertake quality analysis, research and debate.
- WWDA will develop strategies and consultation with women from non-English speaking backgrounds, Aboriginal women, isolated and remote areas, aged women and other such groups.
- WWDA will foster links with mainstream women’s organisations and other disability groups.
- WWDA will promote positive issues of women with disabilities in the media.
These goals and strategies provide a framework for work over the coming year. Already they have been discussed and refined by the National Executive Committee. As the Development Officer visits the States, more feedback and discussion should be possible, and if anyone has any feedback or comments, please let us know. Some (such as numbers 2 and 3) have already been achieved! Other goals are long term and complex. They are a vital first step in WWDA becoming an effective representative of women with disabilities in Australia.
National Caucus of Disability Consumer Organisations – by Di Manning
An exciting move for Women With Disabilities Australia has been joining the National Caucus of Disability Consumer Organisations. Di Manning, convener, explains what the Caucus is and what it does:
The demise of DPI(Australia) was the catalyst for the formation of a new network of disability consumer organisations this year. Hitherto, disability peak body organisations had been brought together at regular intervals for the purposes of networking and liaising collectively with government through the Disability Peak Body Forum which was a tripartite network of organisations initially coordinated and organised by the Office of Disability. It involved service providers (through ACROD), government (Office of Disability) and national disability peak bodies. From time to time broader community and welfare organisations were involved as observers – for example ACOSS, and the Federation of Ethnic Councils of Australia.
In 1994, DPI (Australia) took over from the Office of Disability as the coordinator of the Disability Peak Body Forum meetings. But then DPI (Australia) ran into some serious financial problems as a result of its responsibilities for the World Congress of DPI in Sydney last year, and was, tragically for people with disabilities, forced to wind up.
DPI (Australia)’s responsibilities for both the Peak Body Forum and the work it had previously done of an umbrella nature within the disability sector were suddenly left unattended to, and peak bodies were confronted with a huge range of tasks which required coordinated and cooperative attention to attend to. So after a lengthy period of debate and negotiation with government about funding to support such work, I am pleased to advise that now a new network of disability consumer-directed incorporated national organisations has been formed to fill this void.
It is called the National Caucus of Disability Consumer Organisations, and it brings together on a regular basis the Executive Officers of such organisations. At the first meeting of this Caucus, I was elected to be the inaugural Convener of this network for a period of 12 months.
The Terms of Reference for the Caucus are to be a proactive network at the Federal level of national, consumer-led and incorporated disability organisations, in which each disability sector shall have one representative, for the purposes of:
- information sharing and networking
- collective campaign action on issues affecting people with disabilities
- being a forum in which issues of mutual importance can be raised and discussed
- facilitating vertical information flow
- responding to requests for disability sector consumer representation
We’ve Arrived – by Jenny Heckendorf
Last issue, Jenny Heckendorf wrote of the struggle she and her husband had been through to secure appropriate housing. Jenny takes up the story again…….
“Finally, on July 29th at 3.30 sharp, we picked up the keys to our ‘new’ home in Curtin, Canberra. Like a pair of kids with a new toy, we took our keys straight around to the new house to have a peek. We spent the evening back at our old home in Lyons, planning where to put everything.
At 7 am the next morning we awoke bleary eyed, excited yet almost oblivious to the complexity of the day to come. Throughout the day we had half a dozen friends helping us move. I stayed at Lyons ‘with the girls’ trying to get a little order in to t he many boxes before they were taken away and dumped at our Curtin house by our husbands.
Not everything was perfect. Things such as flooring, grab rails, door lock and minor electrical problems had to be attended to. Over the next month we liaised closely with the builders contracted by the Housing Trust to ensure things were satisfactory. From the moment I arrived three months ago I felt at home. Our new home is light, sunny and roomy. The neighbours in Peacock Place are all friendly and we know we will both be contented here.”
Before Action came
I had to strain
and staying home was one big strain
No life for me
I had no glee
I waited all year for the Christmas Tree
A bus, it did improve
Yes my chair I could move
Boy, it was a groove
Even though for only one at a time
Action made the sunshine
It was a start that warmed my heart
United Nations 50th Anniversary
This year and month the world is celebrating this important anniversary.
Women with disabilities owe a debt to this organisation for its recognition of their rights and responsibilities as people and as citizens. There are several international agreements which have assisted us to participate in all aspects of Australian life in a way that was unknown only a few decades ago.
There is the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the establishment of the Human Rights Commission and the Declaration on the Rights of People with Disabilities. These agreements and the International Year of Disabled Persons have resulted in the establishment of the Australian Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission and the enactment of the Disability Discrimination Act.
All these initiatives, together with the International Covenant on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women, have given us an understanding of the focus it will have and the way in which it is managed.
Update on Housing – by Diana Currie
The September Supported Accommodation Assistance Program (SSAP) News reported the development of a new data collection system which is to be implemented by July next year. The system is to assist in establishing the number of people using SAAP services, the level of unmet need, the performance of a program against expected outcomes.
The Australian Bureau of Statistics has conducted a Data Pilot Survey of 182 SAAP services. according to Brian Howe, the new SAAP will extend its services to include “access to education and training, labour market assistance, health and community services and of course, access to long-term secure housing.”
These are very positive and progressive innovations, and WWDA will continue to participate in the developments in order to ensure that the needs and rights of women with disabilities are taken into account as part of the mainstream planning process. If you have been involved in housing issues, and if you have any thoughts on this, I’d like to hear from you. The more information we can provide in our submissions, the greater the impact we will have on policy development in this very important program.
WWDA has conducted research into refuges in the ACT in order to establish which are physically accessible, which have the capacity to sustain women with disabilties once they have gained access, and which have the capacity to accommodate women with intellectual and psychiatric disabilities. We were dismayed by our findings, and discussions with women from other states around Australia indicate that the situation for women with disabilities in need of emergency accommodation is as dire as it is in the ACT. We found that only one refuge is physically accessible, but women would have to go around the back of the house (via an inaccessible side gate!) and through the laundry to get to the living areas. Once inside, there are an accessible bathroom and toilet, but none of the other facilities, like the kitchen and laundry, for example, are accessible to women with mobility and/or sensory disabilities.
We also found that none of the refuges accept women who are not self-managing. This means that women who need assistance with personal care have no access to emergency accommodation. They are, therefore, forced to stay in the environment from which they need to escape. The other alternative is hospitalisation, which is usually unnecessary, inappropriate and adds to the frustrations of an already difficult situation.
One of the main difficulties is the fact that there is no co-ordinated method for providing personal care services to women with disabilities in refuges. Refuge workers have insufficient knowledge of how to go about securing such services, particulalry in the middle of the night when most crises seem to occur. Obtaining the right service – and the right level of service – frequently also depends on the mood of the person on the other end of the phone: they can provide or withhold relevant information at their discretion. This is without doubt an intolerable situation.
We were delighted to find that refuge workers and members of the Women’s Services Network (WESNET) are very concerned about the lack of emergency accommodation for women with disabilities, and they have assured us that they will do all they can to help effect changes. We have also had very productive discussions with the director and other members of the ACT’s Community Programs, Department of Housing and Regional Development, and other relevant government departments.
They have made a verbal commitment to channelling CAP funds into modifying existing dwellings. They have also promised to develop and implement training programmes designed to raise refuge workers’ sensitivity of disability issues, help them access personal care services, keep adequate records (in line with the new SAAP data collection system), and minimise the stress for all concerned. There will also be training programmes for personal care providers to ensure their understanding of the high need for confidentiality and privacy of residents in emergency accommodation.
We are hopeful that the development of these programmes will begin very soon, with members of WWDA (ACT) as part of the advisory group at all stages of planning, implementation and evaluation. Of course, we would like to see similar progress made in every state and territory of Australia. We have already made a submission to that effect to the Commonwealth/State Disability Agreement Review, and we hope that these issues are taken into account when the new agreement is being drawn up.
We also want to extend our research on the availability and accessibility of refuges and public housing for women with disabilities right across Australia. I would like a group of approximately five women from various states/territories who have an interest in this topic, or who have had some experience, and who have time and energy to form a subcommittee to investigate this. Now is the most opportune time for WWDA to make a major contribution towards the inclusion of women with disabilities in government policy planning.
Fourth International Abilympics Conference
Perth 1- 3 September, 1995
Early in September I was invited to represent the Victorian Women with Disabilities Network, at the Abilympics Conference in Perth, by presenting a paper on women with disabilities. The paper was called “Women – Moving Beyond the Disability”.
The paper was based on the disadvantages women with disabilities face, by focusing on the inequality between men and women with disabilities in the sharing of power and decision making, and the insufficient levels of promotion of the advancement of women. The paper gave the audience an understanding of the situation of women with disabilities, but more importantly provided a move towards the advancement of women with disabilities. How? By supporting the grass roots of women based organisations, throughout Australia and overseas.
After the presentation, many questions were asked and interest shown in the report “Emerging from the Shadows”, produced by the Victorian Women with Disabilities Network and of course Women with Disabilities Australia. The conference overall was quite successful and there was quite a range of subjects covered over the three days, with speakers from all over the world.
It was a great personal experience and an opportunity to network with other women. Some of the speakers that I got a chance to see and hear, were Robyn Munford, Moira Rayner – two key speakers and Asha Bajpai, a woman from India who gave an interesting presentation on the current status of disability legislation and advocacy for women with disabilities in India.
Accessible Transport – The European Experience
The presenters of this seminar, Ann Frye of the UK Department of Transport, and Andrew Braddock of London Transport, gave a lively account of the various attempts made in London to provide a transport system accessible to all travellers, whether in wheelchairs, using walking sticks, long canes, accompanied by guide dogs or pushing prams. They noted that, as well as human rights considerations, there is an economic impetus to the search for accessible transport. It is estimated that there are around 50 million people in the European Union who have some type of disability. Many of these are older people with income and leisure to travel. The city which can offer good accessible public transport, can tap into a huge tourist market.
The search for an accessible London bus began about ten years ago and the first attempts resulted in some ugly and awkward hoists and pulleys, which suspended the hapless passengers and their wheelchairs in mid air for several agonising seconds, before dumping then in the rear of the bus. Understandably, London’s wheelchair users were none too impressed with this mode of transport. Various kinds of ramps were trialed unsucsesfully, and building up curbs at bus stops was considered and rejected.
In the meantime, London Transport developed specialised services to address the needs of people with disabilities, while searching for a viable technology to provide access to mainstream transport. These services are still operating in parallel to regular bus and train services.
Dial-a-ride picks up people at their doors and transports then to shopping centres etc.. However, there is no provision for spontaneous outings as passengers need to book a considerable time in advance. The Mobility Bus is small and is designed to accommodate ‘less agile’ passengers. It travels along regular bus routes but is a specialised service, mainly patronised by people with disabilities and somewhat isolated from mainstream transport. Stationlink, a small accessible bus, runs between two main London railway stations and is very well patronised. It was noted that because the bus had a generic name like Stationlink, it wasn’t thought of as a specialised service and this contributed to its popularity.
The real breakthrough has been low floor buses on all regular passenger routes. Low floor buses have been operating in Germany and the Netherlands since the mid 1980s, and are now being adopted in other European cities. Over 5,000 low floor buses have now been produced, together with low floor trams and trolley cars.
Their principal feature is the kneeling suspension, which can be lowered as the bus stops. The low step and flat interior makes the bus accessible to 95% of travellers. A small ramp at the rear door accommodates wheelchairs and pushers, These buses also have an interior decor that emphasises colour contrasts, tactile strips at entrances etc. Trials of the low floor bus began in 1993. It is estimated that about 25% of London buses will soon be low floor, but it will be some years yet before the majority of the fleet is fully accessible.
One feature of the London transport system that is worth mentioning is the Disabled Persons Transport Advisory Committee, which advises the Government on the transport needs of people with disabilities. This group detailed specification for accessible transport. Such a body is an excellent watchdog on the activities of transport authorities and a similar arrangement might well be adopted by Australian state government transport departments.
The seminar has given me a better idea of what to look for when examining proposals for accessible buses in Australia. On a lighter note I now have a large print map of the London Tube. Should I make it to the UK I will be able to find my way to places with strange an intriguing names like Canary Wharf, Heron Quay, Dolls Hill, Parson’s Green, Barking and Barkingside!!!
‘She’s a train and she’s dangerous: Women alone in the 1990s’
Edited by Lizz Murphy, Literary Mouse Press, 360 pages, $24.95.
This book is like an enormous box of chocolates, full of delicious surprises, a few old favourites, and lots of variety. You can start anywhere, pick one out, savour its contents. Alternatively, you can explore the index of titles and choose one that really intrigues you and makes you impatient with anticipation. The title She’s a train – the story on which the title for the collection is based – fascinated me enough to want to read it first, and for me it set the tone of the book as such: the story tells of loneliness and tearing grief, of great terror and numbing self-doubt. But it also presents a picture of love and friendship, of courage and determination, of the passionate embracing of new experiences, and of the sheer joy of living. Many of the works are harrowing, since women are writing about some of their darkest experiences and about their great and continuing struggles to gain control of their own lives, their own thoughts, even, as they battle against the label of madness, but they are also writing about their moving on from those experiences.
She’s a train and she’s dangerous is a collection of stimulating stories, poems and autobiographical cameos as well as thought-provoking cartoons, caricatures, etchings woodcuts and other artworks contributed by Australian women. This anthology reflects the great diversity among women which is shaped by their varying backgrounds, life experiences, attitudes and perspectives. The contributors are mainly writers, though some had not had anything published before, and their writing styles are as varied as the contents of their work. I enjoyed the biographical notes about the authors which offer information about who they are, where they are at, why they write. This glimpse into the authors’ lives enabled me to put their writing into perspective, thus creating a background against which to place their work, and forming a bond between reader and author.
The central theme of being alone in the nineties is presented in a variety of ways ranging from the metaphysical to the point blank, from the matter-of fact to the confrontational. Some of the work will make you smile, like Barbara O’Brien’s cartoons; others will hurt your heart as you empathise with the writer’s pain and distress, like in Ruby Langford Ginibi’s The awakening. Others still will make you wince with the recognition that being a woman can be as Kathleen Dzubiel describes it in Examination and Wominhood.
Apart from the central motif – which in itself is given a myriad of interpretations – there are other recurring themes throughout this anthology. The most prominent one is that of friendship among women – mothers, sisters, daughters, friends – and of the strength and support they lend each other, the love they have for each other.
The theme of disability and its effects underpins a number of the stories. For example, Melinda Smith (whose delightful poem Wet Lips was published in the August 1994 edition of WWDA’s newsletter and is included in this book), in Fear is a handicap, laments her vulnerability which she attributes to “society, our world…this community”, not to her wheelchair and her disability. She says that “it would be easy to give up, and lock the door behind me.” She doesn’t, though; instead, she moves on.
Merril Cook who was born deaf and has “won international prizes and a short story competition for … writing on deafness” tells us that she is “now trying to move beyond this, to tap into emotions that are relevant to the human condition everywhere.” Her contribution, Deaf and female, outlines her often distressing, confusing and frustrating journey looking for her ‘place’ and acknowledging her desire to be a writer. At the end of her account she has come to realise that she need not be all things to all people, that “I need only struggle for the right to be different and respected for it, to be not just deaf and female, but to be myself. To be an artist in the chaotic nineties, I need only try…” And in that thought she is at one with the other contributors.
You won’t like every story nor every image in this book, but all of them will make you think and feel.
17 – 19 November 1995
“National Women’s Health Conference” co-hosted by WEL Australia and Australian Women’s Health Network Inc.
Enquiries: Ms Julie McCarron-Benson:
GPO Box 432 Canberra ACT 2601
Tel: (06) 239 6212; Fax (06) 239 6328
Saturday 18 November 1995
“Women Writing – Views & Prospects 1975-1995” a National Library of Australia seminar arranged to commemorate the 20th anniversary of International Women’s Year.
Enquiries: Lynette Pullin:
Women Writing; 1975-1995
Cultural and Education Services, National Library of Australia, Canberra ACT 2600
Ph: (06) 262 1271; Fax (06) 273 4493
22 – 24 November 1995
“ACROD Convention and AGM”, Wrest Point, Hobart, Tasmania
Contact: Sheila Jarmain, Executive Officer,
ACROD Tasmanian Division,
Hampden House Community Centre,
82 Hampden Road, Battery Point, TAS 7004;
Tel (002) 236086; Fax (002) 23 6136.
26 – 28 January 1996
“Women’s Rights – Human Rights” Women’s Electoral Lobby National Conference
University of Technology Sydney, 702 Harris St, Broadway
Contact: Conference Secretariat:
Women’s Electoral Lobby (NSW)
66 Albion St, Surry Hills, NSW 2010;
Tel (02) 212 4374; Fax (02) 281 7492.
22 – 26 April 1996
“6th International Interdisciplinary Congress on Women”
University of Adelaide and University of South Australia
Contact: Conference Secretariat, Festival City Conventions
PO Box 986,
Kent Town, South Australia 5071
Tel (08) 365 1307; Fax (08) 363 1604.
2 – 4 May 1996
“I.D.E.A.S. Inc Expo ’96” Albury Convention and Performing Arts Centre, Swift St, Albury.
For further information or brochures telephone: Toll Free 1800 02 99 04.
3 – 14 June 1996
“Habitat 11: United Nations Conference on Human Settlements”, Istanbul, Turkey
The subject being ‘housing and shelter for all’. WWDA has been asked to contribute to a paper on ‘women and housing’.
If you would like to contribute to the paper you can contact Diana or Helen at WWDA.
Tel no: 06 242 1310; TTY: 06 242 1313; Fax 06 242 1314.
8 – 10 November 1996
“Living With The Late Effects Of Polio”, Sydney
This conference aims to: provide a forum for polio survivors; create an awareness and understanding in the community about living with the late effects of polio; learn strategies to manage the late effects of polio; provide mutual suport to people living with the late effects of polio; and focus attention on the invisibility of the polio community. It will include discussion of gender specific issues.
For more information contact Jean Skuse, Conference Coordinator,
PO Box 1387, Rozelle NSW 2039.
Tel no: (02) 810 7846