Issue 13, Winter 1997

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

Message from the Chair – Margaret Cooper

Letters to the Editor

Violence Against Women With Disabilities

Women With Disabilities and Domestic Violence

Trauma Workshops

The Lesbian and Gay Anti Violence Project in New South Wales

Women working alongside Women With Intellectual and Learning Disabilities

Human Rights and Freedom from Abuse Committee

Lurline Beeston – A Tribute

News from the States

VENUS – A Group for Women with Disabilities

Sexual assault and women with intellectual disability

Membership and Development Report 1997

Making Rights Count: Services for People with a Disability

Women in Industry and Community Health

Disability Support Pensioners

Book Review and new Publications

International News

Coming Events

Message from the Chair – by Margaret Cooper

On International Women’s Day I was in Hobart and attended a breakfast speech by Janine Haines at the Casino. Janine Haines talked about the need for women to demand a share of the political action and bring female ways of working into positions of power. That’s not so easy is it? Women think laterally, we are flexible in decision making by changing or modifying decisions if new information becomes available, we are excellent at understanding other’s point of view, and we are great at team-working.

So I shouldn’t have been surprised that the Tasmanian women tried a different approach to building a network. Robin Wilkinson has been involved with women’s rights for decades. She decided to launch WWDA (Tasmania) after she had approached leading women and female politicians to see if they would support WWDA (Tas). Robin invited them to the meeting as well and they attended, poured tea, passed scones and talked with us.

Another different approach was taken by Kali Wilde who delivered a very challenging paper on the experiences of women with disabilities to the conference ‘Disputing Families – Families, The Law and Access to Justice’. She referred to mistaken beliefs about women with disabilities which often lead to wrong decisions about their abilities and rights and in a way blame women with disabilities for “other people’s bigoted attitudes and discriminatory behaviour.”

WWDA is very involved on working on violence towards women with disabilities, the end result of bigotry, and you will see from Helen’s report we have a very strong interest in getting these issues addressed.

Letters to the Editor

In our last Newsletter we published the first part of a letter by Therese marie Lampe. In this letter, Therese describes her grief and age at having her reproductive organs removed at the age of 12 – before she had commenced menstruation. his brutal and completely useless operation was carried out on the recommendation of a female medical specialist for the convenience of Therese’s carers. The following is an edited continuation of the letter. We would love to hear from other women who have experienced similar treatment. We thank Therese for having the courage to speak out so frankly and honestly about such a devastating and barbaric experience.

“….As I got older things got more difficult. I was born into a very religious family, Catholic at that, which…is a major headache for those of us who are unable to have children. In 1980 my family and I moved to a different parish. We were all happier where we were living but the new parish made me feel so unwanted in the Catholic Church and in society itself. As my parents felt more comfortable in this parish, they became more active and involved and so did the rest of the family. There was much discussion about church law and various roles. Because of this I could no longer partake in any of the church’s activities…..I feel that the church won’t fully accept those of us not able to have children, I believe in God but not in the Church itself: it’s too one sided and doesn’t practice what it preaches.

That is why it is basically impossible to talk to my family about this. religion has a great hold on people, particularly about sex. I do believe that my parents blame themselves for a lot of things……now that I am older I can understand and appreciate that it has been difficult for them and that they acted on advice given to them by ‘the bitch’ due to society’s view tow3ards those of us who are disabled. Though my folks re very liberal minded in many ways they were often pushed into things beyond their control. In 1986 I was lucky enough to start work. This for me was a wonderful thing and has given me so much. It also made me realise that what actually happened to me was a form of rape. A persons sexuality is something that a majority of people take fort granted. But for people like myself or others who have had terrible sexual encounters, it is a terrible thing. It hits so hard what I have actually missed out on: the joys and experiences of what a woman goes through every month and expectations of starting a family. I’ve missed out on everything. While I was at school I guess it was a cushion for me. Though the girls laughed at me and I learned quickly not to join in things, it was easy to change the subject to other things I could join in. But at work it is different and I am learning so much. Until I started working I had not been able to experience much of the ‘outside’ work although my family included me in as much of everyday life as possible. After all these years I still feel I’m not able to join in certain topics and the pain is unspeakable. When a person, man or woman, discovers they are about to become parents, its a living hell (for me). The men count down the days to when they are new fathers, the women go through the stages of their pregnancy, comparing their body as it is now when they are pregnant, to what it may become like after. There are not words to describe what this is like for me. Its hard enough to cope with not having the chance to have children but when it comes to others talking about their bodies before pregnancy, it hurts me even to think I haven’t even been able to experience this aspect of being a woman.

Over the years I’ve heard of other cases. Once I thought I was the only one (with a physical disability) unlucky enough to go through this experience and that the others were mostly those who are mentally disabled. Later I felt I couldn’t be alone given society’s belief that no matter how little the imperfection, people with disabilities still aren’t wanted and that 98% of disabilities are passed on to children or that those of us who are disabled are not capable of having children.

But this is so wrong. Medical knowledge has greatly increased in helping us with our disabilities and we can do so much more than we are given credit for. I know of men who have the same disability as me and whose children also have a disability. But there are some whose children who do not have a disability. Yet never a word was said about preventing the men from passing their disability to their children. Yes the woman carries the child and some are carriers of different types of disabilities, but men are equally capable of passing on particular conditions……its so one sided making it all the more painful to cope with….

At the age of 26, 10 years after the second ‘rape’ , I read an article about women who are disabled which encouraged them to call a phone in line to discuss their experiences. I felt a strong urge to call as I had never taken part in anything like that before. I felt I had nothing to lose. The woman started asking about how I cope with my periods – I couldn’t believe it! Breaking down I expalined to her what I had gone through. It was the first time I had spoken about it openly to anyone. It was in more ways than I can explain an opening of the door for me. The woman was great and was as understanding as she could be. It was she who helped me realise that I wasn’t the only one who went through this ‘rape’. She was also disabled, had experienced many humiliating comments from friends about having children……for me it was the start of a whole new world. She put me in touch with a women’s health centre. It was the start of getting help and I feel like I’m just beginning to gain confidence in myself.

Its been a long hell road but since that time I’ve actually been able to gain access to my medical records which gives details of what I physically went through. At the age of 12, I had the womb removed, at 16, the cervix. The ‘bitch’ stated that I was unable to understand the concepts of things at both ages. As a 35 year old I have some understanding but what does a 12 year old know of these things? The start of finding things out has been a great relief and while I’m feeling more confident I’m still not able to discuss this with my family. I’ve had the much needed and so gratifying support from close friends. Very few people know what happened. I’ve learned more from reading and listening to the stories of others who have been raped. I deeply apologise to other people who have been raped in the other sense of the word but for me that is what I feel I have gone through. Society makes one feel ashamed for things that have been beyond our control. I’ve had tests and X-Rays to see exactly what had been done to me and what the future holds for me with menopause which, due to my handicap, is a great concern. I now have a wonderful doctor who is monitoring the density of my bones which, because I’m in a wheelchair, are more prone to Osteoporosis. Because of what I’ve gone through and my age, it is unknown if or when menopause will start. As I’ve never had periods, I have nothing to compare it to. Although my ovaries are still intact, heaven knows if it caused an imbalance with my hormones.

It should never be said that things can be forgotten and wiped from one’s mind. There are too many things to remind you of it all: in my case covering up hair that should be there but isn’t and getting rid of hair that is there but shouldn’t be; listening to women complaining about their periods and approaching menopause; commercials advertising the pads that women use; listening to people talking about their babies, their impending parenthood; being asked if I could have a child or told well wouldn’t it be great if I got married but don’t try to have a child. All these things are constant reminders of what happened; no way can anyone who has been through what I have, ever forget.

Wghat has made me feel more at ease with myself is knowing that I was not alone. A wonderful friend talked me into going to a four weekend workshop for women with disabilities. I felt uneasy about going, because I still feel an outsider even with women who are disabled. But my friend’s gentle words helped me to go. There I met for the first time in my life a woman who had also gone through hell. We talked about abuse by doctors and nurses and the way that societies abuse us too. On the last day of the workshop, there was so much to realise and come to terms with. A woman I went to school with was also at the workshop. She told me about recent developments in reproductive technologies and how babies with any form of disabilities are eliminated. The last hour she broke down and explained what she had gone through. hen she got married she was unsure if she was able to have children, not just because of her disability but also because oft the age she and her husband were. She underwent what she understood would be a temporary operation. The ‘bastard’ made sure it was permanent in such a way it was not able to be shown, as she was still able to have periods. Sometime later she sought to have the original operation reversed but discovered she too had been ‘raped’. I sat there and just about fainted. After all these years, it turned out that I went to school with a woman who was ‘raped’ the same time I was. She was never told of this until she felt she and her husband were ready to have children. Like me she had no help from the medical profession or her family. The chances of her child being born with the same is 50-50. Like with me when she was told of this horrible news, she got no other help from the ‘bastard’ who did this. We joked about it once, saying the people who raped us were probably brother and sister. Both of us would like to take the two people to court and sue.

Since meeting my school friend, speaking to WWDA, help from my doctor and the support from incredible friends, I’m slowly coming out of the dark cave I’ve been in. was afraid to come out, join things and be myself. But I don’t want to come out all the way because coming out as far as I have is, in truth, blinding and… times overwhelming. at times its safer to go back into the darkness, but I’m proud of who I am and the fights I’ve overcome. My appreciation of being a woman is perhaps more intense and honest than that of others. I’m hungry to find out more of what I have missed out on and to see if there are others who have gone through what I have. How many more of us are there? The majority of us who are disabled seldom get married due to society’s view of us. We si8mply aren’t looked upon as worthy of being in partnerships. I think that my attitude to myself is holding me back from forming relationships with men, as yet I haven’t even been to stage one……..With this in mind I can’t help thinking why we have to go through this hell when we as disabled people aren’t lucky enough to find a partner, and if we do we are probably past the child bearing age. But that is another story given that older women are now having children, which in turn means that they have a greater risk of having kids who are mentally or physically disabled.

Therese Marie Lampe.

Violence Against Women With Disabilities

Dear Friends,
Over the past year, more and more of our members have contacted the WWDA Office about issues to do with violence. Often this was because they had experienced violence, and could not find any services to assist them. Sometimes it was for advice, and sometimes just urging us into action – which was successful.

Reference Group

WWDA has formed a national’ Violence against Women With Disabilities Reference Group’. This is a small group of women from around Australia who meet regularly on the phone to discuss issues, and to plan action. In just a short year, much has happened! We have addressed the national Domestic Violence Forum in Canberra last year, and managed to get some of the recommendations out of the Forum to address our concerns.

Access to Refuges

The Office of the Status of Women have funded WWDA to work with a refuge in Victoria to develop a Disability Discrimination Act Action Plan. This is a plan which the refuge will follow to ensure that it does not discriminate against people with disabilities. This project is underway at the moment, and should be finished in October. As well as one Action Plan, we will develop a Model for other refuges to follow so that they can develop their own plans. This project has also been a way for us to find out a lot more about how services for women who experience violence operate, and to pinpoint where change needs to happen. Most importantly, it has bought together a whole lot of women with disabilities to work together on the issue.

The WWDA group from the ACT also has a group of hard working women who are attempting to make refuges more accessible. They have had a great deal of success in getting refuges to work with them, and are developing a plan for access to one refuge at the moment.

National Workshop

WWDA has also received funding from the Office of the Status of Women to hold a small workshop of people from around Australia on Violence Against Women With Disabilities. We thought that the most sensible way to make change was to get some women with disabilities, violence workers and researchers together to see what is happening now, what needs to change and what we can do together. This will be like a planning meeting, and we hope to hold a much bigger Conference on the issue in the near future.

Network Against Violence

Since the reference Group started meeting, many more women came out of the woodwork and have contacted s about the issue. We have decided to also set up a network of interested women. We are looking for ways that this may best operate, so please send us your ideas. The more people involved the better.

Helen Skeat, Executive Officer

Women With Disabilities and Domestic Violence

Last September, there was a National Forum on Domestic Violence held at Parliament House in Canberra. Over a hundred people attended, mostly workers in the field, researchers, and policy makers. The Forum was held in preparation for a Domestic Violence Summit to be held later this year, with relevant Ministers from each state and the Commonwealth attending. Madge Sceriha and Kali Wilde attended the Forum for WWDA, and Madge presented a paper, which was a joint effort of several WWDA women. Some of the paper is printed below.

I wish I could be sure just what image was in your mind as I talk about women with disability. We would want it to be a true picture of us as women. Women with thoughts, feelings, passions and needs; a varied, lively, outspoken group overall. But it could be that what in your minds is the stereotypical image created around the many myths about women with disability. Myths that are often as contradictory as they are untrue. What I mean is that some myths create an image of childlike, passive helpless, somewhat sad beings who like to be with their own kind (O’Toole and Bergante, 1992) while others create an image of frightening, dangerous and certainly asexual creatures who are best avoided, who should preferably be shut away and most certainly never, never, be allowed to bear children who may be freaks like them (Chenoweth, 1993).

It could be that you have little image at all, That wouldn’t be surprising because it is argued that ‘… women with disability have fallen through the gaps of definition, theory and consciousness [and that this process] has manufactured a silence around them and their experiences (Thomson cited in Chenoweth, in press).

Our experiences are very real though. Experiences of living in a society which itself could be described as having multiple disabilities in that:

  • It is blind and deaf to both what happens that shouldn’t and what doesn’t happen that should, and it seems to be paralysed when it comes to making the changes necessary for women with disability to achieve their rights to access, choice, safety , power, work, health family [and] home (NGO Forum, Beijing); and ignorance, neglect, superstition and fear are social factors that throughout the history of disability have isolated persons with disabilities (United Nations 1994).

But that’s letting society off too easily though for, far from being disabled, our society is more appropriately described as ignorant, uncaring and in fact, disabling. Women with disability are among those most affected by this propensity. (Barton, 1994)

If you doubt this to be so, think about the value placed on the body beautiful, functioning perfectly, and the images of womanhood created around this ideal. Women soon ‘learn there is nothing about an imperfect body to celebrate, such a body is a cause for shame’ (Stone cited in Chenoweth 1996). Furthermore, individualising disability as personal tragedy, which happens all too often, shackles the individual up to emotional blocks which are cemented in place by pity and sentimentality. Women with disability are likely to experience these disabling influences from an early age and to gather along the way to adulthood the consequences of other oppressive influences rampant in our society like racism, homophobia, classism, and of course, sexism which cuts across all of these (Chenoweth, 1996).

The image of women with disability is no doubt distorted because of our position at the margins of society. Don’t forget that it is not long since many women with disability were well and truly hidden in institutions. Many of these institutions, euphemistically called ‘homes’, have been exposed as hothouses within which ‘cultures of violence’ have been able to flourish in symbiotic relationship with ‘cultures of silence’. (Chenoweth, 1996). When people are marginalised, they can be hidden, ignored, silenced and more easily targeted by perpetrators of violence. And the chilling conclusion that has been drawn from overseas and here, is that women with disability:

  • face higher risks of physical and sexual assault than women generally and that the abuse and violence against them is easier to inflict because it is deeply rooted in hatred towards people with disability and compounded by the cultural oppression of women. (Mulder, 1995;17)

While ever we have people and institutions in our lives fulfilling the roles that family members fill in other women’s lives women with disability are at a high risk of violence. The perpetrator may be a paid carer, advocate, volunteer, worker, taxi driver, partner or other family member – anyone in fact in a position to exercise power over our lives.

How is it that such high levels of abuse have gone unidentified for so long? Let’s name some possible reasons:

  • the women themselves may not know they have a right to protest;
  • nor may they know they have the right to protest about being kept ignorant of this and other rights;
  • the women may feel powerless to protest anyway especially if dependent on the abuser; and
  • the women may feel powerless to protest because the medical, legal and police professions are dominated by non-disabled males – we know that the process of reporting is traumatic for any woman and we need to know it is likely to be exacerbated for a woman with a disability confronted by the double jeopardy of ableism and sexism.

All too often stories have come out, but who has listened, believed and, most importantly, taken action to stop the violence?

These reasons highlight the powerlessness of the victim/survivors and the indifference of our society to their plight. Many women escaping violence in the home face further abuse through the systems from which they seek help. Women with a disability do too but often with some extra evidence of abuse of power that reflects prevailing negative attitudes towards us. One of the reasons these negative attitudes persist is because of the powerful influence of all those myths about us.

Myths and their consequences

It’s worth considering these myths in a little more detail here because they underpin problems women with disability encounter in accessing information about resources available to us in domestic violence and in accessing services themselves.

I’ve already mentioned myths about:

  • women with disability being perceived as asexual ie to have no sexuality yet there’s another myth that says women with intellectual and psychiatric disability are promiscuous.

I’ve mentioned too the myth about:

  • women with disability being not fit to be mothers.

Add to this the myths that say:

  • women with disability do not need to be taken seriously, they are just like children; and the one about women with disabilities who do speak out or make complaints being trouble makers, crazy or led on by irrational advocacy groups.

If myths like these go unchallenged they are likely to perpetuate the beliefs that women with disabilities are unlikely to be in intimate, sexual relationships in the first place let alone to have children. Popular belief would have it indeed that, if women with disability are in such relationships, they are likely to have made up stories about anything to do with victimisation because after all a bloke must be some sort of a saint to have taken on such a partner, so he’s hardly likely to be an abuser is he!

There are few mothers with disability who will have escaped the cruel, judgmental scrutiny of them in their role as mothers, A woman has to have a strong sense of their own identity to withstand these sorts of messages even in the best of environments. If that mother is seeking refuge and support as a result of violence, she’s likely to bring her experience of societal disapproval of her as a mother with her and fear that her children will be taken away from her. Fear of being seen as a an unfit mother is not uncommon for non-disabled mothers at such a time of relationship breakdown but it is exacerbated for mothers with disability all too familiar with being under the critical eye of society. This fear may discourage seeking help.

Then there’s the myth about:

  • women with disability should be grateful for any sexual advances made to them because they are so unattractive and anyway sterilising them will protect them from rape.

And we have a convenient process for silencing victims. We have also a convenient defence for inaction and/or refusal of assistance by individuals and agencies. In effect this belief serves to hide the crime, silence the victim and let the perpetrator off the hook. Why isn’t it more widely known that it is estimated ‘.. that women with an intellectual disability are ten times as likely to be assaulted as other women?’. (Chenoweth, 1996)

Surely such findings should raise questions about connections that could be made between, on the one hand, the prevalence of the belief that women with intellectual and psychiatric disabilities are promiscuous and, on the other, the high incidence of violence against them. These beliefs are so easily taken advantage of by abusers who can then hide behind the implications of such a belief. It lets them off the hook by ‘blaming the victim’. Indeed these women are seen as ‘fair game’ and more easily targeted. Furthermore, because the perpetrator is considered innocent until proven guilty, the woman is often considered guilty until proven innocent. For women with disability this can mean that they do not receive the support or respite they may need, nor are they necessarily made safe from further attack. Reporting the abuse can seem like an exercise in futility – who’ll listen, believe and act to stop the violence?

I’ve used the word ‘targeted’ just now and elsewhere in this paper because this seems to be a more appropriate choice than ‘vulnerable’. Vulnerable emphasises the victim’s part in the violence when it is the violent act of the perpetrator who did the ‘targeting’ which should be emphasised.

These myths I’ve raised certainly target women with disability and exacerbate their experience of abuse by getting in the way of services providing for women with disability and in the way of women with disability knowing about their rights to such provision. Worse still, when women with disability internalise these beliefs they are not likely to have the necessary knowledge to identify the seriousness of the violence against them. All too often they believe they are to blame and may accept unquestioningly being discounted by those to whom an appeal is made for help.

Moats and drawbridges

What happens if the woman can’t make that appeal for help because she is dependent on specialised assistance to communicate her need and/or to be able to leave the abusive situation? When the person who customarily provides that specialised assistance is the abuser, the woman is trapped. The question ‘why doesn’t she leave’ so often asked of women in abusive situations, has a particularly poignant and very pragmatic explanation for these women. What is a more serious concern is that it is a question which may not even get to be asked of her.

Women who need specialised assistance have a right to access it as a service they can purchase as independent women and to be able to make the choice from a range of options. Such access has the potential to preclude any hint of dependence on a violent partner and provide fewer opportunities for any power differential in a relationship to be abused. A woman who does not seek refuge could have her personal attendant come to work with her there, provided security requirements were met. Alternatively a refuge could link with services providing such specialised assistance and, in partnership with the woman with disability, make appropriate arrangements.

We must move beyond the fact that it’s the disability which always seems to be the most significant and certainly the defining characteristic when women seek out refuge and support in emergency accommodation. This is so much so that many of these women are perceived to be the responsibility of the disability services and referred on. The experience of violence for these women is effectively minimised by such responses. The reasons given for the referral are usually not unrealistic but that does not mean they are to be accepted as inevitable.

As one commentator has said: “Disabled people mainly live in a world which consists of ‘Wait a minute,’ and so their lives go by ignored, continually abused by those with power and who exert control” (Anne Macfarlane, 1994)

Well, we are not waiting any longer!

Reference: Women With Disabilities Australia (1996) Women with disabilities and domestic violence; Paper presented to the National Domestic Violence Forum, Parliament House, September 1996.

Trauma Workshops

The We Al Li Indigenous Therapies – together with the central Queensland University in Rockhampton have developed an excellent series of accredited training workshops addressing the issues of transgenerational trauma (transgenerational trauma is the pain that keeps flowing through individuals, families and society when families or family members have experienced trauma and healing has not been allowed or not acquired).

These courses seek to be inclusive. Indigenous and non Indigenous women including a range of people with disabilities have been involved in the development of these workshops.

Contact Judy Atkinson – Project Coordinator
PO Box 269
Yeppoon Qld 4703
Ph: (079) 309 820

The Lesbian and Gay Anti Violence Project in NSW

The Lesbian and Gay Anti Violence project in NSW is currently setting up a committee to address issues of violence against lesbians, gays and transgender people with a disability in the near future. The AVP will soon begin to develop a forum or series of forums for lesbians, gay and transgender people with disability to discuss their specific issues and violence prevention strategies.

For more details ring Bruce at AVP on (02) 360 6687 Fax (02) 380 5848.

Women With Disabilities – We want your views on domestic violence services

Women with Disabilities Australia is working with Sage Consulting to assist a Victorian women’s refuge to develop a Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) Action Plan. The Project will also write a report on ‘how to do an Action Plan’ to assist other refuges make their services accessible to women with disabilities.

Domestic violence is any verbal, physical, emotional, sexual, financial, property or ritual violence by a partner. A women’s refuge is a safe, private house where women who have experienced domestic violence can go. Refuge staff work with women to explore choices they can make about reporting the violence to the police, getting money issues out, going to court or finding new housing.

Many women with disabilities aren’t aware of refuges or how to use refuges. Some women with disabilities hae not had good experiences trying to access refuges. This project will identify those barriers and make recommendations on accessibility for women with disabilities in accordance with the Disability Discrimination Act.

This is an exciting project for women with disabilities. We are holding some discussion groups for women with disabilities about barriers to accessing and using domestic violence services such as a women’s refuge. These groups will be facilitated by Fiona Strahan and Lindy Corbett who have disabilities and have worked on the rights of women with disabilities for many years.

There will discussion groups for women with disabilities on the following days.

  • Monday 14th July 10am – 12pm women with psychiatric disabilities
  • Tuesday 15th July 10am – 12pm women with intellectual disabilities
  • Monday 21st July 10am – 12pm women with physical disabilities
  • Tuesday 22nd July 10am – 12pm visually impaired women and blind women
  • Wednesday 23rd July 2.30pm – 4.30pm women with intellectual disabilities
  • Tuesday 29th July 10am – 12pm women with psychiatric disabilities
  • Wednesday 30th July 2.30 – 4.30pm Deaf women and hearing impaired women
  • Monday 4th August 10am – 12.30pm women with acquired brain injury

What you have to say is important. Have your say! You don’t have to experienced domestic violence yourself, you may have an interest in women with disabilities using women’s services, or an interest in getting issues of domestic violence addressed for all women with disabilities. If you are interested in finding out more information about the discussion groups please contact Lindy Corbett 03 9314 1005. If you are using a TTY messages can be left for Lindy at TADAS on their TTY 03 9654 1938 and she will return your call. Travel costs to and from the discussion groups and childcare costs will be reimbursed. If you want an attendant or interpreter please let Lindy know when you ring. Even if don’t have time or you don’t want to attend the discussion groups, we would still like to here your ideas and thoughts on this topic. Just call Fiona Strahan between 14th – 28th July on 03 5348 6651 (she will return your call so you don’t to pay the STD costs). This number is also a fax so you can fax your ideas on this issue. A time can be made for a discussion to be held using a TTY. We hope you will be involved in this project or pass this on to other women with disabilities. This project has been funded by the Office for the Status Of Women.

Women working alongside Women With Intellectual and Learning Disabilities

WWILD – SVP Service is a feminist organisation that has been established since 1995. The organisation evolved from a need identified from women with intellectual disabilities who were members of the mutual support “Wild Women’s Group”. Also, workers realised from their involvement with this group that issues of sexual assault was prevalent with an incident rate of approximately 90% being disclosed by them. Funding for the organisation is received from the Prevention of Violence Against Women Program within the Queensland Health Department.

We currently have three and a half workers which are:

  • Coordinator / Community Development Worker (full time)
  • Group Worker (full time)
  • Counselor (full time)
  • Administrator (part time)

Our service is free for clients with an intellectual disability who are seeking counselling for sexual abuse issues, wanting information on sexual violence prevention, looking for social contact and mutual support networks, wanting to participate in groups on issues such as relationships, sexual violence awareness and self protection. A group is currently running with eight participants which is called, ‘Let’s Talk About Relationships’. In March a group is starting called ‘What About Respect?’. Before the end of June we will be running a six week group on Protective Behaviors. We have also recently organised a group on ‘Women’s Bodies’ through Family Planning Queensland.

Our organisation is committed to a feminist philosophy and therefore places the woman before her disability. Women who access this service are given a ‘Statement of Rights’ and ‘You and Confidentiality’ sheet. Women also have the opportunity to be involved with the employment of staff, meetings with politicians, and meetings regarding submissions for funding. We have just received a small grant from the Brisbane City Council to run two half day ‘Speakouts’ where women can join together to speak out about issues concerning them and to be involved with activities such as storytelling and t-shirt design.

Our organisation is also involved with running focus groups in March to find out from the women what resources are required that are user friendly in relation to health needs. This is being run in conjunction with Brisbane Youth Service. We also have resources available for purchase that have been written by our organisation. Please contact the service for further details. We are keen to link with any organisation, share information, resources or just hear from you. Please contact anyone on (07) 3221 5922, fax (07) 3221 7783, or email address

Human Rights and Freedom from Abuse Committee

The Disability Council of NSW established the Human Rights and Freedom from Abuse Committee (HRAFAC) in 1996. This committee focuses on positive projects that promote human rights and freedom from abuse for people with a disability in NSW. It has representatives from key stake holders within the area.


  • To inform the Disability Council of NSW in the area of protection of human rights and freedom from abuse.


  • to monitor policy development and service delivery through liaising with community networks.
  • to advise the Council on policy areas that impact on the protection of human rights and freedom from abuse.
  • promote human rights and freedom from abuse as a whole-of-government responsibility.

HRAFAC is currently working on a wide range of exciting projects. For more details contact Bronwyn Moye or Megan Fahey on (02) 9211 2262

Reclaim the Night

The Disability Council of NSW’s Human Rights and Freedom from Abuse committee will be organising a contingent of women with disabilities to attend the ‘Reclaim the Night’ rally in Sydney on the evening of 31st October. The Human Rights and Freedom from Abuse Committee is discussing the development of a Reclaim the Night poster addressing issues of women with disabilities. For further details ring Bronwyn Moye or Megan Fahey at the Disability Council of NSW on (02) 9211 2262. Incidentally – the Reclaim the Night collective is seeking new members. If you wish to ensure this rally has a disability focus – ring the collective on (02) 9699 8602.

Women On the Line

WWDA members will be producing a 54 minute radio program on abuse of women with disabilities. The program will appear on Radio National – ‘women out loud’. If you are interested in contributing to this project please call Kali on (02) 9365 6506. Absolute confidentiality assured.

Lurline Beeston – A Tribute by Margaret Cooper

Lurline Beeston died suddenly 8/2/97 leaving her husband Nick, daughter Claire, son Paul, grandchildren Jessie, Jamie and Brittany, and her friends behind. How like Lurline! Lurline travelled a lot, loved to try new things and made many friends. She’s gone ahead of us again.

Lurline had polio severely as a child and was hospitalised for many months. She always remembered the efforts her parents made to visit her, from their Gippsland farm hundreds of miles away. Hospitals discouraged parents from visiting more than once a month. As a young woman Lurline came to a hostel for disabled people (there was no other accessible housing then) and worked as a clerk for some years, travelling on train to and from work at a time when there were no portable ramps or disability access plans. Meanwhile she found hostel life restricting and humiliating and took a flat with a friend. Lurline kept up her social life, met and married Nick, and they moved around a bit, including overseas, had their children, and eventually settled back in Laverton, Melbourne.

I first remember Lurline as a patient in the same orthopeadic ward in 1964. She had blown in from Malaysia. There were four of us under the age of 30, all separated by rows of very old women. It was physically impossible to talk with each other but I wanted to ask her so many things like ‘How do you look after your babies?’ or ‘will I ever be independent as you?’ I kept on hearing about Lurline’s exploits through the polio grapevine, but I didn’t “meet” her until the early 90’s when we both became involved in looking at disability issues from the point of view of women. I was actually a bit scared of her, Lurline’s life seemed so much more exciting than mine.

From that time until she died, Lurline worked part-time with WESTCOD, a regional disability advocacy organisation. Lurline’s friends will remember her speaking passionately about the importance of families, and the need for mothers with disabilities, and mothers of children with disabilities to get the help they need. ‘I’m not a feminist’ she said but she believed in the right of women to live and work how they wanted to. Lurline did not tolerate discrimination at all.

Lurline was a founding member of WWDA and the Victorian Women With Disabilities Network. Lurline enjoyed meeting new people and got involved in so many working groups and projects, mostly on behalf of women, I couldn’t keep track of her. She was very concerned about health and aging issues for women with disabilities. Lurline worked to get more home based care, but while she was able to sometimes arrange assistance for others, or help women to their entitlements, she was unsuccessful in getting enough care for herself, and often became exhausted.

But Lurline still found time for her family and friends. We became best of friends, going to meetings and conferences, watching movies, eating meals, that were not on our diets, bitching over coffee, and endlessly shopping. I miss Lurline, her friendship, commitment and humour, we all miss her, and send our love and sympathy to her family.

News from the States

Northern Territory

Darwin has broken several records with a wonderful “WET”, already close to 2500 mm with the average of 1500 mm, and approximately 5 weeks to add more! We do things in a big way up here. For those who are very much in need of rain, we hope that you will soon get your share, and that will relieve us from removing the masses of mould from everything! The action in the disability area has already started, with a new scheme for taxi subsidy users, still in the early stages of use.

A full day workshop/forum of the changes (proposed?) to HACC provided services involved consumers, organisations and Commonwealth and Territory Health staff. Respite, housing, transport, profit organisations, were some of the workshops in the afternoon. I was part of the group looking at ‘options for respite’, and while each option had some good parts, the group did not feel any of the options would give the right option!

Over the past few weeks a SA based consultancy has been seeking input into a Review of Territory Health Service and Community Care Centres, one stop shops for many of the THS ‘products’ which have now been operating for nearly five years. They have been talking with consumers and groups (and I hope staff of the Centres) to get a picture of how they are meeting the needs in each locality. There are two in Darwin and one at Palmerston, and other major centres. When the report is produced its recommendations will be read with interest by users.

No doubt you have seen the Territory ads on TV telling you that – “You will never never know until you go” for our Tourism people. There are four new apartments/hotels almost ready for the dry season visitors, and inspections of two for accommodation for tourists with disabilities, have been pleasing, two more, one being a ‘Holiday Inn’ on the Esplanade, will be checked out a.s.a.p. However, much as it would be great to think about having an AGM of WWDA sometime this century, the accessible transport to tourist areas is not yet in place!! Yes, we are working on it! The Darwin Bus Service has increased the number of accessible buses and patronage by wheelies has increased, but the message still has to be heard by the Tourism Industry.

The Darwin Civic Centre has been having a major renovation and up grade and will include the Darwin City Library when it is re-opened in April. The Access Advisory Committee of the Council has been invited to two inspections and suggested several modifications and expect to be shown through the completed works in the next few weeks. On 22nd March, Integrated Disability Action is celebrating its first birthday! and looking back on a busy and successful year. We are still not incorporated, though it is hopefully closer and the offer of premises to set up an office is in the pipeline. Recognition of a consumer group for people with disabilities by both the Government and non Government organisations has been pleasing, even though it has meant extra days of activity attending meetings as “experts!” Better still, helping folks through their difficulties with “the system” and seeing a smile after times of stress has given added strength to IDA.

What will the Budgets, Commonwealth and Territory, hold for us? It’s no secret that “life was not meant to be easy” so how much harder might it be! A not so happy note to end on!! I am glad that WWDA is making a mark on the National scene, at least the needs of the remote parts of this land are passed on through your efforts, outside of the eastern seaboard capitals not much input is requested.

Joyce Deering


We have had an exciting re-launch of the group for 1997. On the 22nd February we met at the Canberra Business Centre – home of WWDA office, with refreshments courtesy of local businesses. The guest speakers were women presenting ideas for presentations at meetings of members throughout the year. These were exciting proposals on matters such as recreational activities; rowing, rock climbing, absailing, cycling etc, self defence, personal relationships and group dynamics.

Kerry kept the program moving in her masterful way. We were glad to welcome a significant number of new members who present with loads of enthusiasm and many disabilities we previously did not have in our group. On Saturday the 8th March, we joined the “Splash Out” gathering at Canberra Olympic Pool, where women’s’ organisations have stalls and celebrate International Women’s Day. We are now ready to swing into a new year of activities for the ACT group, with increased enthusiasm.

Di Palmer

South Australia

3 May was a great day with twenty six women responding to the invitation to meet at the Disability Information and Resource Centre. Women from all disability groups came to listen and share concerns and passions. All were welcomed, proceedings for the day were outlined and some outcomes for the meeting were suggested.

Cathy Nirta, Sue Meuwissen and Vicki Toovey then spoke to the meeting about their personal experience or knowledge of institutional and community based accommodation, domestic violence and what WWDA as an organisation stands for and what it is doing on the national scene. The group then broke for food, drink and conversation and later came together again to make up the work groups. They were asked to nominate issues that were of great importance to them and should therefore be the concerns of WWDA(SA). The results are organised under the following headings.

Women with disabilities must have:

  • a voice and a presence in the media,
  • a voice and presence in politics at all levels,
  • reliable and easily accessible information,
  • peer support in groups or one to one either by meeting or by telephone,
  • improved access to the essentials such as housing, attendant care, health, training, employment, finance, and recreation.

Members who could not attend were asked to telephone prior to the meeting with their ideas for future directions and priorities for the SA branch. More than 20 did so with physical access and sterotyping being the most repeated issues of concern for them. Women’s Health Statewide and their Director, Vicki Toovey, were thanked for their support of the meeting. Women’s Health Statewide staff member, Bernadette Roberts, was also thanked for giving her time to help out during the day. At the conclusion of the meeting the group was thanked for attending and for sharing their ideas. A follow up news sheet with information about the network and future meetings was promised to all SA members. The post out of this news sheet will now be postponed to follow the next edition of the national WWDA News. From accounts the meeting was a success and should be repeated. Plans are being made to do that and also to repeat something similar for women living in country and regional South Australia.

Di Workman

Queensland Report

In Queensland we have formed a loose network of women with disabilities spanning the various disability areas and especially the area of environmental disabilities. At present we are working with QDPI’s representative on the Telstra Consumer Council to look at the difficulties some people have with chemical sensitivity are having using a normal handset telephone. This often means that they can not use their telephone and often can not go outside their homes due to their sensitivity and are therefore very isolated.

We also working with a group of women who are widows of men who have died of asbestosis. They have contracted this problem while laundering their husband’s clothing. The fibres of the asbestos have become caught in the men’s clothing at work and have been brought home in this manner. There are also young women who have been affected because they have been playing in the laundry while their mothers have been washing their father’s work clothes. It can take 20 to 30 years for the effects of asbestos to show so this adds to the problem. We are hoping to be able to work with these women in conjunction with other women with disabilities and thereby widen the accepted definition of disability. In Queensland the public image of disability often is confined to wheelchair users. The international access symbol does nothing to help in this area.

Rae Hurrell

My Life by Janine Beck

Epilepsy seemed to knock at my door,
Throughout all my growing years,
From aged about four.

There has been much to learn,
This has been for me a great deal of concern
It’s Actions and Attitudes that made me feel low
It’s from these that I am now able to grow.

I learnt as time went by,
To reach for as high as the sky,
It’s through epilepsy life seemed to say “TRY”.

It was cancer that one day I awoke,
My first thought was, this is no joke!
So, much to learn on this subject too,
However, ‘anything’s possible’ – Why feel blue?

Why worry I then thought,
My life was worth more than any money could be bought
It is important when you can believe,
Life becomes the best goal to ever achieve.

So, I had a dream,
I would become a STAR that would shine and beam,
and Travel AFAR.
Life for me is really great,
As now I am feeling in much better shape.

I could show how great “life” can be,
By helping and serving one another,
What a wonderful world this would be,
When we can SHARE, CARE and HELP each other.

VENUS – A Group for Women with Disabilities by Madge Sceriha

Three years ago three feminist workers with disability emerged in a collaborative venture with two other feminist workers – not yet disabled – and a group of women with disability from the local community to prepare a paper for the Women’s Biennial Health Conference in Darwin in October 1994. The idea had grown out of a series of workshops in which we’d all participated. These were workshops where the women with disabilities had spoken out about their feelings of exclusion, unacknowledgement, silencing and invisibility in many of their encounters with workers, with organisations and in their daily lives. An account of the process and analysis of the issues is reproduced in Women and Violence – Working for Change, edited by Ros Thorpe and Jude Irwin.

One outcome of our coming together for the purpose of this project was the decision to continue to meet as a group. We’d been meeting off and on over the previous year and the decision to formalise the group was a recognition of our emergent identity. We even decided on our name – Venus. We felt it appropriate to be identified with a woman with no arms. One of the challenges for us had been meeting the costs of transport and attendant care for our meetings. We’d been very grateful for the support of our local advocacy service in the initial stages but that could not continue indefinitely. Fortunately we were successful in an application to the Gaming Fund and this has kept us going to the present time.

I’d like to report that the group has gone on from strength to strength but what’s actually happened is that it’s taken a slightly different tack. Quite a few women from the group have moved away from Townsville over the last six months and others have not been able to attend for one reason or another. It seemed like it might have been pointless to continue but, as one of the founding workers with disability, I was still very committed to the idea of offering the space and opportunity for women with disability to meet. I also knew to other workers who were similarly supportive and able to be involved – Vanessa like me is a social worker and Rhelma is an artist. Using art as a medium for engaging with each other, for expressing ideas and feelings, for experiencing working individually and as a group, for having fun excited us and we hoped would excite women who came to our group sessions.

When we met earlier this year to brainstorm ideas of how we might revitalise the Venus group, we decided on a short term project involving a specific group of young women with disability with whom Vanessa had recently been working. We decided to meet each week in February for two hours and to try both collage and silk painting as the art forms. Thus the Venus Art Group was born. Our plans were always flexible enough to allow the women themselves to be involved with decisions. We had some structure obviously by the very nature of the art forms we used but the women were encouraged to choose what went where, what colours to use, what areas to work on in the collaborative work, how much or how little they wanted to do each time.

These young women produced a beautiful banner sized silk painting which one of them carried proudly with Vanessa in the International Women’s Day March here in Townsville. They want to meet again and we are going to invite the original Venus group along to introduce them to the art group. Our vision as workers is to expand into music and drama and link up with other groups engaged in similar developmental projects. The group’s vision is to have more fun, meet more women and do some more painting. Watch for our banner in the Access Arts.

Madge Sceriha is a group member of Venus. For further information please contact her on 077 75 7555 or phone WWDA on 06 6242 1310 Fax 02 6242 1314.

Sexual assault and women with intellectual disability

The NSW Council for Intellectual Disability has produced an excellent video on sexual assault, for use by women with an intellectual disability and service providers. It is being captioned and subtitled so will be accessible to a range of women with disabilities. This video will be launched in the near future. For more details ring NSW Council for Intellectual Disability on (02) 92111611 or Ann Wunsch at Jewish Community Services on (02) 93315184.

Membership and Development Report 1997 by Kerrie Watson

Well, this is to be my last report for WWDA News – I’m leaving in July to take up a position with the association for Mental Health. Here’s an update on major activities over the last few months.

Trip to Northern Territory

A group has been launched in Alice Springs, with Michelle Castagna as Convenor. The meeting was great and the women there very keen on getting a group up and running. Michelle organised a ground breaking session on women with disabilities and domestic violence at this years Confest, and is widely known in the territory as quite a force to be reckoned with when it comes to disability issues. I also visited Darwin, where Joyce Deering, who has been WWDA’s rep there for several years now, took me on a round of meetings with Disability agencies, service provides and bureaucrats to spread the word about WWDA. This was quite easy as it appears everyone in Darwin knows Joyce! We also heard some good news while ‘doing the rounds’ in Darwin. a woman with a disability has been appointed to the Chief Ministers Women’s Advisory Committee. I’ve also done some work on starting up a network of aboriginal women with disabilities – most of the women I spoke to agreed this would take some time to build up, but was well worth doing.

Trip to Sydney

Several interested members of the Sydney group and myself got together to come up with some strategies for getting this group going again. A regular newsletter, an Open day similar to the one held by the ACT group earlier this year, and a rotating chairship of the group were some of the ideas we came up with. There was a general consensus to keep the focus of the group on fun, social activities, and developing support and friendship networks. Newsletters have been sent out to members, and once a new Development worker is on board, things should keep progressing with this group – there is a core of women there who are keen to maintain the group, but support needs to be broadened so that the workload doesn’t fall too heavily ion just a few. While in Sydney, Kali Wilde and myself met with the Gay and Lesbian Anti-Violence Project to map out a strategy for addressing issues of harassment, discrimination and violence against lesbians with disabilities. A committee has now been established to work on this issue.

Tax Exemption

We now have PBI status with the Tax Office and can apply for corporate sponsorship. What a battle that was! We are now a very attractive prospect for the Corporate dollar as they get tax breaks for giving us money. Finally, I’d just like to say that working at WWDA has been a great experience. The commitment and energy women with disabilities bring to the work we do has been a great constant inspiration, and I’ve loved working here and being a part of that. I want to continue to be involved with WWDA on a voluntary level, and to maintain contact with friends I’ve made in the course of working with WWDA. Thanks to everyone who has made this such a learning enriching experience for me, especially Helen and Di in the office here, I’ll miss you both very much.

Making Rights Count: Services for People with a Disability

In 1992, the Australian Law Commission was asked to begin to review Legislation governing Commonwealth-funded services and programs. Making Rights Count is the Commission’s evaluation of the laws administered by the Disability Services Act 1986 and was published in October 1996. The Report reflects the law as at July 1996 and the previous government’s policy, since at the time of publishing the Report, the new Government had not yet drafted its policy. The legislation is currently administered by the Department of Health and family Services. The aims of the project are to produce a series of new Acts for the major programs of the Department, to be introduced into Parliament over several years. The Commission’s terms of reference were to:

  • make recommendations on how the Commonwealth legal policies (including administrative law, secrecy, privacy and criminal law), social justice and human rights should be reflected in new legislation
  • advise on the common element to be included in the program legislation (with a view to achieving consistency as far as possible across the programs)
  • have regard to the need to ensure proper standards of accountability while retaining flexibility and innovation in the delivery of services.

The Commission was told expressly not to make recommendations about the underlying policy of programs, nor was it to cover the Home and Community Care (HACC) program which has been reviewed elsewhere. The Report is based on extensive consultations with Federal, State and Territory agencies and community representatives. The process included the distribution of issues and discussion papers, information workshops, public hearings, questionnaires and submissions, focus groups and consultations with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander groups.

The four parts of the Report cover:

  • current arrangements for disability services and principles for the new legislation
  • access and equity issues, and eligibility and assessment procedures
  • promoting the rights and needs of people with disabilities, including better availability and co-ordination of information, advocacy and privacy issues
  • funding and accountability of services

The Commission found that the Disability Services Act 1986: “does not provide for the rights of people who use disability services or the outcomes they are entitled to expect, the conditions on which funding is given, how service quality is monitored or how the provisions of the Act can be enforced. As a result, the Act tends to concentrate more on the operation of funding mechanisms for services than on matters directly affecting people with a disability.”

The Report focuses on the need for the new disability legislation to reflect the rights and interests of people with disabilities as influenced by international and Australian laws and by social justice policies. The recommendations are aimed at providing a legislative basis for a fair, equitable, efficient and effective delivery of services and progress which will ensure the right to fair treatment, equal opportunity and the address of grievances about the services.

Recommendation 1 states:

  • “The Commission recommends that the object of the new Disability services legislation should be the provision of services to people with a disability rather than simply the provision of funds to service providers as is currently the case. The new legislation should be based on respect for the rights of people with a disability and its administration should aim to achieve high quality services to meet their needs” (p21).

The Commission acknowledges the particular needs of women and includes them in the priority category. In particular, the Report states that women are not gaining access to programs and services because current strategies fail to recognise women’s special status. Moreover, women with children and women in rural and remote areas are reported to miss out on Commonwealth Rehabilitation Services (CRS) and other disability services at a higher rate than women living in metropolitan areas.

Recommendation No. 28 states that the Commonwealth should:

  • “develop specific and appropriate strategies to improve access to services for people with special needs” (p147). Women are not mentioned specifically; nevertheless, the issue of gender-based barriers faced by women has been raised once again and there is an opportunity for women with disabilities and for WWDA as an organisation to continue to be involved in consultation, and assist in, developing effective strategies for addressing the specific needs of women with disabilities.

The Report recognises that data collection and analysis are inadequate. The Department has implemented the National Information Monitoring System (NIMS) and the CRS has its own Management Information System (CRSMIS), but neither system collects data on demand for services. Recommendation 17 states, in part, that: “the new legislation should require the Commonwealth, in consultation with people …….. and the Australian Bureau of Statistics, to develop indicators of aggregate need across Australia” (p106). Again, there is room for women with disabilities to make significant contributions to the development of national data sets which include gender-related indicators.

WWDA has repeatedly pointed to the difficulties women with disabilities encounter in obtaining relevant information and to the need for a database compiling such information. Chapter 10 in the Commission’s Report focuses on the need for easy access to information about disability services and programs. Recommendations 36 and 37 state that all service and program providers should provide and update standard sets of information about all services, that a national database containing comprehensive information on all disability policies and services should be established and that all information should be available at a low cost, from a number of outlets and in different formats (p182).


The Australian Law Commission’s Report is extensive and reflects the view and concerns of people with disabilities who contributed to the consultations. The 101 recommendations are very specific in stating what the Commonwealth should do in order to address current problems and inequities, despite the limitations that were imposed in the terms of reference. It remains to be seen, particularly in the current climate of cuts to many vital services, how many and to what degree the recommendations are implemented.

As always WWDA is vigilant and will continue to participate in consultation to ensure that the needs and wishes of women with disabilities are taken into account.

Biting Cement by Margaret Cooper

I bit cement in April 1992 when my new Rollerchair tipped over and landed on top of me. My teeth broke, my ankles were sprained and bruised, and my arm and neck received permanent injury. My face didn’t look so good either, with bruises and abrasions.

Me and my lawyers sued Rollerchair for damages and negligence under the Trades Practices Act. We alleged the chair did not have the safety features requested to stop it tipping. I am short and top-heavy so I wanted to be seated behind the chair front drive wheels, not on top of them. Anti-tip wheels are also necessary to balance the chair as it goes down a slope. In court the manufacturer stated there was no ’empirical test for stability’ done on his chairs. He believed the sales company should have checked the chair balance. The sales company representative said he believed the manufacturer should check chair balance and safety. The Judge agreed. He found the wheelchair was not of “merchantable quality and not fit for the purpose for which it was designed to be used.” He awarded me $148,000 odd.

Rollerchair, through its lawyers, have now appealed partly on the grounds that ‘liability’ should not apply to customised wheelchairs. If their appeal succeeds then there will be great ripples throughout the wheelchair and orthotics industries for a start. Can you imagine buying a car without a roadworthy test? You might order a wheelchair or a caliper which the maker will not guarantee is safe to use? Please would you let me know of any similar legal cases? I would be delighted to hear your opinions on ‘liability’.

Access to Family Courtroom

Mary Maloney is the Director of Property – Family Court and she is keen to hear from anyone who has experienced physical access difficulties in any current family courtroom in Australia. Mary can be contacted on (02) 9212 4785 and (02) 9212 4761.

Women in Industry and Community Health – A Service for women from non-English speaking background

WICH is a Victorian (State-wide) organisation established in Melbourne that provides a service to migrant women in the area of health. Recently it was asked to extend its services to NESB women who have a disability. To this end they are undertaking a project on sexual and reproductive health and general health. The aims of the project are:

  • to prepare a report on issues relating to the sexual and reproductive health needs of NESB women with disability,
  • to document recommendations with respect to service provisions of NESB women with disabilities, with particular attention to sexual and reproductive health needs,
  • to conduct individual or group interviews with potential service users with respect to what their needs are.
  • to research and document structural alterations and changes required to ensure WICH is accessible to NESB women with disabilities,
  • to research and document the industries NESB women with disabilities are employed; and,
  • to make recommendations with respect to strategies which could be utilised by WICH to provide and deliver a service to NESB women with disabilities.

The Project Worker for WICH is EFFIE MEEHAN. She wants to hear from NESB women with disabilities. She wants to hear of your personal experience in dealing with health professionals such as doctors, nurses, Community Health Centres, Hospitals, Women’s Health centres, etc. As Effie states: “…….. It is only through discussions with NESB women with disabilities that we will be able to change some of your personal negative experiences in dealing with health professionals. It is only through your contributions that we will be able to improve and change service delivery to NESB women with disabilities.”

Effie Meehan can be contacted between 10.00 am and 5.30 pm on Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday on (03) 9416 3999. Incidentally WICH, through the shopfront, runs workshops for NESB women in Turkish, Spanish and Vietnamese.

Profile of An Organisation – Disability Support Pensioners

Disability Support Pensioners (DSP) Australia Inc. is a voluntary organisation of people who receive the Disability Support Pension (formerly the Invalid Pension) because of their severe and permanent injury or illness, members are unable to work and consequently live on very low, fixed incomes. Their level of income means that Members are forced to go without many essential services and comforts of life.

The objective of DSP Australia Inc, is to eliminate the poverty of its members and provide them with a decent and dignified life style and to help them gain their self esteem and confidence. DSP Australia Inc. advocates for support for members in their day to day living to ensure they are safe and their welfare is cared for. The Organisation is working to have their DSP membership card recognised in retail outlets and public instrumentalities, so members can receive discounts in a similar way to Seniors Card holders. DSP Australia Inc. maintains that unlike senior citizens their members are mainly young and have not had the opportunity to accumulate capital to supplement their pension.

DSP Australia Inc. believes that it is important to educate the community to the plight of its members. The Organisation welcomes financial assistance and volunteers are also needed to support Members who are not able to use public transport, to take people on an outing to assist with administration or compilation of the newsletter.

For further information contact Judi-Anne Leggetts at National Office
Phone: (03) 9742 5530
Address: PO Box 2092
Werribee 3030

Book Review and New Publications

Women With Disabilities: Found Voices
edited by Mary Willmuth and Lillian Holcomb
Published by Harrington Park Press in 1993.

Women with Disabilities: Found Voices is a collection of essays and studies put together in one volume. All written by and about women with disabilities. They talk about a number of different issues facing women with disabilities. Some of the issues discussed are:

  • disability, parenthood and adoption
  • the effects of attitudes towards disability on therapy
  • the effects on women with physical distinction (physical disabilities and facial disfigurement)
  • disability in female immigrants with ritually inflicted genital mutilation
  • sexual abuse among women with intellectual disability
  • multiple chemical sensitivities
  • a woman’s search for a device to end her silence.

All professionals who provide counselling, health and rehabilitation services to women with disabilities should read this book because it offers answers to some of the problems women with disabilities are facing every day of their lives. The issues in this book are wide ranging which I found very interesting. Some of the essays, particularly relating to therapy, I found hard to comprehend, maybe that’s because I’m not qualified in this aspect. However I agree there should be more women with disabilities trained as therapists because some women will relate better to a therapist who has a personal understanding of their situation. I found the chapter on the barbaric ritual of genital mutilation enlightening. The author has left me in no doubt that every measure must be taken to ban this horrible practice, which causes excruciating pain and disability to many of the young girls who are subjected to it.

I recommend this book to you. It sensitively deals with many of the problems we face, and when necessary is blunt in its factuality. I’m sure there are some who may disagree with some of the sensitive issues. That is good too, because it will generate reasonable debate within our community of people with disabilities. However if you are like me, a novice, you will need to get into your favourite chair or posie, with no disruption, because it will need your dedication.

New Publications

WWDA has received the following publications.

Shaping our lives: Experiences of women with a physical disability.

The Adelaide Women’s Community Health Centre has produced this handbook. It is a record of a group of women with physical disabilities who came together to explore issues of self image. The handbook outlines the each session, with notes for facilitators. It also has some visualisation exercises and useful readings. Available from:

Adelaide Women’s Community Health Centre
64 Pennington Terrace
North Adelaide
SA 5006
Phone 1800 182 098

The Betrayal Cycle, Gill Mather, Minerva Press, UK.

WWDA member, Gill Mather, has written a new book called the betrayal cycle. It deals with Irish Harry, who leaves Ireland under a cloud, goes to Africa, to the torpid tropics of Australia and finally New Zealand, where his impact is considerable. This book examines human emotions and their cognitive effects, and the London reviews have been very encouraging. The author has a severe disability (polio) and is trying to encourage other people with disabilities to explore their writing potential. She says that Australia is very short on helping disabled people in this field and she is trying to draw the public’s attention to the fact that it is a career that can be achievable for those with dedication and a desire to succeed. Writers have a hard time of it in Australia, and struggle for publication and recognition.

Making Waves
Violence against Women With Mild Intellectual disability – A Resource Manual for Workers
Chantal Eastwell and Karin Cheyne

The Making Waves Project grew out of the recognition among workers in community based services that women with mild intellectual disabilities are often overlooked in the provision of information and resources relating to issues of violence. This project was jointly organised by the Caxton Legal Centre, Anglican Women’s Hostel and the New Farm Neighbourhood Centre. A significant part of the project was to develop a resource manual for workers about issues of violence affecting women with mild intellectual disabilities. This manual is now available. Contact:

Caxton Legal Centre
28 Heal Street
New farm 4005 QLD
Ph: (07) 32541811

National Children’s and Youth Law Centre Research – by Joan Hume

Throughout 1996 and early 1997, the National Children’s and Youth Law Centre (NCYLC) conducted consultation research Australia-wide about discrimination in schools based on disability. Using focus group discussions, questionnaires, and phone-ins, 784 people responded – predominantly parent, as well as students and other interested individuals and groups.

Disability discrimination complaints lodged under Federal or State laws are usually settled by conciliation and in confidence, Thus systemic problems are often not easily identified and addressed The need, therefore, for this research and the subsequent report grew out of the NYCLS’s experience in providing legal advice o, or representing, parent in resolving school – related discrimination against their children, The experiences of school age student, from pre-school through to the end of secondary school in public, private, Catholic and other church based schools were examined. Other educational sector such as post school eg TAFE and universities were not part of the study.

The research project aimed at documenting examples of discrimination experienced by school-age students with disabilities and determining their level of knowledge about discrimination and rights to redress. It also aimed to identify barriers to using discrimination laws and what kind of reforms might be needed to overcome these barriers. The major finding of the report showed that despite laws and policies ensuring access to education, children with disabilities still encountered discrimination in:

  • refusal of enrolment
  • different conditions of enrolment
  • denial of or limited access to school services
  • denial of or limited access to school services, facilities and programs
  • differential application of discipline policies
  • failure of schools to sufficiently address bullying and harassment against students with disabilities

Although attitudes had improved in recent decades, equitable access to education for students with disabilities was not yet a reality. Generally parents did not make use of the formal state or federal complaints avenues but tended to complain locally to an individual teacher to principal if they felt their child was not receiving fair treatment. This was because they often feared the consequences or found the formal complaints process too time-consuming and frustrating. The report makes a number of recommendations to government and educational authorities to take preventative and remedial actions in eliminating discrimination.

This parent’s words best sum up the current situation:
“In the last 12 months I have rung or visited 18 schools, both public and private , and received negative responses form them all. Most said they could not cater for children in wheelchairs, or all the classes were full, or questioned why they should take these children as there is no assistance for them and they.