Issue 15, December 1998

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 WWDA Chair

Obituary – Elizabeth Hastings

‘Burning Issues for People with Disabilities’ – by Elizabeth Hastings

Women with Disabilities and Violence

Women With Disabilities and Information Technology

The Supported Wages System

Peer Education for Women with Disabilities

WWDA’s Strategic Plan and Annual Report

Access Plus

What is the National Caucus of Disability Consumer Organisations?

Women’s Employment Support Service

Women’s Health Information Resource and Crisis Centres Association

Australian Women’s Health Network (AWHN)

Sexual Assault Counselling Service for Deaf and Hearing Impaired Women

Book Reviews

Audiovisual Resources

Internet Sites for Women With Disabilities

Upcoming Events

WWDA Newsletter Evaluation

A Message from the WWDA Chairperson – Vicki Toovey

The fragility of our lives is constantly emphasised and it occurs in many different ways. It can happen through budget cuts which affect our access to services, it can happen through elections and changes in commitments to things we hold dear. But the time when it most seems to affect us and cut to the heart of all we cherish is when some-one we have known, have loved, been friends with or worked with suddenly dies. The death of Elizabeth Hastings in October was a shock to many of us. Especially it cut deeply as a number of us had been privileged to speak with and listen to her at our Annual General Meeting in Melbourne in September. The AGM had seemed a fitting culmination to a year of hard work and many achievements and Elizabeth’s presence hit the right note for us as she spoke passionately about the issues which she thought might be important for WWDA to consider. I felt that Elizabeth gave us challenges and reminded us of the importance of why we as women with disabilities continue to gather together and to advocate for our issues. When I think of her I am reminded of how we need good strong women advocates in all aspects of life and I hope that WWDA can continue to support women to take up these roles.

AGM’s can be times to celebrate achievements and they are times for reflection as well as planning ahead. As always quite a deal of discussion was generated about how we continue to manage an organisation dependent on annual funding, one which wants to make a mark for women with disabilities in the mainstream of life as well as within the disability movement and has so many issues which it wants to tackle. Thus you will see included in this edition of the newsletter a form asking for your views on the role and shape of the newsletter. Please participate in this as it is important for us to hear from members so that we are able to best use our resources, both financial and staffing.

The opportunities for WWDA to make a mark in the areas of information technology, taking a stand against violence and supporting women with disabilities to take up leadership roles at different levels in our society are ones we wish to strongly pursue in the coming year. The success of the grant funding submissions enhances these opportunities but it is also important that the structure of the organisation facilitates outcomes in these areas which are inclusive of our members. It is with this in mind that the members present at the AGM agreed that we need to revise the Constitution of WWDA over this coming year and have changes considered ready to present for ratification to the AGM in 1999.

The success of WWDA must lie with its ability to advocate well on behalf of women with disabilities and the structure and function of the organisation must reflect the values we hold. Critical to our values has been the issue of inclusion of all women with disabilities, the opportunity for women to participate in decision making and a structure which supports women to take up opportunities for learning, representation and participation. These are big demands but we need to hold onto them as our aims so that we can be strong and truly representative of women with disabilities.

Therefore we would like to invite women to comment on our Constitution and to suggest areas for change. Many of you will have had experience in other organisations and be aware of the things that have or have not worked. If you are interested in commenting or contributing to discussion on the Constitution please contact the WWDA office for a copy.

Vicki Toovey
WWDA Chairperson

Obituary – Elizabeth Hastings

Elizabeth Hastings spent a lifetime working for people’s rights and her powerfully persuasive writings and incisive public addresses stirred many others to act too.

Born in England to Stuart and Jean Hastings, the family migrated to Australia. Elizabeth had caught polio early in childhood and Australia’s immigration laws almost prevented the family from settling here. Elizabeth spent some time at Yooralla Special School where she quickly impressed staff and her schoolmates with her urgency to move on with her life. She was delayed somewhat by the need for physiotherapy and cumbersome equipment. Elizabeth found using a wheelchair was the quickest mobility device. Accepted into Strathcona, Elizabeth’s academic achievements took her through school and into the University of Melbourne where she took a Psychology degree.

Elizabeth made sure life was fun. She was involved in a very active university social life, including the choral society. Elizabeth moved onto employment with the Department of Labour and National Service, and then moved to the Counselling Service at La Trobe University for 17 years. Elizabeth also conducted private practice as a psychologist and psychotherapist. Part of this role included her supervision of probationary psychologists. Elizabeth was an animated and enthusiastic supervisor. Her philosophy was to encourage freedom of thought and experimentation within professional and ethical guidelines. She incorporated her expertise in psychodrama into therapy sessions and supervision.

In the meantime Elizabeth was appointed to the 1980-82 International Year of Disabled Persons Victorian State Committee and took responsibility for the Representation portfolio. This task signified Elizabeth’s lifelong search for ways that people with disabilities could be enabled to speak for themselves and engage in class advocacy. Up until this time, charitable organisations provided cradle to the grave care for most people with disabilities, and exercised far too much control over their lives. Speaking out was dangerous as care could be denied to the non-conformist. Elizabeth developed a committee around her and was able to allocate money to disabled advocacy groups, the most notable being the Disability Resources Centre which became a vehicle for social change.

Disabled People’s International was formed in 1981 and Elizabeth became involved with the Victorian chapter. Elizabeth was impatient with disability politics and challenged advocacy groups within the disability movement to focus on strategies and goals rather than organisational processes.

In 1992 Elizabeth was appointed as the first and only Disability Discrimination Act Commissioner within the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission and presided over countless mediations and cases. Elizabeth was integrally involved in educating the community about the rights of people with disabilities and worked with innumerable committees to develop strategies and actions to give import to the Disability Discrimination Act. Having completed her term as Commissioner, Elizabeth became Manager of the Social Justice and Responsibility Unit of the Uniting Church of Victoria.

Her commitment to spiritual matters continued throughout her life and Elizabeth was supported in this by her involvement with university chaplains and the congregation of St. Bartholomew’s Anglican Church.

Breast cancer took Elizabeth’s life at too young an age. Elizabeth is survived by her parents, sister Stephanie, friends, and myriad disability activists who will continue her dedication to fighting the big issues confronting people with disabilities.

by Victorian Women with Disabilities Network and Stella Mountjouris

‘Burning Issues for People with Disabilities’ – by Elizabeth Hastings, Manager, Justice and Social Responsibility, Uniting Church in Australia (Synod of Victoria)

This is a transcript of a speech given by Elizabeth Hastings at the Annual General Meeting of Women With Disabilities Australia (WWDA), shortly before her death. The WWDA Annual General Meeting was held in Melbourne, September 12 1998.

“Good afternoon, and thank you for asking me to speak at your AGM. It’s clear from the reports and other information you have sent me that WWDA is an active and thoughtful organisation with a clear view of the rights of people with disabilities. I am therefore not going to go over old ground with you about the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA), the shortcomings of the current Federal Government in all matters to do with disability, and the problems now faced by the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission and people with disabilities as the position of Disability Discrimination Commissioner remains unfilled and the rights remain largely unrepresented. I will tell you though, that I am very disappointed in the progress since I left that position.

Your letter of invitation to me to speak came after I had occasioned another flurry of interest in the sterilisation of minors and a few other things through a press release I sent out from the Justice and Social Responsibility Unit, so I thought I’d share with you today some of the unresolved issues for people with disabilities in general, and some for women with disabilities in particular.

These are a few of the issues that make me burn with anger – burning issues that have been smouldering away for years in our community without either being quenched or making such a conflagration that its light and heat has caused something to be done.

A Discrimination free world to live in
Of course, there are some fundamental systemic issues that require attention, and I shall attend briefly to these first: unlike the smouldering issues I will come to shortly, these are briskly burning and getting at least a little sustained attention from Government, advocacy groups and service providers. As you know, in the last few years there have been some advances made in protecting the rights of people with a disability to participate without discrimination in the social, cultural, economic, educational and political world we all share. Under various Acts people with a disability can expect, provided it would not be an unjustifiable hardship, to have access to all the goods, services and facilities our community offers. Employment, education, public transport, insurance, sport, recreation and access to premises: in all these areas people with a disability or their associates may legitimately make complaint and seek redress.

We may also legitimately hope for systemic and infrastructure change in compliance with the legislation. Such hope may be legitimate, but I am afraid it may also be foolish: vested interests such as the Australian Bus and Coach Association and the Property Council of Australia moved very quickly upon the change of government in 1996 to derail all processes that were on the brink of delivering an accessible community, and the tram has not yet been put back on the tracks.

If people with a disability do not have access to transport, accommodation, work, education and information we will continue to be dependent on community services and government payments. We will continue to experience ourselves as living on the edge of our society, as being of less worth than other human beings – and our society will continue to have that perception of us.

The right to live in a community free of discrimination is a burning issue for people with a disability, and advocacy for this should be a burning issue for all of us: to go on filling the gap through services rather than demanding it be filled through the elimination of discrimination (as stated in the Aims and Objects of the DDA) is to fail people with disabilities.

Now I shall return to those issues that smoulder but do not create enough heat and light for real action to be taken.

Conditions in Congregate Care
Naturally my mind goes first to to Kew Cottages that killed 9 young men a few years ago. One would have thought this is a large and deadly enough conflagration to result in immediate remedy – but only a few weeks ago as I was browsing through the Tendering pages of The Age I saw a call for tenders to install fire sprinklers at Kew – this now several years after the event. Subsequent inquiry revealed that the tenders have now had done to them whatever they do – and the sprinkler systems are due to go in soon.

This is my first burning issue: the appalling physical conditions under which so many people with a disability live and the slowness of the government, and of the community, to respond effectively – or at all. I am aware of the desperate situation people with a disability find themselves in when they need 24 hour care. The conditions for living are frequently unsafe, unsanitary and undignified, and the greater your need the more parsimonious the response.

Abuse in Institutions
According to at least fifteen reviews and inquiries into abuse of people living in institutions published during the five years I was Disability Discrimination Commissioner, conditions are also frequently brutal, abusive and exploitative. Staff are untrained in even basic matters of personal care, hygiene and the needs of people with certain disabilities, let alone how to prevent or respond to abuse: indeed it is common for casual weekend staff to be recruited from back-packers’ hostels.

A funding system that barely allows for getting people up and washed, dressed and fed, and then leaves them to their own devices when lack of devices is one of the major characteristics of the disability, is cruelly inadequate. Such is the nature of outcome focused so called ‘economic rationalism’: it is cruel to the human spirit and inadequate to human need.

In a paper on abuse in institutions I was preparing as I left the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission, I referred to the “abuse of meaninglessness”: people with various cognitive and behavioural disabilities herded into a Day room, or a concrete enclosure, for twelve hours a day with nothing to look forward to but the next meal (if such it could be called). Our prisoners get better conditions and daily routines than do our innocent but challenging people with a disability. The St Kilda centre for Creative Ministries recently conducted a program of 12 crafts, movement and drama classes in a Special Accommodation House – so great was the response from the residents that the 12 expanded to 47 classes, and resulted in the production of a booklet called ‘101 Things to do in a Special Accommodation’ which I launched last week. The problem for the manager, however, continues to be lack of resources for activities.

If the relatively independent people in a Special Accommodation House have such a hunger for activities the meaningless and tedium of existence for those with more severe disabilities in congregate care is unimaginable.

Where physical, sexual or psychological abuse does occur (perpetrated either by staff or by another resident) there are rarely any mechanisms for reporting or response. A whistleblower is far more likely to be sacked or punished than is the perpetrator, and almost never anything is done for the person who was abused. The police are reluctant to get involved, and in any case are rarely called by the manager of the facility who prefers, naturally, to handle the matter in-house. Equality under and equal protection of the law is nothing more than a fairy tale for people with cognitive and behavioural disabilities.

Advocacy for our brothers and sisters who are relegated to congregate care is a burning need – we must advocate for sufficient funds to give people a life worth living; protection from abuse and exploitation; and real, experienced equality under the law.

Care for the whole person
When you are diagnosed as having a disability it appears that the world assumes that’s your lot, your full allocation. People with a disability living in institutions rarely receive medical attention or adequate dental care. It is known that if you have multiple disabilities, including intellectual disability, all your teeth will probably fall out through lack of care, poor food and speedy, expedient but barely effective feeding practices. You may also slowly starve to death. Certainly you will not enjoy your meals. Once your teeth have fallen out you will be fed mush – almost never will you be taken to the dentist.

If you are a woman in congregate care you will almost certainly not be given regular pap smears or, as you get older, mammograms. Men will not be checked for prostate cancer. No-one will have their hearts monitored. In the 1996-97 Annual Report of the New South Wales equivalent of the Guardianship Board, Roger West tells the story of a woman who was diagnosed as having an intellectual disability. As the years went by she stopped walking and took to a wheelchair. In time she stopped moving around at all and gave up speaking. She would sit in a corner all day, bent over and making moaning noises. Everybody thought: ‘Oh that’s just her, she has an intellectual disability, she’s been acting like that for a while’. Surely if any of us took to sitting in a corner and moaning there would be some curiosity displayed as to why we were behaving so oddly? Eventually, for some reason not connected with her, a doctor examined all the residents: this woman was found to have advanced and extremely painful liver cancer.

Having even a life long disability does not prevent other things happening to us: would that nature were so even handed!

Within this category could also come the matter of multiple disabilities, especially those that cross the artificial boundaries that we set up for administrative expedience. The person with a physical disability, for example, who becomes an alcohol or drug abuser; the person with an intellectual disability who develops a psychosis; the deaf person who needs psychological counselling for relationship or other problems. Our systems are not set up to respond to the wholeness of human life and experience but demand we have one thing go wrong at a time: take it from me, life’s not like that!

Advocacy for proper attention to the whole person as someone with a multitude of attributes, characteristics, idiosyncrasies – a personality and a real human body, for heaven’s sake! – is a burning issue for our sisters and brothers with cognitive, physical or multiple disabilities.

Sterilisation of minors
While the Australian Government is reducing the accessibility of remedy for breaches of laws for elimination of discrimination on the basis of disability, the community at large is hell bent on eliminating us, people with a disability.

First there is the continuing practice, known of and admitted by the Minister for Health, of the illegal sterilisation of minors, for reasons other than life saving surgery or treatment of last resort. I released a report on this late last year, as pretty much my last act as Commissioner.

In 1992, the High Court in re Marion found it illegal for the decision to sterilise a girl under the age of 18 to be made other than in a court – later the High Court specified the Family Court as a proper court for this purpose. In the following 5 years there were 17 authorisations in the Family Court, and 1045 sterilisation procedures in Australia on girls and young women under the age of 18, some as young as nine, eleven or fourteen. The matter first came before me in the early months of my appointment – though I have, like all people who grow up with and among people who have a disability, always known it happens.

Whenever people who have disabilities engage in serious discussion of our experience, this is a part of it: this knowledge that others had control over decisions about our reproduction; over our ordinary movement into adulthood and sexuality; into womanhood, menstruation, pregnancy and motherhood. The control was partly material, as in sterilisation or other treatments which affected our physical being, and partly emotional or psychological. This latter affected our hopes and aspirations, our expectations of ourselves and of others in relationship with us. The knowledge that people we knew could be sterilised (or may die) over the school holidays was built into our dreams and plans, our self image and self esteem.

There is more to Human Rights than a technical or mechanical protection of life, liberty and integrity of person.

Human rights, the protection of our rights, and the experience of our rights being protected because we are as human as all people, as valued as all people, goes to the heart of being a human being with the rights and responsibilities of human beings in our society. A world in which a government Minister cannot be bothered to investigate possible illegal medical assault on nearly 200 of its citizens (this is the number Mr. Wooldridge estimates could be illegal assaults), in which those with no authority feel free to make decisions which are blatantly against the law and to carry out serious and irreversible procedures on those with little or no capacity to give or withhold consent, is a world in which people with disabilities can have no certainty or confidence about their human being or their future.

The shadows of withdrawal of treatment, euthanasia, culling in the womb, elimination in the genome are not so far behind the fact of illegal assault on bodily integrity for the convenience or emotional comfort of those who may not under law make that decision.

This is not the place for an extended discussion of this matter, nor for the question of whether a person with an intellectual disability should have children – the point I am making here is that sterilisation of children is happening illegally every day in Australia. The doctors are not being investigated or prosecuted, the parents are not being given alternative solutions to the problems they fear, and the girls are not receiving the equal protection of the law to which they are entitled. The procedure is being used on girls as young as nine for three main purposes: prevention of pregnancy; avoidance of the need to manage menstruation; and eugenics. All of these are in contravention of Human Rights and the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

I have already spoken at a Medico-Legal Conference conducted in Melbourne by the Family Court of Australia, and have been invited to address a similar international conference next month. I also included this matter in my recent press release.

With both report and press release, the predictable response of the media was two-fold. There was a gasp of shock and flurry of outrage that such sterilisations were occurring; then there was an uninformed and prejudiced insistence that the rights of the parents to peace of mind, and of the unborn children of “mentally retarded” mothers who would not be able to look after them to remain unborn, took precedence over any rights the young women themselves may have. I remember particularly one very unpleasant interview with two radio hosts who insisted that I had no right to interfere in the lives of people who were already suffering enough, nor to impose such irrelevancies as High Court decisions or United Nations Declarations of Human Rights on the hapless mums and dads of Australia.

Over a long period the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission has sought to ensure that people with an intellectual disability are not subjected inappropriately to sterilising surgical procedures.

In Marion’s Case, the High Court held that court or tribunal authority is required before any child can lawfully be sterilised, unless the sterilisation occurs as a by-product of surgery carried out to treat some malfunction or disease. That authorisation may be given only if sterilisation is determined to be in the child’s best interests after alternative and less invasive procedures have all failed or it is certain that no other procedure or treatment will work. The Commission appeared in this case, presenting the human rights aspects that were thought essential in the consideration of such applications.

In 1994 and 1995 I instructed the legal staff of the Commission to seek leave to appear in the several stages of a case known as P v P as it worked its way through a single, then full, bench of the Family Court, the federal Court and on appeal, to the High Court. At all times my intention was not to represent or advocate for either party, but to ensure that all relevant matters were put before the Court.

In a submission invited by the Family Court, we detailed those criteria which would never, alone or in combination, be themselves sufficient basis for a decision that sterilisation was in the best interest of the child. These “binding proscriptive criteria” included sterilisation: for eugenic or public welfare reasons; to prevent the consequences of sexual abuse; for contraceptive purposes; to remedy hygiene or other usual and practical problems of menstruation; for the purpose of easing the burden on persons responsible for caring for the child; or if the operation is not the last resort.

We also outlined factors which, in our opinion, the Court should have regard to in the exercise of discretion in matters of this type. These guidelines included: the physical, mental or psychological health and capacity of the child with and without sterilisation; the severity of the problems to be experienced by the child in the absence of sterilisation; the capacity of the child to give present or future consent given her age; and the age of the child (in view of the fact that sterilisation must be a treatment of last resort in the sense that no alternative and less drastic treatment would be appropriate and effective, it should not ordinarily be justified before the child has commenced menstruation).

Further considerations included: whether present and future alternative remedies (including counselling, contraception, pharmacological alternatives, training, supportive nursing and care) had been attempted or considered; the views of the child; the extent of intellectual impairment of the child; potential capacity of the child to care for an infant and be involved in an ongoing human relationship; detrimental consequences of the child continuing to menstruate; the views of the parents; the effect of sterilisation on the child’s long term physical health, mental health, emotional wellbeing, and important relationships; the burden on those responsible for caring for the child insofar as that may affect the overall welfare of the child; whether the operation is substantially therapeutic or not; is it the least invasive procedure possible; and would the same procedure be recommended for saving the same problem of an intellectually competent child.

These items were offered in the light of recognition that sterilisation will always be in the best interests of the child if it is necessary or incidental to conventional medical treatment (including surgery) for the preservation of life, prevention of grave illness, or correction of some serious malfunction.

I think it should be clear from these considerations that neither the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission, nor I, nor indeed any who work with people who have an intellectual disability, take the position that sterilisation should never occur. There are situations where sterilisation may be the appropriate solution. The position we do take is that the sterilisation be in fact the appropriate response to the problems being experienced, that it be the procedure of last resort, and that the decision be made lawfully and with proper consideration of the human rights of the child under discussion.

The High Court also called for federal legislative reform to provide for a decision making process that would be more appropriate and accessible and less expensive, particularly for parents, than the adversarial court process.

In 1996 a guide to decision making about special medical procedures was published by the Family Court in Queensland. This gave clear guidance to the process of seeking court authorisation for such procedures, including sterilisation, and to the considerations that should be taken into account, and was the basis for a similar set of guidelines launched in Victoria in March.

The illegal use of irrevocable surgical intervention for reasons other than life threatening disease is, and has been for a very long time, a burning issue for people with a disability.

What can Women With Disabilities Australia WWDA do about this? I think we must above all keep the matter alive. We need to find out the mechanisms necessary to report cases of illegal sterilisation to the Federal Police, promote at all times the Family Court Guidelines, lobby Community Services Departments for adequate funding and programs to give anxious and stressed parents real access to alternative methods of menstrual and pregnancy management. One thing we can be absolutely sure of is that sterilisation of one’s daughter will not avoid the ordinary difficulties of adolescence that all parents must face with their children, with or without disabilities. At least one Scandanavian country (Sweden, I think) has outlawed all sterilisation procedures that are not actually life saving – and that is extremely rare in young women and girls.

Genetic Manipulation
We can add to sterilisation the new fantasy of eliminating genetic disabilities, and along with these a whole raft of human problems, through ante-natal testing and abortion. People with a disability must now establish their worth as human beings in the face of a general assumption that people like us are better aborted. Parents of children with disabilities, whether genetic or not, are now being accused of selfishness or stupidity or criminality for not having got rid of the child through abortion. The obvious desirability ridding the world of people with Down Syndrome, spinabifida, muscular dystrophy and other disabilities is being announced on radio and television as though these potential abortees were not part of the audience. Statements are being made about the quality of our lives by people who have never considered asking us. Expectant parents are being told of their defective foetus and given information about abortion in an environment where nearly every day there is social comment made about the desirability of eliminating disability from your family, from our community – they are not introduced to families that are living happily and successfully with the disability, they are not told that many parents see their child with a disability as the light, the sunshine, of their lives.

This fantasy about eliminating disappointment and difficulty through abortion and genetic manipulation is very dangerous indeed for human community and wholeness. Its implications for government control (for example: I believe that in France if you knowingly give birth to a baby with a genetic disability you will not be eligible for any government support or services for that child) are reminiscent of 1984 and other not so fantastic fantasies. This is not simply a public health matter, it is about bottom line economics and fantasies of perfection. It is a part of our human endeavour to avoid suffering, disappointment, constraint and effort. It is foolishness: there is no guarantee that a baby may not become disabled through the stresses of birth, the exigencies of early life or later illness or accident. Neither is there any guarantee that this, as near to perfect as we could get child, will not grow up to abuse drugs, or people, or otherwise cause heartbreak for the family. We cannot and should not attempt to eliminate this ordinary part of humanbeing, these ordinary human experiences. We should not easily or thoughtlessly go along with the idea that controlling this part of our God given creation is good for humanity.

It is a burning issue for people with a disability and I hope will kindle a fire in your advocacy activities also. I recently published an opinion piece on this in the Financial Review Legal Affairs pages and hope we can make people a bit more thoughtful about inconvenience, disappointment and negative assumptions as a basis for this decision.

These matters, largely affecting people with an intellectual disability and their families, have as I said earlier, been around for a long time. Small parent, consumer or community based groups take the matters up from time to time, usually earning for themselves some denigrating title. One such is John Jacobson, who may be well known to those of you who live in Sydney. John has fought the battle of conditions in institutions, illegal sterilisation, abuse and exploitation for many years and deserves a medal for persistence in the face of indifference and inertia.

Spiritual life and development
The spiritual life and development of people with a disability is another burning issue. In May I attended a Conference on Spirituality and Disability in Adelaide at which there were about 200 people with disabilities, all of whom were very serious about their spiritual life and all of whom had felt abused, misrepresented or excluded by mainstream religions at some time. In Victoria there used to be eleven chaplains for people with mental illness and psychiatric disability: this has been reduced to one, and that one is precarious. Government is reluctant, as I have said, to provide more than the absolute basics of food, shelter and clothing: surely these members of the body of Christ, these people created also in the image of God, should be cared for in their souls as well as their bodies. I am encouraging the Uniting Church to fight for this. I think it is also important for an advocacy group such as Women With Disabilities Australia to acknowledge the importance of the deeper life for people with disabilities, as well as the basics.

There are three more hot issues I want to mention before getting off my hobby horse: one is the dreaded bottom line which is drawn far too low as I suggested at the beginning, and others are the attrition of rights protection mechanisms, and the need for assisted communication for people with severe and multiple disabilities.

The bottom line
Everybody knows the bottom line is too low, of course, but we must take this up at every opportunity. People with a disability have been demonstrated over and over again to be the poorest in our community. The costs of disability are borne over and above the ordinary costs of living, and are by no means insignificant. Transport, medication, accommodation – just about everything costs more. For those living in institutions there are fees and charges taken out of their Disability support Pension that allow very little left over for personal pleasure. Funding, as I have said, assures only the barest, meanest minimum of service for people who have little else to look forward to – this enforced “bottom line” bleakness for so many is a burning issue if we hope to become a humane society.

Attrition of Human Rights protection
In the last two years there has been significant attrition of rights protection mechanisms and of advocacy for people with a disability. The Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission has, as you know, had 43% of its funding removed over the last 18 months; the Disability Discrimination Commissioner has not been replaced and new legislation will remove the role altogether; hearings will move to the Federal Court which will have a negative impact on those least able to fight their own battles; the Guardianship Board in Victoria has been rolled into the “mega-tribunal’ along with the AAT and thus people with a disability have lost the avenue of appeal from the Guardianship Board on the merits of the case; information and advocacy services have been defunded. People with a disability continue to be significantly over represented in police lock ups, courts and prisons, and in Centrelink queues, and grossly under represented in secondary and higher education and employment.

Assisted Communication
And finally, there is the matter of communication for those whose disability has deprived them of their own voice. I am speaking here of those who have such impaired speech, and such difficulty with more coordination that they are silenced. These are the “harijan” or “dalits” of the disability world. The treatment they receive, the future they can look forward to, in institutions and in the world, is unimaginably bleak. Anybody who has read Annie MacDonalds biography will be aware of the danger of making assumptions about the intellect, the humanity of people with such disabilities. I have recently read “Speechless”, a book about assisted communication written by Rosemary Crossley. Rosemary is very highly thought of in the United States of America, but ridiculed and ignored here. A reading of her book should give anybody pause in their confident assertions about the lack of ability of those whose disability renders them “speechless”. The right to have access to whatever is necessary to allow the speechless to speak should be a burning issue for all of us in the name of humanity.

These are my burning issues. I hope they will fire you up too, and be part of your advocacy and fight as you go into your next year.”

‘Women With Disabilities and Violence: WWDA’s Response’ by Karin Swift.

Paper presented by Karin Swift on behalf of WWDA to the New South Wales Women’s Refuge Movement Conference, Sydney, July 1998. Copyright.


All people with disabilities are at risk of disadvantage and discrimination. However, women with disabilities experience a double disadvantage because of both their disability and gender. Many have special needs arising from their disabilities. They may require assistance such as interpreters, aids, personal care or other forms of support to perform activities of daily living. All of these factors and societal attitudes towards women with disabilities combine to erect barriers to their full participation in society. Chenoweth (1992) asserts that the devaluation and marginalisation of women with disabilities is such that it amounts to a “concentration or pile up of discrimination which is more exponential than merely cumulative”. These factors act as barriers which also restrict their access to the support which is becoming increasingly available to women who experience violence (Buchmueller, 1996).

Issues for women with disabilities who experience violence are a high priority for Women With Disabilities Australia (WWDA). This paper aims to disseminate some information about WWDA the organisation. It also aims to discuss some pertinent issues concerning violence against women with disabilities. This paper will then examine projects that WWDA conducted in 1997 to assist women’s refuges to develop Model Disability Discrimination Act Action Plans.

In keeping with the theme of the conference, this paper will conclude by suggesting some practical strategies that workers in the field can use to reorient their services to more accessible ones for women with disabilities.

WWDA – The Organisation

WWDA is a federating body of individuals and networks in each State and Territory in Australia and is made up of women with disabilities and associated organisations. The national secretariat is located in Canberra, the capital city of Australia. WWDA is run by women with disabilities, for women with disabilities. It is the only organisation of its kind in Australia and one of only a very small number internationally (WWDA, 1998).

WWDA seeks to ensure opportunities in all walks of life for all women with disabilities. In this it aims to increase awareness of, and address issues faced by, women with disabilities in the community. It links women with disabilities from around Australia, providing opportunities for them to identify and discuss issues of common concern (WWDA, 1998). WWDA works in partnership with other disability organisations and women’s organisations and generates and disseminates information to women with disabilities, their families, carers, service providers, government and the media. WWDA is inclusive and does not discriminate against any disability (WWDA, 1998).

The objectives of WWDA are:

  • to develop a network of women with disabilities throughout Australia to work together for their mutual benefit;
  • to advocate for every woman with a disability to have the opportunity for true involvement in all levels of society;
  • to develop leadership and the sharing of responsibilities to enable women with disabilities to take their place in whatever section of society they choose;
  • to change social attitudes, practices and power relationships which discriminate against women with disabilities;
  • to lobby for the implementation of procedures and enactment of legislation which will advance and benefit all women with disabilities and combat sexism; and
  • to inform and educate the public with a view to advancing the opportunities for women in the political, creative, civil and social fields. (WWDA, 1998, p. 2).

WWDA has a comprehensive understanding of issues for people with disabilities, particularly women. WWDA has a commitment to providing employment and training opportunities for women with disabilities (WWDA, 1998). This means that where possible, WWDA employs women with disabilities to conduct projects and undertake consultations. Women with disabilities manage WWDA projects and programs and provide consultancy services to the organisation as required (WWDA, 1998).

WWDA’s philosophy asserts that women with disabilities be equitably remunerated for their work and expertise, including for their input into consultative and review processes, management and advisory committees, and reference and working groups. WWDA is managed by a National Executive committee, which is elected each year at the Annual General Meeting. There are twelve members on the Committee, including at least one representative from each State and Territory branch. All members are women with disabilities (WWDA, 1998). The National Secretariat is managed on a day to day basis by an Executive Director, who reports directly to the National Executive Committee. There is a branch of WWDA in each State and Territory of Australia, including a regional WWDA Group in Newcastle. All the State and Territory branches operate on a voluntary level. The national WWDA office employs two staff – one full time Executive Officer and one part-time bookkeeper. The national WWDA office also provides opportunities for women with disabilities on Job Start and Disability Employment Programs (WWDA, 1998).

The total membership of WWDA is currently, approximately fourteen hundred. Around two hundred and sixty four organisations are associate members of WWDA. There are no organisational members at this stage, because one of the criteria for organisational membership of WWDA is that a majority of the members of the organisation must be women with disabilities (WWDA, 1998). Most organisations opt to join WWDA as associate members. The current individual membership of WWDA is made up largely of women with disabilities. WWDA membership is contained in a large data base with searchable fields which include: name; address; organisation; contact details; state/territory (WWDA, 1998).

WWDA has affiliations with around two hundred and sixty four organisations which are associate members. WWDA has and continues to, establish partnerships and alliances with a range of organisations in order to better meet the needs of women with disabilities in Australia. WWDA has established links with a number of relevant international organisations and now has a recognised international presence. WWDA is committed to developing strategic alliances with organisations and fostering collaborative approaches to projects and activities (WWDA, 1998).

Major Issues Surrounding Violence Against Women With Disabilities

Considering what is needed to ensure that women with disabilities have access to protection orders and to domestic violence services, information is seen to be a key issue. According to Cattalini (1993, p. 23), “Women with disabilities believe that they have often been deprived of the knowledge they require to deal with their experiences of violence”.

Cattalini (1993, p.23) goes on to argue:
“Unless a special link has been made with a disability group it is unlikely that service providers which provide for such special populations would consider it necessary to include women with disabilities. Among the publicity material displayed [in services]..,material in braille or audio form, or in languages which could be understood by women with intellectual disabilities is rarely available.”

The communication differences of women with disabilities is a related issue. Of the communication differences, the most prominent mentioned in the literature were those caused by impaired sensory, manual or speaking skills (Aiello and Capkin, 1984).

Societal intolerance and impatience with these differences compound the communication difficulties of persons affected by those impairments (Buchmueller, 1996).

Isolation, both social and physical, is another factor contributing to the difficulties faced by women with disabilities in knowing about domestic violence laws and services and the means of accessing them. In many cases this isolation is heightened by the absence of family, social support and a lack of other women with whom to network. This isolation can be even more extreme for rural women with disabilities. Such isolation compounds their vulnerability. The combination of lack of information, isolation and the requirement to appear at court are powerful deterrents for women with disabilities experiencing violence (Buchmueller, 1996).

Knowledge of women’s rights is another area of concern. Cattalini (1993, p. 23) states:
“Many [women with disabilities] are not aware that women consider violence to be unacceptable behaviour. Those who have experienced violence over a period of time have often considered it to be “normal” behaviour or have at least believed that as no one else was concerned, it was futile to try to deal with it.”

Following on from the issue of rights comes actually recognising the violence. McPherson (1991) expresses the view that women with disabilities are beginning to recognise violence because they are gradually becoming a more visible part of society as a result of increasing de-institutionalisation. While this may be so, it is important to acknowledge that many women with disabilities may remain in institutions and it is crucial that there are safeguards in legislation to protect them from abuse in those settings (Buchmueller, 1996).

Cultural values and religious beliefs can also mitigate against recognition of violence. If the beliefs and practices of a cultural or religious group devalue women and confine them to stereotyped and subservient roles, they can be made more vulnerable to violence and accept it as an inevitable aspect of being a woman (Buchmueller, 1996).

Another important issue for women with disabilities regarding violence is their perceived lack of credibility by society. This is seen to arise from certain myths and assumptions identified by Chenoweth (1992, p. 10). The common myths are:

  • women with disabilities are asexual – they have no sexuality;
  • women with intellectual and psychiatric disabilities are promiscuous;
  • women with disabilities should not have children as they are not fit mothers;
  • women with disabilities who have been sexually abused do not suffer the same trauma as other women when similarly abused;
  • women with disabilities should be grateful for any sexual advance made towards them because they are so unattractive;
  • women with disabilities are just like children;
  • women with disabilities do not need to be taken seriously;
  • sterilising women with disabilities will protect them from rape; and
  • women with disabilities who do speak out or make complaints are trouble makers, crazy or led by irrational advocacy groups.

Because of these inappropriate perceptions Chenoweth (1992, p. 10) goes on to argue that the following ramifications result:

  • Many women with intellectual disability miss out on sex education so that when abuse occurs they know something is wrong but are not sure what it is;
  • Women with disabilities often have a learned passivity which is especially reinforced in institutional and residential settings;
  • The degree of physical dependency and fragility of support may prevent a woman from reporting abuse by a caregiver. When a woman is dependent upon her abuser for basic personal care, making a complaint may render her even more helpless;
  • Many women with disabilities have to live in institutional or residential settings away from public scrutiny and with little or no access to police or support services, lawyers or advocates. More abuse occurs “behind closed doors”;
  • Women in service settings may be exposed to large numbers of personal assistants or support workers;
  • Motivated by a need for power and control, offenders may choose victims who are unlikely to resist or report.
  • Even when women with disabilities do reach out for help or justice, services such as shelters, domestic violence support services, legal services are often inaccessible or do not know how to respond to women with disabilities.

Physical, financial and/or emotional dependence on the perpetrator is perhaps one of the most important issues when considering the circumstances of women with disabilities. A lack of finance and income support to move out of their domestic circumstances and the additional costs associated with having a disability are seen as compounding factors for women with disabilities affected by violence. The major source of financial support for most women with disabilities is that provided by Centrelink. This is barely enough to cover the basic costs of living and the costs associated with disability (ie. Wheelchairs), let alone the increased costs involved with leaving a violent relationship (Buchmueller, 1996). McPherson (1991, p. 49) argues; “Women with disabilities are most likely to be assaulted by those closest to them – relatives, caregivers and friends – in most cases men”.

She goes on to suggest; “What makes it even more difficult for a women with disabilities to leave a violent situation is that she is often dependant on the very person abusing her for support care and financial support” (McPherson, 1991, p. 49).

Accessible, appropriate and reliable transport is an unmet need for most people with disabilities. This issue can be further compounded in situations where the perpetrator may be the provider of the woman’s only form of transport. She may even be prevented from using a telephone for assistance, or may be unable to do so (Buchmueller, 1996).

Domestic violence services not catering for the special needs of women with disabilities is another issue of concern for those seeking access to refuges. McPherson (1991, p. 49) provides an example:
“A woman who uses a wheelchair finally summoned up the courage to leave an abusive relationship. She went to a woman’s shelter – and spent the next month in bed. We’re not as likely to slam the door in her face anymore – but God help her if she needs accommodation to deal with her disability.

The level of funding to domestic violence services limits the capacity for them to provide both the requisite training for workers and appropriate levels of support and care for women with disabilities.

Another aspect of the ways in which shelters do not meet the needs of women with disabilities include their physical design and internal arrangement. Wheelchair access is not provided to all shelters.

Among those which are wheelchair accessible often only one or two bedrooms and bathrooms are wheelchair accessible but other rooms such as kitchens and living areas may not be accessible (Buchmueller, 1996). On surveying the evidence presented thus far in this paper, it is apparent that there are currently few options within domestic violence services for women with disabilities experiencing violence or abuse. For the few who gain access to a shelter, this lack of options continues when it is time for them to leave. This overall situation is to the detriment of women with disabilities as it forces them to continue living in situations where they are in grave danger. At worst, such danger could lead to their death (McPherson, 1991).

WWDA Projects Addressing Women With Disabilities and Violence

The issue of violence against women with disabilities has been identified by WWDA members as a major issue for them. WWDA has responded to the expressed needs of women with disabilities in relation to violence issues by undertaking a range of innovative projects, as well as lobbying government to effect policy and legislative change to protect women who experience violence, in all its forms (WWDA, 1998).

In 1997 WWDA conducted two projects, funded by the Office of the Status of Women, to assist government funded women’s refuges and services around Australia to eliminate discrimination against women with disabilities by implementing Disability Discrimination Act. Action Plans. As defined by the report, an action plan is: a “plan of action” which identifies barriers which may result in discrimination against women with disabilities or children with disabilities who need to or are using a refuge. The Action Plan recommends strategies to eliminate barriers and devise ways for monitoring and evaluating the plan’s implementation (Strahan, 1997a, p. 23).

Both of these projects were exciting for WWDA as they were the first of their kind that dealt with women with disabilities’ access to women’s refuges and violence services.

The “More Than Just A Ramp” report is the Model Process which is a step by step guide services, especially women’s shelters, can use to help them develop Disability Discrimination Act Action Plans. The report outlines in great detail the steps to writing an action plan.

The “Woorarra Refuge Action Plan” report is the result of a pilot WWDA undertook with a women’s refuge in Victoria to develop an Action Plan for the service. In the course of the Project the women’s refuge involved, Woorarra, has undergone a vigorous access audit, as well as an examination of its policies and procedures. Perfect independent physical accessibility from the street into the refuge is impossible, short of lowering the mountain. The Action Plan recommends strategies to eliminate these barriers and mechanisms for monitoring and evaluation (Strahan, 1997b).

Woorarra will need to approach the Department of Homelessness and Family Violence within the Department of Human Services and the Department of Housing to discuss responsibilities, resources and finances, as the resources for major physical changes cannot come from Woorarra’s existing budget. Staff and management at Woorarra see the potential for the refuge to become a positive model for refuges, domestic violence services and relevant government departments alike, throughout Victoria and perhaps Australia as a very exciting opportunity. The Disability Discrimination Act Action Plan will be implemented within the context of other significant changes in the Victorian domestic violence sector such as the restructure of refuges and the implementation of any revisions of the Action Plan of the Federal Department of Family Services as it relates to Supported Accommodation Assistance Program services (Strahan, 1997b).

Practical Strategies Addressing Violence against Women With Disabilities

In this section of the paper strategies are proposed, from both a service viewpoint and a broader societal context, for responding to the issues of women with disabilities in relation to violence. The formulation of a Disability Discrimination Act Action Plan is a pertinent strategy refuges can use to address violence against women with disabilities. The steps in formulating an action plan are from the “More Than Just A Ramp” report:

  • Develop a good working group.
  • Familiarise yourself with the barriers in your service.
  • Consult and involve women with disabilities.
  • Educate your organisation about the Disability Discrimination Act.
  • Ensure that you are well supported.
  • Develop strategies.
  • Resource the Action Plan.
  • Negotiate with relevant government departments.
  • Determine responsibility.
  • Evaluate.

(Strahan, 1997a, p. 28).

It is apparent that both domestic violence services and disability services also need to develop collaborative approaches in working out how to support women with disabilities who wish to leave situations of violence. Another aspect of providing supportive environments for women with disabilities requires the co-ordination in the provision of links between shelters and community nursing and other services, to meet the special needs of women with disabilities. These needs could be for personal care, medication for psychiatric illnesses, interpreter services and so on (Buchmueller, 1996).

Purpose built shelters designed and constructed to provide wheelchair accessible and secure environments are advocated. A preferable long term solution is to provide purpose built structures which ensure that all shelters and crisis accommodation is fully accessible throughout.

Among the specific strategies that are necessary are the training and professional development of domestic violence workers to be sensitive to the needs of women with disabilities and to give workers the knowledge and skills to respond appropriately. Aiello and Capkin (1984, p. 15) make the following point:
“Victims of abuse and exploitation who are disabled need the same services as those who are not. Yet the misinformation and ignorance about disabled people that is common among the general public and many health and human service professionals make it difficult for agencies to provide the same quality services to their disabled clients.”

While it is not recommended that service providers develop new programs for their disabled clients, agencies must be prepared to make reasonable adjustments to ensure that those clients benefit equally from services. Such adjustments will include providing staff with training on disability, victimisation and their joint impact.

It would be necessary also to ensure that training programs for domestic violence workers, residential care workers and other service providers include awareness raising about the rights of women with disabilities to dignity, privacy, independence and to other rights which are often taken for granted by other members of the community.

Provision of information is another matter of high priority. To address this issue “user friendly” information about domestic violence services is seen to be necessary at places where women with disabilities could have ready access (Buchmueller, 1996).

Such information needs to be presented in clear and concise language that is easily understood. Written material that uses large visual media is particularly appropriate for women with intellectual disabilities (Buchmueller, 1996).

Doctors surgeries, hospitals, disability organisations, respite services, special schools and at venues for social groups are appropriate places for such information to be available. The need for that information to be in several forms – braille, on audio tape and in simple, accessible language is important (Buchmueller, 1996).

A related concern is the need for measures to address the communication differences of women with disabilities. Face to face communication in seminar format, for example is proposed as an effective means of informing women about issues associated with violence, their rights and other important issues. Appropriate support also in the form of interpreters and advocates to assist women with communication and to represent their needs in seeking either redress or treatments for the effects of violence are essential (Buchmueller, 1996).

Knowledge of women with disabilities’ rights, the ability to recognise violence and to manage issues associated with physical and emotional dependence on partners and carers are issues which can be addressed by education.

Public education programs would also be required to debunk the prevailing myths which deprive women with disabilities of their full status as members of society and to create the public awareness necessary for the creation of inclusive and supportive communities.

Broadly based education programs are viewed as a key strategy in changing the circumstances of women with disabilities. Such education needs to focus on the situations of women with disabilities wherever they live and in whatever residential settings they reside – whether in family homes, group living situations, or in institutions. This information would provide the basis for essential education programs for services and within the community, and thus, improve the standard of service provision to women with disabilities (Buchmueller, 1996).

Isolation – both physical and social is identified as a key issue for women with disabilities who experience violence. To reduce this isolation their inclusion in the total range of organisations and activities available to women generally in the community is proposed as a necessary strategy (Buchmueller, 1996).

Inclusive policies and practices at all levels of society is seen as being important, as is the involvement in women’s networks such as WWDA that are supportive and sensitive to the needs of women with disabilities who experience violence. Similarly, the need to link those women to existing groups for women is advocated. Outreach to domestic violence services to include them is seen also to be a desirable strategy to reduce their isolation (Buchmueller, 1996).

If the needs of women with disabilities are to be recognised, it is paramount that they be provided with protective legislation which is accessible to them. A possible option in this context is the amendment of legislation so that the definition of a “domestic relationship” is extended to include family members, carers, fellow residents and partners.

This amendment would extend the protection of the Act to many of the circumstances in which women with disabilities live (Buchmueller, 1996).


Violence against women with disabilities is a serious issue. Many women with disabilities share common issues with other women who experience violence. Their disabilities can increase their vulnerability to violence because of their level of dependence on relatives, friends and carers. They are most likely to be placed in situations they cannot leave – or worse still, do not recognise or acknowledge the violence perpetrated against them and may be unaware of the options available to them (Buchmueller, 1996).

This paper has provided background information about the issues women with disabilities face concerning violence. This paper also examined the role and function of WWDA and looked at projects they undertook in 1997 to address the serious issue of women with disabilities and violence.

Practical information and strategies were included for service providers so that they could utilise them to make their services more accessible, equitable and responsive to women with disabilities. The necessity to implement practical strategies on a service level and a societal level was acknowledged.

Above all, proactive and inclusive legislation was seen as being a key strategy in addressing the issue of women with disabilities in relation to violence. Putting in place all of these discussed safeguards will protect women with disabilities from any further violence and violations of their human rights and will acknowledge their right to take a valued and recognised place in society (Buchmueller, 1996).


Aiello, D. and Capkin, L. (1984). Services for Disabled Victims, Response. Fall pp. 14-16.

Buchmueller, K. (1996). Women With Disabilities and Domestic Violence: Issues and strategies. Brisbane: Queensland Women’s Consultative Council.

Cattalini, H. (1993). Access to Services for Women With Disabilities who are Subjected to Violence. Canberra: Australian Government Printing Service.

Chenoweth, L. (1992). Invisible Acts: Violence against women with disabilities. Brisbane: QUT School of Social Science.

McPherson, C. (1991). ‘Violence Against Women With Disabilities: Out of sight, out of mind, Canadian Woman Studies. Vol. 11. No. 1.

Strahan, F. (1997a). More Than Just a Ramp: A guide for women’s refuges to develop Disability Discrimination Act action plans. Canberra: WWDA.

Strahan, F. (1997b). Woorarra Women’s Refuge Disability Action Plan. Canberra: WWDA and Woorarra Women’s Refuge.

WWDA. (1998). About Women With Disabilities Australia. Canberra: WWDA.

Sterilisation of Minors with Disabilities

In Australia, the legal framework regulating sterilisation of children was set out by the High Court in Marion’s Case in 1992. It sought to ensure heightened accountability in decision making in an area where children are at significant risk of grave abuse of their fundamental human right to bodily integrity. It held that:

  • court or tribunal authority is required before any child can lawfully be sterilised unless the sterilisation occurs as a by-product of surgery appropriately carried out to treat some malfunction or disease; and
  • authorisation may be given only if sterilisation is in the child’s best interests after alternative and less invasive procedures have all failed or it is certain that no other procedure or treatment will work (Brady and Grover 1997).

Since 1992, Australian courts and tribunals have authorised a total of 17 sterilisations of girls. However, a study undertaken in 1997 by Brady and Grover, found that data collated by the Health Insurance Commission shows that at least 1045 girls have been sterilised over this same period, and this figure counts only those sterilisations which qualify for a medicare benefit and for which a claim has been processed. It excludes sterilisations carried out by hospital doctors on public patients in public hospitals. Brady and Grover (1997) contend that comparisons with other data sources suggest that the true number is much greater, perhaps by a factor of several times.

According to Brady and Grover, there is no doubt that most of these girls were sterilised unlawfully. They suggest that:

  • disease of the reproductive tract is a very rare occurrence in girls, and no less rare in girls with intellectual disability. It follows that very few of these girls were sterilised genuinely ‘as a by product of surgery appropriately carried out to treat some malfunction or disease.’ The sterilisations of the vast majority were unlawful because they were not authorised by a court or tribunal;
  • sterilisation in the absence of malfunction or disease may sometimes be the option of genuine last resort, but this too is a rare occurrence. There are almost always less invasive alternatives of both medical and non-medical kinds, and they work with few exceptions.� The sterilisations of the vast majority were unlawful because without any doubt alternative and less invasive options had not been exhausted (Brady and Grover 1997).

Brady and Grover call for urgent action to be taken on this matter. They state: ‘these matters require urgent attention in the best interests of significant numbers of children whose human rights have been and continue to be abused in fundamental ways. The issue of law reform has been on the agenda of the Standing Committee of Attorneys General since Marion. It requires only the political will to bring it to conclusion’.

Taken from: Brady, S., and Grover, S. (1997) The Sterilisation of Girls and Young Women in Australia – A Legal, Medical and Social Context; a report commissioned by the Federal Disability Discrimination Commissioner; Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission.

Domestic Violence and Women With Disability Project

By MIMS and Associates, PO Box 7035, Holland Park, Queensland 4121
Ph: (07) 33432416 Fax: (07) 33432416 email:

The Department of Families, Youth and Community Care in Queensland contracted MIMS and Associates to research information strategies for women with disabilities experiencing domestic violence and then design accompanying information resources. The Project worked with services from the domestic violence and disability sectors to determine their current and previous work and interactions with women with disability who have experienced or who are still experiencing domestic violence. The Project worked within two regions of Queensland from February 98 – August 98.

The Project spoke with women with disabilities who experienced domestic violence; with services in domestic violence and disability fields, and regional services which may be avenues for information and support to women with disabilities in violent situations. The Project recorded incidences of lack of understanding and discrimination that have arisen in the context of a lack of skills and resources. Fears abound within domestic violence services and among women with disabilities. Conversley, workers in disability services appeared unaware of the phenomenon of domestic violence and its possible legal and service remendies.

The Project revealed that services are faerful because they think they are inadequately skilled and resourced to deal with the needs of women with disabilities and their children. Women with disabilities are not aware of services and in many cases do not seek any form of assistance until they are literally on the brink when they may be supported by a concerned acquaintance. Women with disabilities are not receiving information about or reaching services to assist them in domestic violence situations.

Women who participated in the Project identified taht they were helped mainly through their personal networks, and not by picking up the phone and calling either the 1800 number or the police. When they had contact with services (including domestic violence refuges, police, courts), they often experienced barriers in communication, information, physical access and attitudes and skills of workers.

The resources developed in the Project can be utilised within a wider approach to domestic violence experienced by women with disabilities. The Project report contains guidelines for the use and distribution of the resources which were developed. Preventative and interventionist strategies are recommended in the report. The report suggests that the prevention of domestic violence can be addressed by education strategies. Interventionist strategies are addressed in the report in recommendations dealing with legislation reform and training issues.

Contact: MIMS and Associates for more information.
Taken from: MIMS and Associates (1998) Domestic Violence and Women With Disability Project – Final Report to the Department of Families, Youth and Community Care, Queensland.

WWDA Submission to the Domestic Violence Working Group ‘Model Domestic Violence Laws’ Discussion Paper

Earlier this year WWDA developed a submission to the Attorney General’s Department who were developing a Model Domestic Violence Law for Australia. A consultative process was undertaken by WWDA to generate input from members into the development of a submission to the Model Domestic Violence Laws Discussion Paper. This involved organising with the Office of the Status of Women for copies of the discussion paper to be produced in braille, so that women with impaired vision could participate in the consultation process.

WWDA also liaised with the Women’s Emergency Services Network; the National Women’s Justice Coalition; and the New South Wales Disability Council in the development of WWDA’s submission. WWDA’s submission discussed a range of issues which were set out in the Model Domestic Violence Laws Discussion Paper – and these included definitions. WWDA’s submission recommended, in part, that in order to be inclusive of women with disabilities, the model Domestic Violence Law recognise and consider that domestic violence in relation to women with disabilities may take different forms than those which are included in traditional definitions of domestic violence.

WWDA Submission to the Domestic Violence Working Group ‘Model Domestic Violence Laws’ Discussion Paper

The National Women With Disabilities and Violence Workshop, Melbourne, February 1998

In 1997, WWDA successfully applied to the Commonwealth Office of the Status of Women for funding to run a National Women With Disabilities and Violence Workshop. The need for this workshop had come about in response to the expressed needs of women with disabilities in Australia, as well as the apparent lack of research and other work in Australia on the issue of violence against women with disabilities. The Workshop was the first of its kind in this country and was unique in that it was planned, organised, attended and run by, women with disabilities.

The National Women With Disabilities and Violence Workshop was conducted by WWDA in Melbourne, on February 21-22 1998 and saw representatives from a range of sectors work collaboratively with women with disabilities to develop strategies to combat violence against women with disabilities.

Twenty five women attended the Workshop and evaluation of the workshop by the participants demonstrated that the workshop was extremely successful. An Interim Report of the Workshop was written mid year, and the final report is currently being printed. Some of the main areas where problems were identified and strategies were developed by participants at the workshop included: Education; Research; Information; Social Action; Networking; Service and Program Planning and Delivery. The Final Report provides detailed strategies which were developed in each of these areas.

Copies of the Final Report can be ordered through WWDA’s National Office.

Taking Care of Yourself: About Sexual Assault

Sexual Assault Could Happen to Anyone
Sexual assault is when someone forces you to have sex when you don’t want to.

  • Sexual assault is when someone touches the private parts of your body when you don’t want them to.
  • Sexual assault is when someone makes you look at their private parts when you don’t want them to.
  • Sexual assault is when someone makes you touch the private parts of their body when you don’t want to.
  • It can make you feel upset, scared or angry.
  • Don’t feel embarrassed. Tell someone if it happens to you.
  • There are people who can help you.
  • The person who does this could be: a member of your family; someone you work with; a friend; a support worker; bus/taxi drivers; a stranger.

What they have done is wrong. Sexual Assault is not your fault.

Women With Disabilities and Information Technology

Women with disabilities in Australia have identified the need to be included in the information technology revolution, particularly the Internet ( WWDA, 1997). The Internet is seen by many women with disabilities as an important accessibility aid to access mainstream information and services, as well as information to meet their specific needs as women with disabilities.

The Internet has the potential to create great opportunities for women with disabilities in Australia. For example, it can provide easy communication opportunities for women with speech impairments; women with disabilities who are otherwise isolated, can use it to participate in either social or work activities, opportunities exist through the Internet to enable women with disabilities to participate more equitably in the workforce – women with disabilities who are effectively housebound now have the opportunity to work from home, should they choose.

Anybody with limited mobility – or even just limited time – can appreciate how the Internet and electronic databases have opened vast amounts of information to easy access. The Personal Computer is one of the greatest accessibility aids ever created but people with disabilities have actually lost ground in recent years. For example, a decade ago most computer screens displayed only text, and it was relatively easy for software to “speak” this text aloud to people with visual impairments. The immediate result was a new level of independence for people who could not see the printed work. But today’s more powerful Personal Computers and software, which use graphics heavily to communicate large amounts of information to the sighted person, have proven problematic for blind people. Similarly, as the Internet’s World Wide Web becomes more graphical and interesting for people with sight, its content threatens to become less accessible to blind people than it is today.

WWDA is working on a range of initiatives in order to improve women with disabilities’ access to information technology.

The WWDA ‘Introduction to the Internet’ Workshop

Earlier this year, WWDA applied to the Office of the Status of Women for a small amount of funding to enable the National Executive Committee of WWDA to hold an “Introduction to the Internet Workshop” as an addition to their Annual General Meeting (held in September 98). The request for funding was successful, and the Internet training workshop was conducted at the YNET Training Centre in Melbourne. The members of the WWDA National Executive Committee, along with other WWDA members from Victoria, were introduced to the World Wide Web, Newsgroups and Internet Search tools. One computer was also specifically set up to enable access to the Internet for those who are blind or have visual impairments.

The AccessAbility Online Grants Program

A new Commonwealth Government grants program, aimed at making online services more accessible for people with disabilities, is now open for business. The National Office for Information Economy has established a new grants program called “AccessAbility, Online Services for People with Disabilities”.

AccessAbility is aimed at supporting innovative projects to enhance online access for people with disabilities: in 1998-99 $1.5 million will be awarded to projects, on a competitive basis to promote this objective. This program is designed to be flexible and wide-ranging, both in the scale and scope of projects to be funded. AccessAbility will support projects across a wide range of elements that contribute to accessible online services. The program will also fund projects on a varying scale, from small community-based initiatives, to projects of national significance. The common thread in all projects will be a focus on innovation and excellence; finding new products, new services and new models for service delivery, that will help break down the barriers to online services, faced by people with disabilities.

WWDA submitted two applications to the first round of the AccessAbility Online Grants Program. One application, entitled “Promoting Access to Online Information for Women With Disabilities in Australia” was succesful. WWDA received $64,000 to enable WWDA to promote access to online information for women with disabilities in Australia. The main strategies to achieve this will be:

  • to develop an Australian women with disabilities website as a model of best practice in design and content, including the development of a national electronic based women with disabilities discussion group;
  • to conduct an Internet Training Workshop for women with disabilities; and
  • to provide an Internet access point for each State and Territory branch of WWDA and electronically link these branches.

For more information about “AccessAbility, Online Access for People with Disabilities” contact: Freecall: 1800 021 455 Email:

For more information about WWDA’s Project “Promoting Access to Online Information for Women With Disabilities in Australia”, please contact the WWDA Executive Officer, Carolyn Frohmader, on (02) 6242 1310.

The Supported Wages System – General Information and How to Get Started

The supported wage system (SWS) is designed to provide durable employment options for those people with a disability who are unable to maintain open employment due to the effects of disability on their productivity.

The SWS was developed in conjunction with the disability sector, the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (ACI) and the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU). It is run by the Supported Wage Management Unit (SWMU) of the Commonwealth Department of Health and Family Services, which has representatives in each capital city. The Supported Wages System operates with the existing State and Federal industrial relations frameworks and can be accessed in each State and Territory. The basis of the SWS is its unique process of assessment of the productivity of a specific worker in a specific workplace. The assessment process is designed to be fair to both the employer and employee. It aims to measure the SWS workers productivity in comparison to other workers in the workplace who do the same job and receive full award wages. Once the assessment is complete, the SWS worker can be employed at a wage equal to the assessed level of productivity.

The SWS works hand-in-hand with disability-specific employment agencies, which aim to match the clients with durable jobs in the open workforce, In consultation with the employee, these agencies determine the requirements of a particular job and seek to match people from their client lists who may be suitable. The services provided by these agencies are at no cost to the employee. Once a potential worker has been selected, the specific training requirements are discussed with the employer.

The agency will work within existing staff training mechanisms and may even tailor-make a specific on-the-job training program for the new worker. This training commences from the first day of the SWS trial period and can continue for as long as required for the worker to achieve his/her potential level of productivity. The SWS can re-imburse employers and/or agencies up to $5000 per placement for expenditure on modification to the workplace. If a SWS worker commences employment in a new job, employers may be eligible for a $1000 cash payment to assist with any costs which may be incurred in establishing the worker in the job. Eligible SWS workers can retain access to income support from Centrelink.

Who is Eligible?
The SWS is designed for those people who have a disability and are unable to reach a level of productivity which would attract a full award wage. In general, a person is eligible to participate in the SWS if:

  • they meet the medical impairment criteria for the Disability Support Pension as determined by Centrelink; and
  • the job in question is covered by an award, or other industrial provision which permits employment at a pro-rata award wage; and
  • the person does not have an outstanding workers compensation claim against their current employer.

When an SWS-eligible person is matched with a job, it is necessary to confirm that the job is covered by an award or industrial agreement which allows for the payment of pro-rata wages. This coverage will usually take one of two forms:

  • the inclusion of the SWS model clause in the actual award or agreement; or
  • the availability of blanket industrial coverage or interim arrangements for State awards/agreements which allow for the payment of pro-rata wages.

Once adequate award coverage has been confirmed for the job, a SWS application form is completed which provides details of the employer, the job and the applicant. This form is then sent to the Supported Wage Management Unit where eligibility details are checked and the availability of funds is confirmed. The Supported Wage Management Unit then gives the go ahead for the trial period to commence. Usually by this time a disability-specific support agency is involved and the agency representative ensures that the SWS worker receives an appropriate program of training and support in the workplace.

Once the agreed trial period is complete, an accredited SWS wage assessor conducts an assessment of the SWS worker’s productivity in the job compared to the productivity of coworkers within the workplace who receive a full award wage. It is from this comparison that the wage assessor will determine the productivity of the SWS worker. Participation in the assessment process by others, such as an employer representative, an advocate for the worker and/or a union representative is encouraged. This assessment is undertaken using a nationally consistent process which ensures that the outcome is fair for both the worker and the employer.

Once the assessed rate of productivity is known, the workplace parties discuss the placement and the employer can decide to offer an ongoing job at a rate equal to the assessed level of productivity. All parties, including the worker, sign a wage agreement which has effect for up to one year. The signed wage agreement is then sent to the Supported Wage Management Unit and a copy is forwarded to the local Federal or State Industrial Registry as appropriate. Once the wage agreement has been registered, employers who are eligible to receive an SWS Employer Payment are sent $1000 by the Supported Wage Management Unit.

Will SWS Workers Be Exploited?
Definitely not. The SWS assessment process ensures that if a person’s productivity is such that a full award wage should be paid, then employment may only proceed on the basis of full award wages. In the case of people whose productivity is assessed as being less than that which would attract a full award wage, employment can only proceed at the assessed rate – not lower. Under the SWS, assessed rates may not be “bargained down” by the employer.

Can the SWS worker retain access to income support from Centrelink?
Yes. As long as a SWS worker meets Centrelink medical eligibility criteria for the Disability Support Pension, they are entitled to receive the Disability Wage Supplement (DWS). Determining medical eligibility is achieved as a result of an examination by the Commonwealth Medical Officer. The Disability Wage Supplement is similar to the Disability Support Pension. They both have the same income taper.

Does the Disability Wage Supplement make up the difference between the assessed wage and the full award wage?
No. The Disability Wage Supplement provides income support, but it is not intended to fill the gap between the assessed wage and the full award wage. The use of the taper for the DES means that in terms of gross income, all SWS workers will be financially better off compared to simply receiving the Disability Support Pension alone.

Do SWS participants retain their Pensioner Concession Card?
Yes. As long as a SWS worker continues to meet DSS eligibility for the PCC, and as long as the assessed wage is such that either the Disability Support Pension or Disability Wage Supplement is being received, the PCC is retained. In addition, SWS workers can continue to hold the PCC for up to 12 months if they achieve full award wages at some point in the future.

What if the job finishes?
SWS participants who have previously met DSS eligibility criteria for the Disability Support Pension can easily revert to the Disability Support Pension. Usually, this can be achieved without the need to re-establish medical eligibility criteria.

For more information about the Supported Wage System, call 1800 065 123.

‘Breast For Me’ and ‘Paps I Should’ – Peer Education for Women with Disabilities

Since 1992, Women’s Health West (Victoria), in partnership with a group of trained peer educators recruited from the Women with Disabilities Support Group in the West, have been offering peer education sessions for women with a physical, intellectual or psychiatric disability. The first program to be developed was “Paps I Should”, including a peer education session that offers women the information and skills to take control of their own cervical health. The peer educators use the “Paps I Should” resource kit to provide information about preventative cervical health and to highlight, in a sensitive way, the specific concerns raised by women with disabilities.

Women’s Health West is now able to offer a “Breast for Me” peer education session aimed at increasing women’s awareness of the need for breast health care and of the different ways that women can look after their breasts. Like “Paps I Should”, the sessions are based on educational resources that feature women with a disability themselves in a variety of assertive and positive roles. The program was developed with the funding and support of BreastScreen Victoria, who have now implemented training and policy for their workers in the interests of ensuring that BreastScreen is able to provide high quality service for women with a range of abilities.

Although Women’s Health West is based in the Western region, the peer educators can take the sessions out to organisations or groups of women anywhere around Victoria.

For more information about the education program, or the “Paps I Should” or “Breast for Me” Resource Kits, please contact Karleen Plunkett at Women’s Health West. Phone: (03) 9689 9588 Fax: (03) 9683 3861

WWDA’s ‘Strategic Plan 1998-99’ and ‘Annual Report 1997 – 98’

The WWDA Strategic Plan 1998-99 sets out WWDA’s program and policy direction for the 98-99 year. The Plan contains goals, key and continuing strategies, targets and timelines, resource implications and indicators of performance for each goal area. Each goal area is supported by a goal statement. The Plan is detailed and the way it has been developed allows for accurate evaluation against measurable targets. WWDA’s main goals for the 98-99 year include:

  • to research, analyse, and take action on issues of concern to women with disabilities falling within the policy areas of WWDA;
  • to initiate systemic change activities in areas of concern to WWDA members;
  • to continue WWDA’s high quality input into systemic change initiated by other bodies;
  • to develop and promote leadership skills and confidence of women with disabilities;
  • to continue to establish and support WWDA groups and national networks around the country;
  • to increase the membership and public profile of WWDA;
  • to further improve the organisation so as to best serve WWDA’s membership and its aims and objectives.

The WWDA Annual Report 1997-98 reports on WWDA’ss activities over the last year. It includes reports from the WWDA Chairperson, Executive Officer, Treasurer as well as reports from each of the State and Territory WWDA groups. It also includes a financial report prepared by WWDA’s auditors.

Copies of these documents are available from WWDA’s National Office. Please contact the Executive Officer, Carolyn Frohmader, on (02) 6242 1310, for further information.

WWDA Annual Report 1997-98

Access Plus

What is Access Plus?
Access Plus is an organisation for gay, lesbian, transgender and bisexual people with a disability including those with HIV/AIDS. Our membership also includes those representatives of disability, gay, lesbian, and transgender services, and government departments. Access Plus began in 1997 in response to concerns about the barriers and discrimination we have experienced in attempting to gain access to both disability and gay, lesbian, and transgender services on a equitable basis. Access Plus is supported by the Gay and Lesbian Anti Violence Project and People with Disabilities New South Wales. The objectives of Access Plus include:

  • To establish a network of gay, lesbian, transgender and bisexual people living with a disability, including those with HIV/AIDS.
  • To develop a strategy to bring to the attention of government agencies and departments and various disability services, issues which are specific to lesbian, gay, transgender and bisexual people with disabilities.
  • The development of comprehensive access and equity policies for people with disabilities wishing to gain access to lesbian, gay, transgender and bisexual organisations and their services, and disability organisations and services.

Access Plus has grown rapidly and has a diverse membership which includes people with a disability, government departments, disability organisations and gay, lesbian, transgender and bisexual organisations. Our influence is being recognised through our participation in a wide range of formal and informal activities. These include:

  • lobbying service providers on behalf of members who have experienced discrimination;
  • providing advice to organisations on access and equity issues and policy; and
  • participation in Mardi Gras Parade and Fair Day.

For more information contact:
Access Plus
Phone: (02) 9360 6687
Fax: (02) 9380 5848
Freecall: 1800 637 360
TTY: (02) 9318 2138

What is the National Caucus of Disability Consumer Organisations?

The National Caucus of Disability Consumer Organisations is a network of the peak disability bodies which was formed in July 1995 and funded by the Office of Disability in October 1995. The main roles of the Caucus are:

  • Policy development and advice
  • Providing a forum for discussion and action
  • Information sharing
  • Facilitating appointment of consumer representatives to government, business and community working groups
  • Coordination of campaigns on issues of mutual issues.

The Caucus has ten participating organisations. The Caucus has associated membership enabling State-based organisations not directly represented through one of the National peak bodies to develop a close working relationship with Caucus. The member organisations of Caucus are:

  • Australian Psychiatric Disability Coalition
  • Blind Citizens Australia
  • Carers Association of Australia
  • Deafness Forum Limited
  • Head Injury Council of Australia
  • National Association of People with AIDS
  • National Council on Intellectual Disability
  • National Ethnic Disability Alliance
  • Physical Disability Council of Australia
  • Women With Disabilities Australia

For more information contact:
National Caucus of Disability Consumer Organisations
PO Box 181 Fyshwick 2609 ACT
Tel: 02 6280 8858/Fax: 02 6280 8868

Caucus Statement on Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) Standards

In July Caucus issued the following joint Policy Statement to Government and strongly the encouraged all Caucus consumer representatives to promote the Statement. Women With Disabilities Australia endorsed the statement with a request that it be reviewed on a 6 monthly basis.

“Caucus strongly supports Disability Standards under the Disability Discrimination Act which advance the objects of the Act, and endorses the Standards development process. Caucus will work for Standards to ensure equality of access for all people with disabilities”.

An update on the Disability Discrimination Act Standards Project can be obtained from:
Rose Ross
DDA Standards Project
PO Box 192, Erindale 2903 ACT
Ph: (02) 62963012

Women’s Employment Support Service

The Disability Employment Action Centre (DEAC) has established a leading name in the area of employment and disability, running an advocacy/research program, an education training program as well as two employment services. We are now assisting women with a disability, particularly women from a non-English Speaking Background, to access employment. Statistics show that only 30% of women with a disability make their way into the workplace of Australian companies. We are asking companies to change this by nominating an area of their operations to the Women’s Employment Support Service. Areas such as Administration, Clerical, Office, Data Entry, Receptionist, Filing, Cleaning, Customer Service, Hospitality and Process Work.

For more information contact:
Women’s Employment Support Service
3rd Floor Ross House, 247 Flinders Lane, Melbourne Vic 3000
Tel: 03 9650 2533 Fax: 03 9650 8642 TTY: 03 9650 9229

Women’s Health Information Resource and Crisis Centres Association (WHIRCCA)

WHIRCCA is an association of women’s health centres and crisis centres based in New South Wales. All the centres are non-government, community based feminist services that provide choices for women’s individual health needs. Services available include:

  • Naturopathy
  • Reflexology
  • Massage
  • Aromatherapy
  • Podiatry
  • Herbalism
  • Acupuncture
  • Outreach services
  • Family Planning
  • Medical
  • Information
  • Referrals
  • Resources
  • Counselling
  • Books
  • Pamphlets
  • Workshops
  • Community Ed
  • Library
  • Groups
  • DV Court Support
  • Advocacy

For more information contact:
PO Box 2137 Strawberry Hills 2012
149 Pitt Street Redfern 2016
Telephone 02 9699 6288 / Facsimile 02 9319 6554

Australian Women’s Health Network (AWHN)

The Australian Women’s Health Network is a community based, non-profit, organisation that provides a national voice on women’s health issues. The aims of the network are:

  • to maintain and increase a national focus on women’s health issues
  • to be a national advocacy and information sharing organisation
  • to be an umbrella organisation for State and Territory women’s health networks and for other nation women’s
  • organisations which embrace our objectives and philosophy.

For more information contact:
Australian Women’s Health Network
PO Box 400 Dickson ACT 2602
Phone 02 6249 3584 / Fax 02 6249 5054
email: email:

Sexual Assault Counselling Service for Deaf and Hearing Impaired Women

What the Sexual Assault Counselling Service provides:

  • TTY counselling 9am – 5pm, Monday to Friday
  • Face to face counsellors
  • Court support
  • Medical information
  • legal information
  • community education
  • resource library.

For more information contact:
Sexual Assault Counselling Service for Deaf and Hearing Impaired Women
PO Box 916 Dickson, ACT 2602
TTY: 6247 1657 Business: 6247 8071 Fax: 6247 2536

Book Reviews

“All About Rape” – Published by Canberra Rape Crisis Centre

This booklet contains information about rape and sexual assault:

  • where to go for support and counselling
  • procedures if you decide to report the rape
  • the legal system and rape/sexual assault
  • medical assistance
  • how you might feel about your experience of rape/sexual assault, indecent assault or sexual harassment
  • information for friends and family to help them understand what has happened and the support needed.

More information about the legal process is available from the Canberra Rape Crisis Centre.

“Disability Awareness and Disability Discrimination Law: A training manual” – Villamanta Publishing Service

The obligations of the human service and corporate sectors to people with disabilities are becoming an issue of growing importance.

Disability Awareness and Disability Discrimination Law is produced by experts in the disability discrimination field. It is a practical, easy to use manual which can be used by trainers with no prior knowledge in this area. The manual assists participants to develop practical awareness of anti-discrimination principles and laws and the implications of the Disability Discrimination Act. Comprehensive information on all relevant issues as well as suggested teaching strategies, handouts, overheads, case studies and numerous optional exercises, are included in the manual. This manual should be seen as a vital part of staff training and development programs for all human service industries.

Disability Awareness and Disability Discrimination Law is in a flexible program format which can be delivered in 1, 2, 4 or 7 hour presentation options.

“Justice for People with Disabilities: Legal and institutional issues” – Edited by Marg Hauritz, Charles Sampford, Sophie Blencowe; The Federation Press

The values underlying the delivery of services to people with disabilities have changed so that such people are now to be treated as full citizens with concomitant rights. This book deals with the nature of the change and its legal and institutional ramifications.

Tom Bellamy and Lynne Davis discuss the values which now govern the relationship between people with disabilities and society. What do we mean by “citizenship” and “disability”? What are the implications of the federal government’s emphasis upon caring for family members and upon contracts of delivery for services? Can “the market” resolve all problems of access to social resources?

New values being established, what laws will support and reflect these values? Ruth Colker looks at affirmative action; Jones and Besser Marks at the Disability Discrimination Act; Alan Rose at the Disability Services Act; and the Forlins at inclusive schooling for students with disabilities.

Changes in values and laws require complementary changes in the institutions – families, government departments – which realise them. How to effect change in the public service? In the voluntary sector? What of disability advocacy? Or institutional culture? Or crime prevention and patterns of offending? What of the move from segregation to community?

The contributors to this book provide a blueprint for meaningful reform.

“Remaking the Body: Rehabilitation and change” – Written by Wendy Seymour; Allen and Unwin.

Our lives are preoccupied with bodily maintenance. We spend many of our working hours eating, exercising, washing, grooming and dressing in order to maintain our sense of self. What happens after major physical impairment? How do we relate to a damaged body?

Wendy Seymour interviews men and women who have suffered profound bodily paralysis and explores how they deal with their appearance, relationships, sexuality, incontinence and sport. She finds that even major impairment hasn’t annihilated these people’s experience of an embodied self. She shows that the process of self-reconstruction is interwoven with social expectations and argues that the experience of disability highlights the continuous work involved in embodiment for everyone.

Remaking the body is a major contribution to the field of the sociology of the body and essential reading for rehabilitation professionals and students.

“Right of Access: A guide to developing Action Plans and improving access for people with disabilities” – Villamanta Publishing Service

Right of Access maps out a process for reviewing the accessibility of the built environment, programs and services, for people with disabilities. The Guide is based on and assists users through the Disability Action Plan process, as specified under the Disability Discrimination Act 1992. With the combination of technical/design information produced by architects specialising in aged and disability facilities and details in relation to requirements under the Disability Discrimination Act produced by experts in the field, this manual is an accurate, practical and essential tool in the development of Action Plans.

Relevant for large and small organisations intending to undertake an Action Plan, the Guide includes:

  • a step by step explanation of the process required to complete a review of accessibility and a Disability Access Action Plan
  • an extensive checklist to be used in the auditing of facilities
  • details in relation to the assessment of both the built environment and programs and services
  • a computer disk version of the checklist, to enable tailoring to individual organisational needs.

“Women with Physical Disabilities: Achieving and maintaining health and well-being” – Edited by Danuta Krotoski, Margaret Nosek, Margaret Turk; Paul Brookes Publishing

The editors have gathered together their own work and that of others, to produce a feminist, disability aware interpretation of the health needs of American women with physical disabilities. This book appealed to me firstly because of the range of material presented and secondly because the authors explained how they got their conclusions, and each gave extensive bibliographies. It is not one of your boring “How to” books advocating cold water foot baths.

Carol Gill writes of our “invisibility” in a medical world, where health professionals tend to look at our disabilities, but forget to consider and counsel the woman behind the disabled image. Many regard us as asexual women uninterested in the fullness of life. So they are less likely to give good advice on sexuality, contraception, pregnancy, or research our health needs.

Margaret Nosek researches wellness models and focussed on a wellness perspective of sexuality. She found those women who felt good about their sexuality showed characteristics such as; “She asserts her right to make a choice… She feels ownership of her body… She is able to restrict the limitations resulting from her disability to physical functioning only and does not impose those limitations on her sexual self… She takes action to improve herself and her relationships… She actively seeks information about how her disability affects her sexuality… She is able to recognise psychological, physical and sexual abuse and exploitation and take action to reduce or eliminate it or to neutralise its impact… She recognises her right to live in a barrier-free environment and takes action to achieve it… She participates in health maintenance activities and engages in health promoting behaviours”.

The topics covered in this book vary from sexual response in women with spinal cord injure, to the neuroendocrinology of stress, from sexual abuse to bladder and bowel management, from women as carers and receivers of care, to health promotion for people with chronic neuromuscular disabilities.

I recommend you buy or borrow this book which is the first to seriously address our health concerns. Women with disabilities, health practitioners and researchers would find this book equally useful. Many of the issues presented are related to the United States scene, however we need to work towards our own vision with updated discussion and research by Australian women with disabilities.

“Just A Head – Stories In A Body” – Denise Fassett and M.R.Gallagher; Allen and Unwin

This book tells the story of a young woman (M.R.) who collapsed with sudden and total paralysis six years ago. She has struggled for many years without a diagnosis or a cure. M.R. was a scientist, steeped in the positivist tradition, with total faith in the system which guided her education, but which ultimately let her down. Denise Fassett is a nurse academic who was with M.R. when she collapsed. In this book, she traces M.R’s story, revealing how people may come to understand their bodies when they are ill. As M.R. struggles with her quadriplegia, she experiences being alienated from her body and eventually refers to herself in Cartesian fashion as ‘just a head’. The nurses respond to M.R. in different ways as she moves from institution from institution searching for a cure. In the book, Denise Fassett exposes how reductive language can shape illness experiences and reveals the consequences of being in a medicalised body. The book provides a theoretical analysis of the body as it traces M.R.’ story.

Audiovisual Resources

“Talk About it” – NSW Council for Intellectual Disability

This video is about sexual assault for people with an intellectual disability. Dianne is sexually assaulted by a worker in her group home. Her friend Rose assists her to visit a sexual assault service and report the incident to the police. This video runs for 20 minutes and is available for loan at the Women With Disabilities Australia National Office in Canberra. Please contact the Executive Officer, Carolyn Frohmader, on (02) 6242 1310, for further information.

“Understanding Sexual Assault” – Women’s Health Centre Inc. Brisbane

This audio cassette contains messages to inform, support and strengthen women seeking to understand sexual violence. This cassette is narrated by Brenda MacPhail and background music is supplied by AVM Productions. This cassette is available for loan at the Women With Disabilities Australia National Office in Canberra. Please contact the Executive Officer, Carolyn Frohmader, on (02) 6242 1310, for further information.

WWDA NEWS Evaluation

Dear Friends,
WWDA is currently reviewing its Newsletter. We would like some comments from you about the WWDA Newsletter to assist us with this review. Any comments or suggestions you can give will help us in making sure our newsletter is meeting your needs. You do not have to put you name on this form if you don’t want to. You can send the completed form to:

Women With Disabilities Australia
P.O Box 229
ACT 2602

What do you like about the WWDA Newsletter? _____________________________________________________________________ _____________________________________________________________________ _____________________________________________________________________ _____________________________________________________________________ _____________________________________________________________________ _____________________________________________________________________ Are there any aspects of the Newsletter you don’t like? _____________________________________________________________________ _____________________________________________________________________ _____________________________________________________________________ _____________________________________________________________________ _____________________________________________________________________ Can you think of any ways we could improve the Newsletter? _____________________________________________________________________ _____________________________________________________________________ _____________________________________________________________________ _____________________________________________________________________ _____________________________________________________________________ Are there any other comments or suggestions you would like to make? _____________________________________________________________________ _____________________________________________________________________ _____________________________________________________________________ _____________________________________________________________________ _____________________________________________________________________ THANK YOU FOR COMPLETING THIS FORM

This Newsletter is:
Edited by Carolyn Frohmader
Written and Produced by Carolyn Frohmader and Karin Swift
Designed by Di Walker Design
Send all correspondence to: WWDA, PO Box 229, Dickson 2602 ACT
Ph: (02) 62421310 Fax: (02) 62421314 TTY: (02) 62421313