Issue 18, September 2000

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 (more information about WWDA can be found at the organisation’s extensive website:

Message from the WWDA Chairperson – Keran Howe

This issue contains a collection of reflective articles and essays, which provide some perspective on the place of women with disabilities at the beginning of the new millennium. As always it contains information and updates on WWDA’s work by and for women with disabilities. WWDA’s work on leadership and mentoring marks a significant step for women towards taking their rightful place; be it within their local community, within the disability movement, or at the national level representing women’s interests on advisory bodies and boards.

“Taking the Lead – A Leadership and Mentoring Kit for Women with Disabilities” has received local and international support with orders flowing in from around the world. We hope this kit will provide women with disabilities with the information, confidence and networks they need to continue to move forward together.

WWDA’s next significant project focuses on the reproductive rights of women with disabilities with a two fold approach: to examine national and international developments in the area of sterilisation of women with disabilities; and to conduct a national forum for women with disabilities. A key aspect of the forum will be to listen to the voices for women affected by sterilisation.

Helen Meekosha’s review of the involvement of women in the disability movement gives us some insight into the struggle of Australian women with disabilities to assert their place in both the disability movement and the women’s movement. Linda Pane-Hawkins generously shares how she overcame cultural prohibitions to gain her family’s acceptance of her relationship. Patricia Woodcroft-Lee reveals the double load of prejudice of being an older woman with a disability. Kelly Johnson’s work on the institutionalisation of women with intellectual disabilities reminds us it is has long been time to listen and heed their voices.

The common refrain of these diverse and rich contributions is the need for women to continue to express their own experiences and to state their needs both separately and with the broader disability movement. This message is timely with the release in July of the Peak Bodies Funding Discussion Paper by the Minister for Family and Community Services, Senator Jocelyn Newman. This paper proposes a model for restructuring funding for peak national disability and welfare organisations that ignores the historical failure of the disability movement to take account of the needs of women with disabilities.

We have been heartened by the enormous and supportive response to this discussion paper from disability activists around Australia and the world. WWDA will be responding to the discussion paper with the weight of evidence that tells us there continues to be a need for an organisation that provides women-specific disability advocacy in Australia. We look forward to the day when this need no longer exists.

I would also like to take this opportunity to congratulate our Executive Director, Carolyn Frohmader, who earlier this year was awarded the Inaugural Michael Crotty Prize in Primary Health Care, from Flinders University for achieving the highest grade point average throughout her 4 year Masters Degree of Primary Health Care. Carolyn has also recently been invited by the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission to be a judge of this years national Human Rights Awards.

Finally, I would like to thank all those WWDA members who continue to volunteer their time to the work of WWDA.

Keran Howe
WWDA National Executive Committee

Message from the WWDA Executive Director – Carolyn Frohmader

As many of you would be aware, WWDA is currently facing an uncertain future. The Government’s proposed model for funding disability peak bodies does not appear to include a place for WWDA. Since the release of the Government’s proposed model in late July, WWDA has received an enormous amount of support from individuals and organisations from around the world. Many people have written to Senator Jocelyn Newman (Minister for Family and Community Services) expressing their concern at the threat to WWDA’s future, and giving the Minister examples of how WWDA’s work has assisted them in their personal and working lives. Examples of some of these letters have been reproduced in this Newsletter for your information, and we take this opportunity to thank all those who have taken the time to write to the Minister and the Department of Family and Community Services. WWDA is currently preparing a submission to present to the Government, and hope that our submission, coupled with the significant grass-roots support of WWDA, will see our organisation continued to be funded by Government as the peak body for women with all types of disabilities in Australia.

WWDA continues to go from strength to strength. We have attracted many new members since our last Newsletter was published and our work and achievements have attracted great interest from overseas organisations, from countries such as Russia, Thailand, Africa, United Kingdom, USA, Canada, Manila, Bangladesh, Spain, South Africa, Japan, Sweden, and more. Many international organisations are taking up WWDA membership, purchasing our publications, and accessing resources available on our website.

Our work in a number of policy and program areas continues and we have achieved some major outcomes in a number of areas. Our work in the area of violence against women with disabilities continues to be a priority and it is encouraging to see many violence services around Australia working collaboratively with WWDA to work towards making their services and programs inclusive of the needs of women with disabilities. WWDA’s Model Process for Women’s Refuges to Develop Disability Discrimination Act Action Plans has also been picked up as a model of best practice by a number of overseas organisations. It was a great honour for WWDA earlier this year to be invited to apply for the United Nations Millennium Peace Prize for Women for our work on violence against women with disabilities The Prize will be judged in March 2001.

Our successful submission for funding to conduct a National Project on Sterilisation and Reproductive Health of Women with Disabilities, represents another major step forward for WWDA. The Project, funded by the Commonwealth Office of the Status of Women, will involve a research component and a National Forum, where, for the first time, women with disabilities will have the opportunity to come together at a national level to share their experiences and ideas for what needs to happen in the future.

Leadership and Mentoring is another priority program area for WWDA. Our highly successful National Leadership and Mentoring Forum in June, showcased a model of best practice for inclusive and participatory training processes for women with all types of disabilities. Our recently published Leadership and Mentoring Resource Kit, Taking the Lead, is being purchased by many individuals and a diverse range of organisations, such as housing services, advocacy services, government departments, Universities, indigenous organisations, women’s health services, community health services, and more. Many of these organisations have purchased the Kit as a capacity building tool for their own organisations, as well as an educational resource on disability, gender, leadership and mentoring.

Telecommunications is another area where WWDA has made significant inroads. Earlier this year WWDA developed a submission to the National Telecommunications Services Inquiry- an inquiry commissioned by the Federal Government. As a result of this submission, WWDA was invited to a closed meeting with the National Telecommunications Services Inquiry Taskforce. This meeting was held in Canberra and gave WWDA the opportunity to discuss the needs of people with disabilities in relation to telecommunications products and services in Australia. WWDA will continue its advocacy work in the telecommunications area over the next 12 months, with the assistance of a small grant from the Department of Communication, Information Technology and the Arts.

WWDA continues to participate in many national and state government consultation processes and reviews. Over the past 12 months, WWDA has participated in 25 Commonwealth Government Consultation processes – examples include: Welfare Reform Process; Review of Aged Care Reforms; National Indigenous Disability Network Project; Review of the Commonwealth Disability Strategy; Day Support Options for People with a Disability Research Project; Health Insurance Commission Disability Action Plan. WWDA is also currently represented on over 28 National Advisory Bodies, Committees, Industry Forums, and Working Parties – examples include: Attorney Generals’ Human Rights NGO’s Forum; Telstra Disability Forum; Centrelink Disability Customer Services Committee; Disability Discrimination Act Standards Project Steering Committee; Australian National Training Authority Disability Forum; Supported Wage Assessment Program Evaluation Committee.

And now some facts – For the last few years, WWDA has received only $112,000 per year from the Commonwealth Department of Family and Community Services. WWDA’s membership has almost tripled in the last 3 years. WWDA has not received any increase in its funding despite its major growth and the significant increase in workload and demands on the organisation. WWDA has one full time paid employee (Executive Director) and 1 part time bookkeeper who works 10 hours per week. It is the dedication and commitment of WWDA volunteers and staff that enables our organisation to continue to perform at such a high standard, and achieve such significant outcomes.

In this context, I would like to take this opportunity to thank all of those WWDA members who continue to volunteer their time and energy to assist the work of WWDA. I would particularly like to acknowledge the work, support, good humour (and patience) of my support staff in the National WWDA Office – Christina Ryan (WWDA’s Bookkeeper and Administrative Officer), and Kate List (our dynamic National Office volunteer).

Carolyn Frohmader WWDA Executive Director