June – July 2004


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. Please find below a brief Update Report on some of WWDA’s activities for the months of June and July 2004. If you have any questions, or would like more information on anything in this report, please email Carolyn at: wwda@wwda.org.au


1. WWDA Submission to the Australian Government on the Draft National Action Plan on Human Rights

Much of WWDA’s work recently has revolved around the development of a comprehensive submission to the Australian Government on the Draft National Action Plan on Human Rights, released in late May 2004. The Draft was developed by the Attorney General’s Department. The extent of the Government’s consultation on the Draft National Action Plan on Human Rights was limited to members of the Attorney General’s NGO Forum on Domestic Human Rights.

WWDA’s Submission and subsequent recommendations to Government, deal with a number of process issues in relation to the development of National Human Rights Actions Plans, along with specific substantive content regarding the human rights of people with disabilities in Australia. WWDA’s recommendations to Government include:

  • The importance of developing Australia’s human rights action plan in accordance with the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action, identifying steps whereby Australia would improve the promotion and protection of human rights;
  • The need for Australia’s human rights action plan to provide a clear and frank assessment of the current human rights situation in Australia;
  • The need for the Australian Government to immediately implement a range of inclusive consultative processes to enable meaningful participation by all stakeholders in the development of the Plan, including the identification of Australia’s human rights priority areas.

In relation to addressing the human rights of people with a disability within the Australian National Action Plan on Human Rights, WWDA recommends that the Plan address as a priority: violence against women with disabilities; the unlawful sterilization of women and girls with disabilities; the abuse of people with disabilities living in institutions; the over-representation of people with disabilities in the criminal justice system; the discrimination experienced by people with disabilities in relation to access to health services; and the significant problem of unmet need with respect to the provision of support and assistance for people with disabilities.

WWDA’s submission also recommends that the Government articulate formal support for the development and adoption of a Comprehensive and Integral International Convention to Promote and Protect the Rights and Dignity of Persons with Disabilities. In assessing the human rights situation of people with disabilities in Australia, WWDA recommends that an independent audit of Australia’s compliance with the Standard Rules on the Equalization of Opportunities for Persons with Disabilities be undertaken.

A copy of WWDA’s Submission on the Draft National Action Plan on Human Rights will soon be made available on WWDA’s website (‘Submissions to Government’). If anyone would like a copy of the paper emailed to them, please contact the WWDA Office via email on: wwda@wwda.org.au


2. National Summit on Health Services for People with Disabilities

In February 2004, WWDA developed a Submission to the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission (HREOC) requesting that HREOC undertake a Public Inquiry into Access to Breast & Cervical Screening for Women with Disabilities in Australia. In responding to WWDA, Dr Sev Ozdowski, (Acting Disability Discrimination Commissioner) proposed that one possible means for addressing the issue would be for HREOC to convene a national summit meeting, which could cover access to breast and cervical screening services but also cover other key issues in access to health facilities and services for people with disabilities.

The National Summit on Health Services for People with Disabilities was held in Sydney on May 28th 2004, and was convened by the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission (HREOC). The Summit was attended by representatives from national disability organisations, as well as representatives from the medical and health sectors.

WWDA was represented at the Summit by Keran Howe (Vic) and Annie Parkinson (NSW). Keran presented a paper on behalf of WWDA entitled ‘Lack of Data Means lack of Action: A Clinical Examination of Access to Health Services for Women with Disabilities’. The paper, prepared by Sue Salthouse and Keran Howe, examined a range of issues, including: the impact of structural inequality on health; the medicalisation of disability; lack of data (particularly in relation to access to breast and cervical screening for women with disabilities); and systemic barriers facing women with disabilities in accessing health services.

A copy of WWDA’s Paper ‘Lack of Data Means lack of Action: A Clinical Examination of Access to Health Services for Women with Disabilities’ is available on WWDA’s website. Go to: http://www.wwda.org.au/hreocsumm.htm

If anyone would like a copy of the paper emailed to them, please contact the WWDA Office via email on: wwda@wwda.org.au

As an outcome of the National Summit on Health Services for People with Disabilities, WWDA has been invited by the Commonwealth Department of Health & Ageing, to attend a meeting with the State/Territory managers of the Breastscreen Australia and the National Cervical Cancer Screening Programs. The issue of access to breast and cervical screening for women with disabilities has been placed on the agenda for this meeting, which is being held in Perth 18-19 August. Sue Salthouse will be representing WWDA at this meeting.


3. WWDA Strategic Plan

The WWDA Strategic Plan 2004-2009 has been finalized and is now available from the WWDA Office. A smaller publication ‘Summary of WWDA Strategic Plan 2004-2009’ has also been published by WWDA and has been forwarded to all current financial members of WWDA, as well as to other key stakeholders. WWDA’s Strategic Plan for 2004-2009 has been developed following extensive consultation with our members, associate organisations, and other stakeholders. It reflects our commitment to promoting leadership opportunities for women with disabilities, and to fostering the empowerment and participation of all women with disabilities.

If you would like a copy of the full WWDA Strategic Plan 2004-2009, or a copy of the Summary publication, please contact the WWDA Office.


4. Disabled People’s International (DPI) World Summit

Disabled People’s International (DPI) is holding its World Summit in Winnipeg, Canada September 8-10, 2004. WWDA has been selected to present a Paper at the Disabled People’s International (DPI) World Summit in Canada in September 2004. WWDA will present its National Project on the Sterilisation and Reproductive Health of Women and Girls with Disabilities. Included in this will be discussion of emancipatory research by women with disabilities. The presentation will include the findings of the Project, the ongoing outcomes and achievements, and implications for the future. Leanne Dowse (who co-ordinated WWDA’s National Project on the Sterilisation and Reproductive Health of Women and Girls with Disabilities) and Annie Parkinson will be representing WWDA at the DPI World Summit.

WWDA has recently received a grant from the Global Fund for Women (USA) to fund the cost of Leanne Dowse and Annie Parkinson attending the DPI World Summit in Canada. WWDA is grateful for the support of the Global Fund for Women.


5. Sterilisation and Reproductive Health of Women and Girls with Disabilities

In late May, WWDA developed a Submission to the Commonwealth and State/Territory Governments in response to the Standing Committee of Attorney’s General (SCAG) Issues Paper regarding the Non-Therapeutic Sterilisation of Minors with a Decision-Making Disability. WWDA does not support the Government’s current proposal to develop a nationally consistent approach to the authorisation procedures required for the lawful sterilisation of minors with a decision-making disability. WWDA strongly recommends that the Federal Government develop universal legislation which prohibits sterilisation of children except in those circumstances which amount to those that are a serious threat to health or life. In the case of adults, WWDA also strongly recommends that sterilisation be prohibited in the absence of the informed consent of the individual concerned, except in those circumstances where there is a serious threat to health or life.

WWDA’s Submission was widely distributed, and included a copy sent to every politician in Australia (at both Federal and State/Territory levels). WWDA has received a large number of responses to our Submission. In relation to State/Territory and Federal Government responses we have received to date, at this stage it appears that only the New South Wales Government supports WWDA’s position that sterilization of minors with a decision-making disability should be prohibited except where there is a serious threat to health or life. A brief synopsis of State/Territory and Federal Government responses received to date is provided here for your information.

New South Wales – Attorney General:

‘…….The Government supports the submission from Women With Disabilities Australia that sterilisation of minors with a decision-making disability should be prohibited except where there is a threat to life or health. Sterilisation is a matter for adulthood and should only be carried out in children for immediately needed therapeutic purposes……..NSW will not adopt any uniform legislation unless the Government is sure that sterilisation is prohibited except where there is a serious and immediate threat to health or life.’

Tasmania – Minister for Health and Human Services:

‘…….The Department of Health & Human Services believes that the primary aims of the proposed national legislation…….is to protect the human rights of minors with a decision-making disability and minimize the risk of unauthorized sterilization. In order to further safeguard the rights of people with disabilities in this matter the Department has made a number of recommendations to the Issues Paper. These recommendations include the application of a test which requires that the best interests of a child be paramount when deliberating on or against sterilization; and that the Bill requires a child’s representative to be appointed in these cases…….’

Western Australia – Minister for Disability Services:

‘……..The Disability Services Commission in Western Australia recently responded to the Issues Paper…..The Commission supported the development of a nationally consistent approach for this issue, while recognizing that developing consistent procedures across all jurisdictions might be difficult. The Commission advocated for sterilization to be a measure of last resort and only used in the best interest of the child or young person. It supported including criteria for the medical evidence requirements in the Bill; requiring specialist medical opinion be obtained; the provision of independent advice to the child or young person; and monitoring of these cases by the Office of the Public Advocate…….’

Australian Capital Territory – Attorney General:

‘…….I am deeply committed to the recognition and promotion of the human rights of every person. The ACT recently passed the Human Rights Act 2004, which established procedures for ensuring that legislation and administrative decisions are compatible with human rights……Whilst the Issues Paper acknowledges the need to respect the child’s right to autonomy and bodily integrity, it seeks the views of stakeholders on how best to ensure that this need is met. I can assure you I will support an approach to the question of sterilization of minors that is consistently respectful of their rights……’

Northern Territory – Chief Minister:

‘…….The Paper has been widely circulated throughout Australia, and since the issue is a highly sensitive one, I believe the Standing Committee of Attorney’s General will take all views into account when assessing legislative options……’

Federal Minister for Family & Community Services – Senator Kay Patterson:

‘……I am grateful that you have taken the time to write to me with your concerns about the Australian Government’s proposal to develop a nationally consistent approach to this issue. I can assure you that the Government considers illegal sterilization to be an extremely serious matter. This is a complex and sensitive issue that requires action on many fronts………’

Federal Attorney General – Philip Ruddock:

‘………I note WWDA’s recommendation that legislation be developed which prohibits sterilization of minors except in circumstances which are a threat to health or life. As page two of the Issues Paper notes, the Commonwealth and all States and Territories have agreed to develop draft model provisions to confer jurisdiction on State and Territory guardianship or similar tribunals and to develop nationally consistent criteria for the authorization of sterilization of minors with a decision-making disability. This is intended to ensure that sterilization only takes place in accordance with appropriate safeguards. Both WWDA’s submission and the issues paper indicate a concern to protect the human rights of people with disabilities and to ensure that people with decision-making disability have the same human rights as all other people. Thus whilst WWDA and the State and Territory working group take different positions on how this end will be achieved, both groups are motivated by the same objective…….’

Office of Disability (Commonwealth Department of Family & Community Services):

‘……..Thank you for your letter of 29 June 2004 seeking the Office of Disability’s views on the sterilization of minors and adults with a disability. The Office of Disability will formulate and provide advice to the Minister for Family & Community Services on this matter when this is requested…….’


6. Development of a Comprehensive and Integral International Convention to Promote and Protect the Rights and Dignity of Persons with Disabilities

Women With Disabilities Australia (WWDA) continues to participate in work surrounding the development of a Comprehensive and Integral International Convention to Promote and Protect the Rights and Dignity of Persons with Disabilities. Earlier this year, WWDA developed a Submission in response to the Commonwealth Government’s (through the Department of Family & Community Services and the Attorney Generals Department) request for comments on the ‘Draft Text for a Comprehensive and Integral International Convention to Promote and Protect the Rights and Dignity of Persons with Disabilities’, released in early 2004.

Women With Disabilities Australia (WWDA) strongly supports the development and adoption of a Comprehensive and Integral International Convention to Promote and Protect the Rights and Dignity of Persons with Disabilities. A copy of WWDA’s Submission to the Commonwealth Government on the Convention, is available on the WWDA website at: http://www.wwda.org.au/unconvsub2.htm

Recently, the Australian Attorney General, the Honourable Philip Ruddock, MP announced national consultations with people with disability on the proposed United Nations convention on human rights and disability. This project is being undertaken in partnership between People with Disability Australia (PWDA), the Australian Federation of Disability Organisations (AFDO), and the National Association of Community Legal Centres (NACLC), and state and territory-based disability rights groups. The consultation period will run from mid-July through to early August.

As part of these consultations, WWDA is hosting a national teleconference on the 4th August with women with disabilities. This teleconference will focus in part, on a text proposal for the convention developed in January this year by an Expert Working Group, and the key issues that emerged in the first reading of this text at the third session of the Ad Hoc Committee, which was held in May/June this year. The teleconference will also focus on specific issues of concern to women with disabilities in the Draft Convention.

For more information on the Convention on the Human Rights of People with Disabilities, along with information on ways you can participate, contact:

People with Disability Australia Inc
Ph: (02) 9319 6622 TTY: (02) 9318 2138
Free call Ph: 1800 422 015 Free call TTY: 1800 422 016
Email: convention@pwd.org.au
Web: http://www.pwd.org.au/disabilityconvention


7. WWDA National Women’s Policy Working Group Project Report

This Project is being undertaken using a grant from Reichstein Foundation. The Project’s aims are to increase WWDA’s capacity to advocate for women at a systemic level. This means developing our capacity to influence policy development in areas which are crucial to women with disabilities.

Sue Salthouse is Project Officer and heads a team of 5 – known collectively as WWDA PAN – the WWDA Policy and Advocacy Network. The other members of WWDA PAN are working, or have a strong background in Systemic Advocacy. They are Lorraine Mulley (The Deaf Society of NSW), Philia Polites (Consultant specialising in equity and access), Therese Sands (People With Disabilities Australia) and Sarah Waters (Women’s Health Victoria). WWDA PAN meets by Teleconference approximately once per month.

One of WWDA PAN’s undertakings is to look at changes affecting the status of women with disabilities in Australia since the publication of WWDA’s “There is no Justice, there’s Just Us” in 2002. The hunt for statistical evidence is ongoing – through the Australian Bureau of Statistics, the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, the Office of the Status of Women (OSW), the Australian Institute of Criminology.

In the past month, a survey of the makeup of Federal and State/Territory Disability Advisory Councils has been undertaken to determine if there is equitable representation by women with disabilities, and of people with disabilities. We also looked at whether the Chairperson was a woman with a disbility/ies. A similar survey of the Boards/Management Committees of the peak Disability Organisations was undertaken.

A number of conferences and consumer group meetings have been attended, including the half-year conference with the OSW of the YWCA-Women Speak network. A paper was presented to the HREOC Forum on Access to Health Services for People with Disabilities. A Review of the OSW sponsored Women’s Portal (www.women.gov.au) was also completed.


8. WWDA Telecommunications Group – Activities Report

The WWDA Telecommunications Group held a teleconference at the beginning of June. Members are doing some fact finding on:

  • availability and accessibility of information on the Telstra Disability Equipment Program available from Telstra Shops;
  • assessing the design and features of commercially available cordless phones to determine their usability by people with disabilities; and
  • whether organisations which deal with seniors (e.g. Council of The Aging) have any recommendations about telephone equipment.

A submission was written to the Australian Communications Industry Forum on a draft of a new Industry Code on the provision of information to customers on the Prices Terms and Conditions under which Telecommunications Products are sold. Two members of WWD ACT were assisted with computer purchase and/or connecting to the Internet during the month. Assistance was given to a wwda-discuss list member on purchase of a mobile phone. Five telecommunication notices have been posted on wwda-discuss during the month.

The work and achievements of the WWDA Telecommunications Working Group have recently been recognized with the announcement of a further funding grant for the 2004-05 year from the Commonwealth Department of Communication, Information Technology & the Arts (DCITA).


9. WWDA Conference Presentations

9.1. National Organisation of Women Students Australia (NOWSA) Conference

The National Organisation of Women Students Australia (NOWSA) Conference was held at Southern Cross University in Lismore (NSW), July 12-16th. WWDA was invited to give a keynote address at the NOWSA Conference and Sue Salthouse (ACT) presented the Keynote address on behalf of WWDA. Sue’s paper ‘Locked Out – But Knocking Down the Door’ examined the status of women with disabilities in Australia and addressed some of the key issues and challenges facing women with disabilities. A copy of Sue’s paper will soon be made available on the WWDA website. If anyone would like a copy of the paper emailed to them, please contact the WWDA Office via email on: wwda@wwda.org.au

9.2. Inaugural Conference on Social Aspects of Disease, Disability and Disablement

The Key Centre for Women’s Health in Society (University of Melbourne) held its Inaugural Conference on Social Aspects of Disease, Disability and Disablement at the University of Melbourne, 1-2 July 2004. The aim of this Conference was to facilitate dialogue about future areas of research and to foster an environment in which individuals can explore avenues for research collaboration. WWDA was invited to present at this Conference. Jenny Bridge-Wright presented a paper on behalf of WWDA at the Conference.

Jenny’s paper “Waiting to be Included”- Breast and Cervical Cancer Screening, Where are the Women with Disabilities?’ examined access to breast and cervical screening for women with disabilities. It also addressed the critical need for specific research to inform strategies that educate, include and measure, the participation of women with disabilities in breast and cervical cancer screening. Following the presentation, Jenny was interviewed by the media, and an article entitled ‘Disabled slip through cancer screen’ appeared in The Age Newspaper on July 2, 2004. A copy of Jenny’s paper will soon be made available on the WWDA website. If anyone would like a copy of the paper emailed to them, please contact the WWDA Office via email on: wwda@wwda.org.au


10. New on the WWDA Website

Recent additions to the WWDA website include:

‘Lack of Data Means Lack of Action’ – A clinical examination of access to health services for women with disabilities – By Keran Howe and Sue Salthouse (May 2004).
Go to: http://www.wwda.org.au/hreocsumm.htm

‘Drifting down the Gulf Stream: navigating the cultures of disability studies’ – By Helen Meekosha (September 2003).
Go to: http://www.wwda.org.au/drifting.htm