March – April 2005


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 March and April 2005. 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 Human Rights & Equal Opportunity Commission (HREOC) National Inquiry into Employment and Disability

In March 2005, the Human Rights & Equal Opportunity Commission (HREOC) announced that over the course of 2005, it would conduct a public inquiry on the issues that affect equal opportunity in employment for people with disabilities in Australia. The aim of the Inquiry is to identify the reasons for the disadvantages faced by people with disabilities in the open workplace and to work towards practical, achievable solutions.

On 31st March 2005, WWDA President Annie Parkinson, attended a National Roundtable conducted by HREOC. The aim of the Roundtable was to identify the barriers facing people with disabilities in employment, and also to canvass ideas about practical initiatives and potential solutions to further employment opportunity of people with a disability. Participants at the Round Table included representatives from disability peak bodies, as well as relevant government and industry stakeholders. A Summary of the proceedings of the Roundtable Meetings is available from the HREOC website: www.hreoc.gov.au/disability_rights/employment_inquiry/forums/forums.htm

As part of the National Inquiry into Employment and Disability, HREOC also called for written submissions. WWDA developed its Submission in early April 2005. WWDA’s Submission examines the available data relating to gender, disability and employment. It also details the barriers that women with disabilities face when seeking to participate in the labour market. WWDA’s Submission identifies a number of specific strategies required to address the barriers facing women with disabilities in seeking, finding and maintaining employment. WWDA’s Submission makes a number of clear recommendations.

WWDA’s analysis of the available data on gender, disability and employment paints a grim picture of the employment situation for disabled women. The labour force participation rates in Australia indicate that there are many fewer women with disabilities than men with disabilities either employed or looking for work. In 1998, the labour force participation rate of women with disabilities was 45.5%, compared to 60.3% for men with disabilities. In 2003, the rate increased marginally for women with disabilities to 46.9%, and decreased slightly for men with disabilities to 59.3%. However, a stark contrast can be seen in the unemployment rates for the same period. In 1998, 8.6% of women with disabilities were unemployed, compared to 13.5% of men with disabilities. In 2003, the unemployment rate for disabled men dropped significantly to 8.8%, whilst the unemployment rate for disabled women remained virtually the same at 8.3%. The picture becomes even clearer when we consider the unemployment rates for non-disabled men and women over the same period. In 1998, the unemployment rate of non-disabled women was 8.0% compared to 7.7% for non-disabled men. In 2003, the rate dropped significantly for both non-disabled women (5.3%) and men (4.8%) (HREOC 2005; ABS 2003).

It is of great concern to WWDA, that despite the fact that the unemployment rate for disabled men has dropped (down from 13.5% in 1997 to 8.8% in 2003), Commonwealth Government funded open employment services continue to assist significantly more men with disabilities than women with disabilities.

WWDA’s Submission articulates the fact that the organization shares the government’s vision of a society where people with disabilities are not excluded, and where they can fully participate as citizens in the economic, social and cultural life of the nation. However, WWDA strongly argues that any strategies which look to the principles of ‘mutual obligation, self-reliance and early intervention’ require a clear sense of the reality of the situations that women with disabilities face, and a commitment to addressing the barriers that stand in the way of them participating in the labour market.

A copy of WWDA’s Submission to the ‘HREOC National Inquiry into Employment and Disability’ will soon be made available on WWDA’s website. A downloadable version of the Submission in Word format is also available from the HREOC website: www.hreoc.gov.au/disability_rights/employment_inquiry/subs1/index.htm

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


2. WWDA Presentations at the Fifth Australian Women’s Health Conference – Reflecting on Gender, Confronting the Evidence

The 5th Australian Women’s Health (AWHN) Conference was held on 20-22 April 2005 at the Carlton Crest Hotel in Victoria. The Conference provided a forum for individuals, organisations and services involved and concerned with women’s health. Building on the national and international knowledge and research generated over the past two decades, the conference examined the evidence from the perspective of gender as a determinant of women’s health, in all its dimensions.

WWDA presented two papers at the AWHN Conference. Sue Salthouse presented a paper entitled ‘The Sick State of Health Services for Women with Disabilities’ which examined the many factors which are barriers to women with disabilities achieving a positive state of health and well being. It also canvassed a number of strategies for change, and focused on areas that WWDA believes warrant focused attention, and these include: research and data collection; inclusion and consultation; education and information; the use and scope of information technologies; and the articulation of services.

Leanne Dowse also presented a paper on behalf of WWDA, entitled ‘Moving Forward or Losing Ground? The Sterilisation of Women and Girls with Disabilities in Australia’. This presentation was a version of the paper WWDA presented at the Disabled Peoples’ International World Summit, Canada in September 2004. The Paper outlined WWDA’s work in the area (including its national project on sterilisation and reproductive health of women and girls with disabilities), traces developments in Australia and discusses some of the critical issues in the consideration of sterilisation and reproductive rights as a human rights issue.

A copy of the Papers will soon be made available on WWDA’s website, along with a more detailed report from WWDA’s representatives to the AWHN Conference. If anyone would like a copy of the Papers emailed to them, please contact the WWDA Office via email at: wwda@wwda.org.au


3. WWDA Project – Development of an Accessible Information and Referral Portal for Women With Disabilities in Australia

In early October 2004, WWDA received funding from the then Commonwealth Office of the Status of Women (OSW) to conduct a capacity building project. Specifically, the project is to research and develop an accessible Information and Referral Portal of relevant services, agencies, and organizations at national, State/Territory, regional and local levels. WWDA will also develop a Data Collection System which records incoming requests for information from women with disabilities.

Work is progressing on the development of the Portal. The research phase is nearing completion and it is anticipated that the Information and Referral Services Directory will be available on WWDA’s website in the next 8 weeks. In early February WWDA completed its Progress Report on the Project for the Office for Women, and the Progress Report was widely disseminated. Copies are still available for anyone who would like a copy. A Final Report on the Project will be developed in the coming weeks.


4. WWDA Funding Submission to the Reichstein Foundation

In late March 2005, WWDA developed a funding submission to the Reichstein Foundation in Victoria. The Reichstein Foundation funds projects which effect structural change to benefit disadvantaged communities. Reichstein Foundation is not a charity but a philanthropic foundation committed to social change. It works in partnership with community organisations to improve, maintain or restore human rights and social justice.

WWDA’s application to The Reichstein Foundation seeks project funding to improve the status of women with disabilities through systemic advocacy. The objectives of the Project include:

  • To provide women with disabilities with skill development to enhance their capacity to contribute to current and emerging policy issues affecting women with disabilities;
  • To enhance WWDA’s capacity to promote the participation of women with disabilities in all aspects of social, economic, political and cultural life.

Specifically, the Project will:

  • Develop systems and processes whereby women with disabilities can be identified, trained and recruited to act as advocates to improve the status of women with disabilities;
  • Provide women with disabilities with leadership training in Representation and Systemic Advocacy;
  • Develop the necessary tools to support women with disabilities in their representative and advocacy roles;
  • Develop information management capacity building systems to promote women with disabilities’ access to positions of leadership and decision-making;
  • Research and identify representation, leadership and systemic advocacy opportunities for women with disabilities.

WWDA will report back to members the outcome of our funding submission when decisions are made on the successful applicants.


5. WWDA Telecommunications Working Group Report

The WWDA Telecommunications Group continues its activities, which are largely funded by a Telecommunications Consumer Representation Grant from the Department of Communications, Information Technology and the Arts. This has enabled us to continue representational work on the Australian Communication Industry Forum’s Disability Advisory Body (ACIF DAB), the Telstra Disability Forum (TDF) and the Telecommunications Disability Consumer Representation Project Advisory Body (TEDICORE PAB). ACIF DAB meets quarterly, whilst the TDF and TEDICORE PAB meet on a six monthly basis. The Interim Report for the Project has just been submitted to the Department of Communications, Information Technology and the Arts.

Major activities during the period from 1 October 2004 to 31 March 2005 have included:

5.1. The ACA Vision 2020 Project
The Telecommunications Disability Consumer Representation Project (TEDICORE) and the Australian Communications Authority (ACA) conducted a forum in December 2004 to consider future scenarios in telecommunications. The ACA Vision 2020 Project has been going for some time and disability consumers were very concerned that insufficient attention had been paid to the ramifications of developing future scenarios without consideration of the ‘connectivity’ of services and equipment. Australia needs to develop a telecommunications environment which will deliver optimal services for people with disabilities. The WWDA presentation focused on the need for a strong regulatory framework which will ensure that all equipment and service providers have an obligation to cater for people with disabilities. The potential for future systems to enhance the lives of people with disabilities is great, and the government must ensure this happens.

A copy of WWDA’s Presentation to the VISION 20/20 Workshop will soon be made available on WWDA’s website. If anyone would like a copy of the Paper emailed to them, please contact the WWDA Office via email at: wwda@wwda.org.au

A copy of the Final Report of the Vision 20/20 Project is available from the ACA’s website (www.aca.gov.au). More information about the Vision 20/20 Project can be obtained from the Project Manager: Paul Roberts, Ph: 03 9963 6897 or email: paul.roberts@aca.gov.au

5.2. Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) Seminar
In February 2005 the Australian Communication Industry Forum (ACIF) held a seminar for its Consumer Council and the Disability Advisory Body (DAB) to learn more about VoIP telephony in February. This method of telecommunications converts voice input to digital signals, uses the internet to transfer the information in ‘packages’ and reverses the signal transformation to voice mode at the receiver’s end. At present this is a cheap method of telephony for those who have compatible equipment, with charges only applying when a landline connection is used in any part of the information transfer. It has great applications for internal telephone networks, as well as for international communication. It’s close cousin Video-over-IP (VIP) uses a video camera to simultaneously transmit pictures. The potential for real time videoconferencing using sign language points to inclusive applications for people with hearing impairment. The uptake of the technology is rapid, and is moving ahead of the regulatory environment, although the Australian Communications Authority and ACIF are both moving to close this gap.

5.3. Review of Priority Assistance Code
This Code (Priority Assistance for Life Threatening Medication Conditions Industry Code) regulates what service providers must do in the event of a disruption to a telephone service and who is eligible for that Priority Assistance. The Code aims to ensure that those who live with a life threatening condition and therefore rely on a phone service to make contact in emergencies, should have priority for the rapid repair of any faults. The ACIF DAB had three major concerns about the code under review. Firstly, there were few signatories to the code. This means that consumers who wish to register for such a service are limited in their choice of service provider. Secondly there has been very little publicity about the existence of the service, so that many eligible consumers have not registered. Finally, ACIF DAB pointed out that it is unreasonable for eligible consumers with permanent incapacity to be required to re-register (with doctor’s certificate verification of their condition) on an annual basis.

If you believe you are eligible for Priority Assistance contact your service provider and ask if it is a signatory to ACIF C609:2003 Priority Assistance for Life Threatening Medical Conditions Industry Code, and for information on how to make an application. Contact Sue Salthouse (sudata@optusnet.com.au) with any feedback you wish to give about your experience in gaining eligibility.

5.4. Information Accessibility Code
When this Code is ratified by ACIF, suppliers and manufacturers of telephone equipment will be required to give wholesalers information about a large number of equipment accessibility features such as volume control (both of voice output and input), TTY compatibility, hearing loop compatibility, handset ergonomics, etc. At present there is a wide disparity between industry and disability consumers on what sort of information needs to be supplied. Although there are 2 disability representatives and one general consumers representative on the Working Committee progress is stalled. Many meetings and teleconferences with all stakeholders have been held but the impasse continues. Once the initial Code is adopted, a secondary Code will be developed so that the accessibility information can be passed from wholesalers to retailers and thence to consumers. The benefits for consumers with disabilities will be tremendous. It will help to overcome the current difficulties (highlighted in WWDA’s 2004 report on ‘Consumer Issues in Telecommunications’) where retailers have limited knowledge about the features of the equipment they sell.

5.5. Payphone Policies and Codes
Inaccessible payphones continue to present problems for people with disabilities. The regulatory framework is not strong enough to ensure accessiblity. ACIF DAB has been maintaining pressure on ACA to strengthen this framework and on ACIF to develop a Code and Guidelines which will bring rectify the problems. ACA has recently directed ACIF to begin this process. Once again there are wide differences of opinion between different consumer groups and between consumers and industry, as to what constitutes accessibility. It will be a protracted process to put a Code in place. ACIF DAB is drawing up a scoping paper so that it will be involved from the inaugural stages.

5.6. Telstra
At the end of 2004 WWDA raised a number of consumer issues with Telstra. The matters remain unresolved. We are concerned that information about Disability Services and the Disability Equipment Program (DEP) are not on the Tesltra Homepage; that you cannot get information about the DEP from many Telstra shopfronts; that there is little publicity about its basic Directory Assistance services (1223 and 12455) whilst the more costly Sensis 1234 service is widely publicised; that the Disability Enquiry Helpline service for people unable to use a whitepages hard copy directory has even more limited publicity; that neither Telstra nor their wholesale customers routinely inform consumers about access to the DEP for non Telstra clients; and the need for disability information to be in the staff’s e-learning update modules on equipment and services.

5.7. Interim Report
More details about activities of the WWDA Telecommunications Group are contained in the Interim Report to Department of Communications, Information Technology and the Arts (DCITA) which is available from Sue Salthouse (sudata@optusnet.com.au) or the WWDA Office (wwda@wwda.org.au).


6. News from Other Organisations & Agencies

6.1. South Australian Women’s Safety Strategy Released

The Minister for the Status of Women Hon Stephanie Key MP was launched the South Australian Government’s new strategy, Our Commitment to Women’s Safety in South Australia on 8 March 2005 as part of International Women’s Day activities. Our Commitment to Women’s Safety in South Australia sets out the State Government’s strategy for tackling this violence, the initiatives to be taken over the next 6 months and a framework for responding to violence against women in South Australia over the next five years.

A PDF and Word version of this document are available on the following websites:
http://www.families.sa.gov.au
http://officeforwomen.sa.gov.au

Hard copies can be obtained by calling 08 8226 6398 or by email on womens.safety@saugov.sa.gov.au

6.2. Disability and the Criminal Justice System Conference

The Office of the Public Advocate (Victoria) in association with the Australian Community Support Organisation and the Victorian Department of Justice is holding the Disability and the Criminal Justice System Conference: Achievements and challenges on 13-15 July 2005. This conference aims to:

  • acknowledge and increase the level of understanding of the problems facing people with a disability in the justice system
  • review progress of improvements to the justice system in responding to the needs of people with a disability,
  • bring together people working across the justice system on systemic responses to the needs of people with a disability
  • promote discussion and action towards improving responses to people with a disability.

For more information, contact:
Office of the Public Advocate
5th Floor, 436 Lonsdale Street, Melbourne 3000
Ph: 03 9603 9582 Fax: 0 3 9603 9501
Email: jeremy.miller@justice.vic.gov.au
Web: www.publicadvocate.vic.gov.au

6.3. Women in ICT Summit Advisory Group established

In March 2005, the Minister for Communications, Information Technology and the Arts, Senator Helen Coonan, announced the members of an Advisory Group to help plan the Women in ICT Summit scheduled for later this year. The Minister outlined that figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics show that women comprise only about one fifth of the ICT workforce. In her Press Release announcing the establishment of the Advisory Group, the Minister stated: “The Government made a commitment at the last election to convene a summit involving leaders in the ICT industry and education to identify and address the barriers that may be keeping women out of the ICT sector.” The Advisory Group is made up of Australian women from the ICT and education sectors. The group will help to identify key issues that need to be considered at the summit.

For more information about the Women in ICT Summit contact the Ministers Office:
Ph: 02 6277 7480 Fax: 02 6273 4154
Email: minister@dcita.gov.au

Or the Department of Communications, Information Technology and the Arts
Ph: 02 6271 1000 Fax: 02 6271 1901
Email: dcita.mail@dcita.gov.au

6.4. 2nd National Ageing & Disability Conference ‘Passion Power Practice’

The Tasmanian Division of ACROD Ltd, the National Industry Association for Disability Services, will be presenting the second National Ageing & Disability Conference in Hobart on 18th – 20th July 2005. The theme, Passion Power Practice, was inspired by the quality of the presentations and the enthusiasm of the participants at the inaugural conference. The aims of the 2005 Conference are to:

  • Evaluate the progress made over the last year;
  • Explore promising programs and policy development; and
  • Enable people with disabilities and their supporters to influence professional practice.

For more information contact:
Marie Kennedy, Conference Project Officer (ACROD)
Ph/Fax: 03 6223 7290
Email: mkennedy@acrod.org.au
Web: www.acrod.org.au/conferences/a&d2005/home.htm

6.5. Women’s Health West (Victoria) Family Violence Information Resources

Women’s Health West (Victoria) hosts the leading family and domestic violence crisis service for Melbourne’s Western metropolitan region. Women and children whose safety is at risk can contact Women’s Health West for information and referral to a range of services, including a specialist children’s worker, a rental subsidy scheme and crisis housing for Culturally and Linguistically Diverse women. Women’s Health West also does advocacy, research and health promotion related to family violence and women’s health, offers a women’s health information and referral service, and publishes multilingual resources on women’s health and family violence.

Recently Women’s Health West has produced a limited number of Braille and Tape format resources that contain information on Family Violence as well as a large print plain language version which contains TTY numbers. The resources briefly outline the various forms of intimate partner/carer violence against women as well as provide various useful crisis numbers for women in the Western Region of Melbourne to seek help.

For more information contact:
Women’s Health West
317- 319 Barkly Street
Footscray VIC 3011
Ph: 03 9689 9588 Fax: 03 9689 3861
Email: info@whwest.org.au
Web: www.whwest.org.au

6.6. Breaking the Silence: A training resource for workers supporting women with disabilities who experience domestic violence

Disability Services (Victoria) has funded RMIT University to develop a training resource for workers who may support women with a disability who experience domestic violence. The new training resource will provide information, tools and techniques and a series of interactive case study vignettes that allow worker-learners to engage with real-life situations and to practise their skills. Contents will include: relevant legal and statutory requirements; safety of self and client; options available; rights and responsibilities; support processes and prevention strategies; inter-personal skills; and organisational standards and principles of person-centred care. The resource will be housed on a CD-ROM and will contain a printable Resource Manual and Learner Guide, a Knowledge Base, case study vignettes, a directory of useful contacts and a glossary of terms. The resource is due to be launched in August 2005.

For more information contact:
Edwina Breitzke, Senior Project Officer, Community Building and Innovation Team
Disability Services, Department of Human Services
19/555 Collins St, Melbourne, Vic, 3000
Ph: 03 9616 7349 TTY: 1300 131 525
Email: Edwina.Breitzke@dhs.vic.gov.au