‘Double Disadvantage’ – Barriers Facing WomenWith Disabilities in Accessing Employment, Education and TrainingOpportunities: A Discussion Paper

Paper written by Natalie Tomas, Disability Employment Action Centre (DEAC). Copyright 1991.


This paper is by no means a solo effort. A number of people contributed generously of their time and gave me valuable assistance while I researched and wrote this paper.

I would like to thank all DEAC workers, past and present, who have made valuable comments on various drafts of this report. Lois Brudenell’s and Karen James’ comments were particularly useful. David Clarke was a helpful and stimulating critic. I would also like to thank him for his work on the layout of this document. Dale Nelson deserves particular acknowledgement for the many hours he spent editing this paper. His work has greatly improved its style and structure as well as the lucidity and accessibility of its argument.

Fiona Strahan made some very useful comments for which I would like to thank her. I would also like to thank the workers at ADEC who provided valuable insights into the experiences of women with disabilities from non-English speaking backgrounds and their families.


Double Disadvantage is divided into six main areas.

1. The background to the current system of special schools and the development of sheltered workshops and a discussion of women’s disadvantage in the labour market.
2. Education and training
3. Employment
4. The Costs of Disability
5. Gender and Disability
6. Affirmative Action Guidelines

It is argued that women with disabilities have access to a limited range of options which are restricted to female dominated and low paid occupations.

Women with disabilities are less likely to be in paid employment than men have lesser access to and knowledge of education and employment services.

The ‘double disadvantage’ of being a woman with a disability means that costs of disability are higher for women with domestic responsibilities.

Women with disabilities face gender-related barriers such as sexual harassment and double workload if they have children and are in paid employment.

The strategies for change suggested include:

  • More information being provided to women with disabilities about education training and employment options and about their rights at work.
  • A disability allowance which recognises the costs of disability and the additional costs borne by women with disabilities.
  • The personnel and resources currently available in special schools should increasingly made available to students with disabilities in a fully integrated setting.
  • Development of affirmative action legislation for people with disabilities which sensitive to additional disadvantages such as gender, race and age.

The Purpose of this Discussion Paper

‘Double disadvantage’ is intended to provide background information on the barriers confronting women with disabilities wishing to access education, employment and training. It brings together existing research findings, surveys and other data on women with disabilities including the observations and experiences of individual women with disabilities. Much of the material for this paper came from documented accounts of women with disabilities’ experiences of barriers to employment, education and training.

This paper has a twofold purpose:

1. To provide women with disabilities with information and suggested strategies for action to enable them to better access education, employment and training options.

2. To provide information and raise issues among people with disabilities, women’s groups, disability rights organisations, trade unions, government decision makers, equal opportunity practitioners, disability service providers and any other interested groups or individuals to enable them to begin to consider, take account of and then develop strategies to overcome the ‘double disadvantage’ of gender and disability.

Section One: Introduction

The search for employment is often a frustrating experience. There are a number of factors which contribute to that frustration. For those who are socially disadvantaged, such as women with disabilities, the search for employment or education opportunities can be even more challenging. This group can be further disadvantaged by both systemic and attitudinal barriers. These barriers form types of discrimination, which are defined in law as “being treated less favourably when endeavouring to access (education, employment or training opportunities…) than others in a similar situation”. (Victorian Equal Opportunity Act 1984).

Discriminatory attitudes may be based on personal characteristics such as gender, class, age, race, ethnicity, sexual preference or disability. The ability to obtain employment can be severely restricted by employers’ prejudicial assumptions about the types of work considered ‘suitable’ for women, or the ‘difficulties’ involved in employing a person with a disability. These discriminatory attitudes can prevent a disadvantaged job seeker from accessing educational, training or employment opportunities because of the systemic and institutionalised nature of discrimination.

1.1. Women with Disabilities: A Double Disadvantage

Women. with disabilities experience systemic and attitudinal discrimination in the labour market on two fronts: firstly as females and secondly as people with disabilities. Therefore, women with disabilities are doubly disadvantaged in their search for employment.

1.2. The Discussion Paper: An Outline

Following the Introduction, Section 2 of this paper details the historical development of segregated education and employment systems for people with disabilities and profiles the inequalities experienced by women in the labour market. Section 3 is a discussion of how and why women with disabilities are doubly disadvantaged in accessing education and training. Section 4 deals with barriers specific to employment and section 5 outlines the cost of disability. Section 6 deals with the interrelationship between issues of gender and issues of disability. Section 7 provides a brief overview of the issues that have emerged from this analysis, and in section 8 some possible strategies for action will be suggested.

This paper should provide a framework for debate and discussion and is not a definitive policy document.

Section Two: The Historical Background

2.1. Special Education, Sheltered Workshops and Activity Therapy Centres

2.1.1. Introduction
The ‘education’ and ‘training’ of people with disabilities has often occurred within the segregated environment of the special education system, sheltered workshops and activity therapy centres.

2.1.2. The Special Education System
In 1982, the Victorian Government announced a major review of educational services for children with disabilities, in line with its policy of “normalisation”. The report entitled: Integration in Victorian Education was completed in 1984, and adopted the principle that “every child has a right to be educated in a regular school” (p.13). As a result of this report and the struggles emerging from it, the integration of children with disabilities is now the State Government preferred option (p.20). Its integration policy states that: Every child has a right to be educated in a regular school (Victorian Ministry of Education, Office of Schools Administration, 1990(a), p.1). Integration support groups must be set up within a the school where a student with a disability is enrolled to facilitate their integration (Victorian Ministry of Education, 1989, 1990). However, special schools will remain open for as long as some parents ‘choose’ to send their children to them.

How Did It All Begin?
Special schools have been part of the Australian education system for more than a century. In Victoria, a school for the ‘Deaf and Dumb’ was established in 1860, and state responsibility to establish special State schools was given in the Victorian Education Act of 1890. A range of special schools have been established since 1913, covering children with behavioural, intellectual, physical and sensory disabilities. Many of these were originally founded and managed by charitable, voluntary institutions. The Education Department is now responsible for managing the special schools (Ministerial Review of Educational Services for the Disabled, 1984, p. 20). But voluntary organisations such as Yooralla, Spastic Society, the Royal Victorian Institute for the Blind and the Victorian Deaf Society provide the paramedical and other support services. This means that much of the education of children with disabilities in special schools is “… dependent on the activities of various voluntary agencies which, to varying degrees, have an element of charity about them” (Ministerial Review of Educational Services for the Disabled, 1984, p. 27). No further special schools have been established in recent times, but existing schools have been maintained. According to the latest figures available from the Ministry of Education (1989) there are 93 special schools in Victoria (Ministry of Education, Office of Schools Administration, 1990(b), p. 44).

The quality of education has varied from school to school because there has been no standard curricula in these schools. In many special school programs, emphasis has often been placed on the provision of paramedical services to these students and not on the educational skills required to enable them to compete in the open labour market arid participate in the community. Most special education teachers are primary trained, although special schools are supposed to provide schooling until year 12. Therefore, these children are not usually able to acquire a secondary education. A special education teacher, describing a ‘typical day’ at a special education unit of a local school on the NSW south coast, noted that the students were not taught basic literacy skills (See Women and Work, August 1989, p.8.). People who leave these schools often enter sheltered workshops or activity therapy centres.

2.1.3. Sheltered Workshops
Sheltered workshops were established by charitable organisations in the early part of this century for people with physical, intellectual and sensory disabilities who were not thought capable of entering the open labour market because of the severity of their disabilities and their perceived incapacity to achieve an adequate level of ‘productivity’. The number of sheltered workshops expanded during the 1960s and it was during this period that the Commonwealth Government began to provide funding to these organisations. This service was viewed by both the Government and workshop managers as a means of keeping the people who attended them occupied during the day and segregated from the wider community. It has been considered to be a welfare service rather than an employment service (Brudenell 1990, p.8.). Commonwealth Government funds for sheltered workshops are allocated from its welfare budget and not from funds set aside for employment and training initiatives.

In Victoria, under section 39 of the Industrial Relations Act (1979) sheltered workshops are specifically excluded from all provisions of the Act relating to the payment of award wages and conditions of employment. Sheltered workshop employees have few industrial rights and do not receive appropriate award rates for the work they perform. The Department of Social Security (DSS) pays these employees a sheltered workshop allowance which is slightly higher than the invalid pension to cover transport costs. DSS has provided an ‘open employment incentive bonus’ of $500 for sheltered workshop employees who move into open employment and remain there for at least 12 months. The sheltered workshop is also paid $500 for each employee who moves into open employment. These funds have hardly been used. In Victoria 34 bonuses were paid in 1988/89 (Brudenell, 1990, pp.8-9).

The passing of the Federal Disability Services Act (1986) should facilitate the greater movement of women with disabilities from sheltered to open employment. It requires sheltered workshop services to develop training and employment programs which promote the movement of employees into open employment, with the limited provision of appropriate support mechanisms for these employees. Some organisations are already in the process of making the transition to this new type of service provision. Under the terms of the Act, this process should be completed by June 30, 1992.

The work performed in sheltered workshops is often sex-segregated. Women do the bulk of the domestic work and men are more likely to operate machinery. One woman’s account of her experience in a sheltered workshop illustrates the type of work women perform:

“My jobs were……sewing on the sewing machine, cleaning, sweeping, mopping floors, taking trays out to the table, and helping with the dishes including using the dishwasher and drying the dishes……After I was transferred I worked in the kitchen where I used to peel vegetables, dish up meals and sell cakes” (Atkinson, 1990, p.9).

2.1.4. Activity Therapy Centres (ATCs)
These usually cater for people with intellectual disabilities. While sheltered workshops have a ‘vocational’ purpose, ATCs are more likely to be concerned with daily living skills. More women than men are in ATCs and the reverse applies in sheltered workshops. This gender imbalance can probably be attributed to the assumption that women are not interested or ‘suited’ for ‘vocational’ training (Ronalds, 1990, p.19). Moreover, women in ATCs are more likely to be steered towards cooking and domestic skills training. A recent study of young girls with intellectual disabilities and their educational and vocational options found that parents were concerned to ensure that their daughters received domestic skills training while they were more prepared to explore a wider range of vocational options for their sons (Grbich and Sykes, 1989).

2.1.5. Conclusion
The changes to the current system of sheltered employment and the promotion of initiatives to assist women with disabilities into open employment should be supported. But the question needs to be asked: How will the suggested changes affect women with disabilities?

Two immediate concerns spring to mind:

1. Will supported employment projects be structured to avoid gender bias? (Many supported employment projects are in male dominated areas of employment such as gardening).

2. Will the proposed skills based wages system for those deemed to be unable to achieve adequate levels of ‘productivity’ in open employment be sensitive to the existing devaluation of ‘women’s work’ which has resulted in women, on average, earning substantially less than men?

2.2. Women in the Australian Labour Market: A Profile

2.2.1. Introduction
Australia’s labour market is the most sex-segregated of all the OECD countries (Commonwealth Department of Industrial Relations, 1990, p.3). The labour market can be conceived of as being divided into two distinct segments: a ‘primary’ male- dominated labour market which consists of well paid jobs with good career prospects and a ‘secondary’ labour market made up of women in lowly paid ‘dead- end’ jobs.

The historical development of the Australian wage-fixing system has played a major role in the creation of the situation. In 1907, a Justice of the Federal Arbitration and Conciliation Commission, J.B. Higgins, determined in the ‘Harvester Judgement’ that the minimum rate of pay for women should be fixed at 54% of the male rate, since it was assumed that men were supporting their wives and children and that women did not have dependents. This notion of a ‘family wage’ gave official sanction to women workers being offered lowly paid jobs in sex-segregated industries such as clothing and textiles. It also ensured that a pool of cheap labour was available to fill positions in ‘mixed’ industries that could be designated ‘women’s work’, for example, clerical and telephonist work.

In the early decades of this century, the introduction of the typewriter and the telegraph revolutionised the clerical and postal industries respectively. As more women were trained to operate this new equipment and moved into these occupations, men moved out and these jobs became ‘women’s work’. These jobs were poorly paid and offered few opportunities for advancement (O’Donnell and Hall 1988, ch.1).

2.2.2. Rates of Pay
In 1972, all women in the workforce were finally granted the right to receive ‘equal pay for work of equal value’, three years after women working in the same jobs as men, for example, teachers, were granted equal pay for equal work. However, women, on average, still do not receive the same rates of pay as men. According to recent figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (August 1990) women earn 83% of the full-time (ordinary time) weekly adult male wage. Men have greater access to overtime. When women’s and men’s overtime are included, women earn 78% of the male wage. Men also have greater access to shift allowances and penalty rates, when these are taken into consideration, women earn only 65% of the male wage. For example, females account for 35.2% of labourers and 10% of all trades-people. Both groups of workers have the capacity to earn large amounts of extra money on top of their base wage because of overtime, penalty rates and allowances.

2.2.3. Why Is It So?
Women comprise 50.6% of all persons of workforce age (15-65) and 41.6% of these women are in the labour force compared to 58.4% of men.

There are a number of reasons why women on average are paid less than men despite their increased participation in the workforce.

(A) Women make up the major part (78%) of the part-time workforce. Therefore, women are more likely than men to receive less pay for doing the same job because they work less hours on average. This disadvantage is compounded by the fact that most of the part time or casual work is located in poorly paid, female dominated industries.

(B) Women are concentrated in two major occupational groups, with a largely part-time and casual workforce, as clerks and sales and service workers. 55% of all female workers are in these two groups. In addition, 64% of all sales and service workers and 77% of clerks are women. The sales area contains the largest proportion of casual and part-time workers – the majority of whom are women – (58.2%). However, among the higher paid occupations such as managers and administrators only 23.7% of these workers are women.

(C) Women make up 41.4% and 44.3% respectively of all professional and paraprofessional workers, but are concentrated within the lowest paid ranks as teachers, nurses, librarians, welfare workers and paramedical health workers. However, very few women have access to this range of jobs, and only 18.5% of all female employees hold professional or paraprofessional positions.

2.2.4. Hidden Unemployment
Of women of working age, 7.1% are unemployed compared to 6.9% of men. However, these figures do not reveal the true extent of female unemployment.

Many women are not officially classified as unemployed, but would like to find work. Some are only looking for part-time work and are therefore not included in the official employment statistics. Others cannot obtain adequate child care or have transport or language difficulties which severely limit their capacity to get work and so are discouraged from seeking employment. Seventy-six percent of these job seekers are women.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics considers a person who has found one hour’s paid work during their survey period to have been employed. Therefore, the level of unemployment among women is actually much higher than the official statistics indicate. Women who have an employed spouse and are therefore ineligible for the unemployment benefit, or those receive some type of pension but would like paid work, are also not included in the official unemployment figures. Many of these ‘hidden unemployed’ women have disabilities.

(All statistics are taken from Women and Work, Spring 1990, pp. 20-21.)

2.2.5. Conclusion
The current economic recession has hit women particularly hard. The growth in part-time work has created more job opportunities, but they have been at the expense of full-time jobs. The retail sector which is a major employer of women, has undergone a massive slump, as has the manufacturing sector, which employs many women in the clothing and textile industries. The concentration of women in a narrow range of occupations in a tight labour market makes it more difficult for women who face additional social and structural disadvantages such as disability to access employment.

Section Three: Barriers to Education and Training

3.1. Introduction

The specific problems which students with disabilities face in the special school system have been detailed earlier in this paper. This section will focus on the particular needs of female students.

3.2. The Special School Environment

Students in special schools do not generally achieve an adequate level of education to enable them to compete with other school leavers in the open employment market. (Women and Work, August 89, p.8). This disadvantage is compounded by the general lack of careers counselling available in special schools. (This is not surprising given that educators – and often parents – generally assume that these children will not be able to compete in the open employment market.)

If students from these schools are given any advice at all about possible future career options, girls are usually advised to seek work in traditional ‘female’ occupations such as clerical and secretarial work and child care. This may not be suitable for some women with poor literacy and numeracy skills or poor manual dexterity and co-ordination. Other girls simply do not want to do these types of jobs, but are given little information on possible alternative careers (Ladanyi, 1988).

3.3. Education in a ‘Mainstream’ School

The girls with disabilities who attend ‘mainstream’ schools have a better chance than those in special schools to obtain an adequate standard of education and career options, but the benefit obtained by these students depends on a number of factors:

1. The education standard of female students who have moved from special to ‘mainstream’ schools. They may require additional assistance to achieve a standard of education which is comparable to that of female students who have not been educated in a special school.

2. The level of resources available to provide integration assistance, including personal and education support, and structural modifications to a building as needed, will determine the benefit a student gains from being in a ‘mainstream’ school.

3. The degree to which teachers, careers counsellors and the mainstream school community generally believe that women with disabilities are employable, will affect the quality of the career advice that is given to them. In addition, if girls are given careers counselling which is geared towards persuading them to undertake a limited number of traditional ‘female’ jobs rather than encouraging them to examine a range of options based on their personal preferences and skills, they will be disadvantaged on both grounds of gender and disability.

3.4. Vocational Education and Training

There are a variety of options available for those who wish to undertake vocational education or training. These include tertiary courses in universities and colleges, which usually require the completion of Year 12; courses run by TAFE colleges designed to cover a range of needs and education levels, including trade apprenticeships; and training programmes funded by government bodies and other organisations, designed to assist disadvantaged job seekers to enter the workforce.

People with disabilities comprise a small percentage of participants in vocational education and training programmes. This includes programmes specifically targeted towards disadvantaged groups (Youth Affairs Council of Victoria, 1987). Specific data on the percentage of women with disabilities enrolled in vocational education and training is not available. However, the existing evidence on the involvement of women with disabilities in Commonwealth Government funded labour market programs suggests that their participation rate in other forms of vocational education and training would also be low (Pritchard, 1990).

There are a number of reasons for this.

1. Apprenticeships and trainees hips are sex-segregated. The majority of apprenticeships, with the exception of hairdressing, are in male-dominated industries and difficult for women to enter. Most trainees hips, on the other hand, are in office-based clerical work – a female-dominated occupation – and do not meet the needs of many women with disabilities who are unable – or do not wish – to perform this type of work.

2. Education campuses are often inaccessible to women with mobility disabilities or attendant care needs. Attendant care is usually not provided – or is inadequate. This includes such services as note takers and sign interpreters for women with hearing impairments. At a seminar on women in TAFE earlier this year, one woman with a disability stressed the need both for greater access to buildings and increased support services for :students with disabilities.

In some cases, it is impossible for a person with a disability to study because they have no access to buildings…….Not all disabled people have accessibility problems. What we do need however is support staff, whether they are disability co-ordinators, equal opportunity officers, interpreters and note takers or integration assistants (McGinty, 1991, p.4).

3. The entry level requirements for many training courses and apprenticeships exclude the majority of women with disabilities who have been ‘educated’ in special schools. Attempts have been made to address this issue by allocating a certain number of places to disadvantaged groups in TAPE courses, but this has only been partially successful because the demand for places has meant that those who are most disadvantaged have missed out on a place. These programs should target those with multiple disadvantages such as women with disabilities.

4. Pre-employment programs do not adequately fill the gap since many of the courses are non-vocational, and the skills gained are not directly transferable to mainstream course entry requirements. People are often encouraged to undertake training courses that do not suit their personal needs and abilities, but are those which ‘professionals’ have considered would be useful. A vicious cycle often ensues and some people end up doing nothing but preparatory courses. One woman with a disability, describing her experience of Commonwealth labour market programs for disadvantaged groups, voiced her frustration at the “endless cycle of training courses” to which she was subjected (Pritchard, 1990, p.10).

5. Traineeships and apprenticeships are targeted at the 15-19 age group, and many women with disabilities who wish to join the workforce are too old to qualify, as they may have spent many years in a sheltered workshop and only recently considered the move to open employment.

3.5. Conclusion

Overall, women with disabilities have a limited number of career options available to them and these are confined to traditional ‘female’ occupations. In many cases these are inappropriate for women with disabilities because they do not possess the appropriate education standards or skills. For some, the nature of their disability prevents them from performing this type of work.

Existing affirmative action initiatives in education and training which are designed to encourage girls and young women to consider careers in traditional ‘male’ occupations should be targeted to girls and women with disabilities.

Section Four: Barriers to Employment

4.1. Introduction

The ability of women with disabilities to gain or to return to employment is usually more difficult than for men. Only 28.4% of women with disabilities are in paid employment as compared with 54.5 % of men with disabilities (Cooper, 1990, p.3; ABS, 1990, p.25). This obvious imbalance, which is more pronounced than that experienced, by women in general, highlights the fact that women with disabilities are doubly disadvantaged in their search for employment.

4.2. Self-esteem and Assertiveness for Women with Disabilities

Some women with disabilities have a poor self-image and lack basic assertiveness skills (Commonwealth Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, Office of the Status of Women, 1989, p.45). At an employment forum conducted by the Disability Employment Action Centre (DEAC), the women who attended highlighted the need for assertiveness training specifically tailored to their needs (Deac Newsletter, May ’89, p.5).

Anyone seeking work needs to be able to project a positive self-image to prospective employers, and an inability to do this severely restricts a job seeker’s ability to find work.

While men with disabilities often lack self-confidence and the ability to assert themselves, for women with disabilities the problem is particularly acute. Societal images of the ‘perfect’ women gives value to traits such as vulnerability, passivity, submissiveness, and social and economic dependence. These ‘perfect women’ do not have disabilities are young, physically ‘beautiful’, often have children, spouses and paid jobs. While most women do not conform to these stereotypes; women with disabilities certainly do not fit the image of a ‘perfect’ female.

4.3. Access to and Knowledge of Employment Services

Many women with disabilities who receive a pension or Sheltered Employment Allowance are not aware of the Commonwealth Employment Service (CES) and its services, nor are they aware that they can register for assistance to seek work. These women are also often ignorant of the specialist services the CES offers to disadvantaged jobseekers. More men than women use the CES, and the same can be said of DEAC’s employment placement service. The outcomes for women jobseekers are different to men. Our female jobseekers tend to obtain work in clerical and keyboarding positions – traditional areas of female employment.

Women with disabilities from non-English speaking backgrounds face the additional disadvantage of a lack of information on employment, education and training programmes and services available to women with disabilities written in community languages. Some of these women are not encouraged to seek information on services available to them, or indeed to access them, because of some ethnic communities’ cultural prescriptions against their acting independently of the men in their families.

Overall, women with disabilities face a barrier of lack of information about services available to them and their right to use these services.

4.4. Employment Prospects

As a direct result of having few education or training opportunities, many women with disabilities have few career options and their employment prospects are poor. A recent study of women with disabilities in Adelaide found that only 23.9% of the women were employed. This is a much lower percentage than that of all women in the labour market (41.6%) (S.A. Health Commission, 1988, p.11). There are several reasons for this inequity, in addition to the lack of education and training options which have already been covered.


  1. Many traditional ‘female’ jobs require a level of literacy and numeracy that women with disabilities, who have been ‘educated’ within the special education system, do not possess.
  2. The physical inaccessibility of many workplaces prevents some women with mobility disabilities from accepting otherwise suitable positions.
  3. Some positions require modifications to duty statements to enable a person to perform the majority of the work. For example, some women find it difficult to do filing because of the nature of their disability. This also excludes them from most clerical positions unless job redesign is undertaken so that these positions do not require filing.

4.5. Award Restructuring

The Australian industrial relations system is currently undergoing major structural change. Trade unions and employer groups are in the process of re-nogotiating existing awards with a view to reducing and simplifying the number of occupational classifications within them. This supposedly should enable workers to undertake a wider range of tasks, develop additional skills, improve career structures and increase employee ‘productivity’ by creating a more ‘flexible’ workforce. It will also create the opportunity for the development of wage fixing principles which provide wage increases to workers who increase their skill levels. Employers will be required to provide training opportunities for workers to constantly upgrade their skills and qualifications.

This process could be advantageous to women with disabilities in open employment who would have increased access to training and career advancement opportunities. However, as has been recently argued, it could further disadvantage some people with disabilities (Griffiths, 1991, pp.4-5).

  1. There may be an increased expectation that workers undertaking base level positions have good English language skills. This will disadvantage those who have been educated within the special school system and/or are from a non-English speaking background.
  2. If formal education qualifications are a prerequisite for further training this would further limit employment opportunities for women with disabilities.

This process has some positive benefits for women as it could create opportunities for those who are in low skilled ‘female’ occupations with limited career prospects to increase their skills and thus broaden the range of jobs open to them. But this process would require a careful evaluation of the definition of skill as it applies to ‘women’s work’ to ensure that they are not disadvantaged by the inequities of the current wage fixation system.

The Women’s Employment Branch has written several papers on women and award restructuring. A future discussion paper should focus on the effects of the award restructuring process on women with disabilities (See: Victorian Department of Labour, Women’s Employment Branch, 1990 discussion papers).

4.6. Rehabilitation

Only one-third of clients receiving services from the Commonwealth Rehabilitation Service (CRS) are women. This is partly due to the fact that rehabilitation services are geared towards rehabilitating blue-collar workers back into the workforce (Commonwealth Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, Office of the Status of Women, 1989, p.45).

Women have also not had the same degree of access to these services, because they are often have been unaware of their existence, and because some have been responsible for child care and domestic duties. Part-time rehabilitation services have not been available to women undertaking: domestic duties and child care. The rehabilitation services are not flexible enough to accommodate the needs of women who want to study English during the day or have other problems with attending a full-time rehabilitation programme.

The Adelaide survey of women with disabilities found that while many women would have liked to have undertaken some form of vocational rehabilitation, they did not do so because the programmes were not geared to meet the needs of those with domestic responsibilities. Many of the women who were undertaking rehabilitation felt that the CRS was not supportive of them and gave a higher priority to placing men in employment than women (S.A. Health Commission, 1988, pp.9-10, 19). The CRS is aware of the gender imbalance and has launched a resource booklet to encourage women to utilise their services (Commonwealth Department of Community Services, undated). However this will not resolve the issue of access of women with child care and domestic responsibilities.

In cases where a person’s disability is not immediately obvious (eg. Occupational overuse syndrome, partial visual impairment and other hidden disabilities) the CRS criteria for accepting people as clients relies almost exclusively on a doctor’s assessment of whether a person in fact has a disability which affects their ability to work. This discriminates against women who have disabilities with hidden symptoms, but which are nevertheless real. This system fails to adequately take into account the client’s experience of how the disability affects her work. In some cases, doctors label the client’s assertions as being part of her imagination, and this ‘diagnosis’ affects the woman’s entitlement to services.

4.7. Compensation and Acquired Disability

Women receive an average of 23% less money from compensation payouts than men and their claims take 13% longer to process (Commonwealth Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, Office of the Status of Women, 1989, p.45). Therefore, women who acquire an injury are often in a worse financial situation than men in similar circumstances.

Women have a high rate of RSI or Occupational Overuse Syndrome (OOS) because a large number work in clerical, word processing jobs and process work in factories. These women are often not able to return to work for long periods of time and in some cases cannot find appropriate work. OOS is a ‘hidden’ disability and because it is a work-related injury, many of these women are branded ‘bludgers’.

Women from non-English speaking backgrounds often do not have access to information on their right to workers compensation or the nature of OOS. They are more prone to contracting the injury because they are often unaware of their right to refuse to do work: that is unsafe or which has inadequate ergonomic support. Many of these women work in manufacturing, predominantly in the clothing, footwear and textile industries, either at the factory site or in their own homes (outwork). They are often paid piecework rates, that is, paid for the number of items they produce. This increases the chance of these women contracting OOS, because of the speed at which they must work in order to earn enough money to support themselves and their families. They are often perceived by employers as cheap, unskilled labour, who are vulnerable to exploitation because of their poverty and lack of knowledge about industrial rights. These women are more likely to be doing this type of unsafe home-based work because they need a paid job which also enables them to meet their child care and domestic responsibilities.

4.8. Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action Legislation

The Victorian Equal Opportunity Act 1984 prohibits discrimination in education and employment on the grounds of impairment (disability). However, there are a number of exemptions specified in the Act which severely minimise the chances of a person with a disability successfully proving that an act of unlawful discrimination has occurred (ss.21 (4) g-i). Workers in sheltered employment are excluded from using the Act when seeking redress because their wages and conditions do not compare with workers in open employment doing the same or similar work. Sheltered workshops are exempt from a requirement to pay their workers award wages or conditions under Section 39 of the Victorian Industrial Relations Act (1979). In addition, some employers can claim that it would be too difficult to make a workplace accessible (or that the CES allowance of $5000 is inadequate) or that it is too difficult to redesign a job to make it possible for the person in question to perform that job. It is also possible for employers to claim that the person with the disability is a danger to him/herself or to others. This could exclude some people with epilepsy or intellectual or psychiatric disabilities from work on the basis of a societal perception that such people are dangerous or a risk. To be an effective tool, the Act’s prohibitions of discrimination on the grounds of impairment need to be strengthened.

The Federal Affirmative Action (Equal Employment Opportunity) for Women Act 1986 is designed to address the structural/systemic barriers that prevent women from having equal access to employment or to opportunities for advancement during the course of their employment. While the Act is a major step towards women achieving greater access to a wider range of jobs, it does not take into account the needs of women who face additional disadvantages such as disability. For reasons already discussed, many of these women are effectively prevented from gaining much benefit from affirmative action programmes as prescribed under the Act (Ronalds, 1987). Legislation along similar lines to the Act should be enacted specifically targeting people with disabilities, and it should be flexible enough to take into account additional disadvantages such as race, ethnicity and age.

4.9. Conclusion

The barriers which women with disabilities have to contend with when seeking employment are related to the poor level of education many of these women have received. These women receive little information about the types of employment services and training options available to them, as well as about their rights of access. Existing compensation and rehabilitation services for women with disabilities are often’ riot flexible enough to meet their particular needs, and rely too often on the medical definition of disability, without taking account of the woman’s experience. Existing anti-discrimination legislation is too limited inflexible in its interpretation of what constitutes discrimination against a person with a disability, and the action that can be taken to prevent it.

Section Five: The Costs of Disability

5.1. Introduction

Women with disabilities are usually faced with higher daily living costs because of their disability. In order to live independently, many women with disabilities must pay for the support and assistance they need. In this section, I want to briefly discuss these extra costs.

5.2. Transport

Many women with disabilities need assistance to use public transport or cannot use it at all. Taxis or private cars are therefore the only alternative. These are very expensive forms of transport, and beyond the reach of many people with disabilities. The high costs of transport mean that many women with disabilities need to limit their search for work to their local area.

The transport allowance provided by the Department of Social Security is only available to those people who are in employment, education and training for twenty hours or more per week (This will be reduced to eight hours per week in the near future). The allowance is $11 per week and is not indexed according to increases in the cost of living (CPl). It will be increased to $20 per week in October 1991, but this amount still does not adequately address the high cost of transport for women with disabilities.

There is no adequate assistance available for women who are not seeking work or can only work for less than twenty hours per week and cannot use public transport. This is a strong disincentive to women with disabilities who wish to work part-time or casually either because of the nature of their disability or because of child care or domestic responsibilities. These conditions of eligibility preclude women with disabilities who are not in paid employment from receiving it. The unpaid labour of women as carers, and the extra travel costs incurred by these women, such as transporting children and accessing services is not recognised by governments as employment.

The high costs of transport limits people’s employment options, and their ability to access services and participate in the community. The opportunity to work from home may be one solution to this problem, but it leaves many of these women open to exploitation from employers who are more able to pay under-award wages and award conditions.

5.3. Equipment

Many women with disabilities require equipment to enable them to live independently. Mobility aids such as wheelchairs and crutches, as well as specialised computer equipment, are needed to enable people with disabilities to obtain jobs or undertake education or training courses. The government subsidies which are available are usually not adequate to meet the needs of many women with disabilities, who therefore must pay for this equipment themselves.

Women’s ‘double disadvantage’ exacerbates the situation. Some women require specialised or expensive equipment to enable them to do the housework or care for children. Some ‘labour-saving’ devices such as microwaves, automatic washing machines and dryers, are expensive because they are considered to be luxury goods and are heavily taxed. This equipment is consequently beyond the reach of women with disabilities on low incomes.

5.4. Attendant Care

Some women with disabilities require an attendant to assist them in performing daily living tasks, such as toileting, dressing and eating. There is a very limited amount of attendant care available within the TAPE and tertiary education system and it is virtually non-existent in the workplace. This prevents those women with disabilities who require attendant care at their place of study or work from seeking education or employment. Their only alternative is to pay for it themselves which is prohibitively expensive.

The costs of disability also prevent some women with disabilities from seeking paid work, particularly if it is part-time, temporary or casual, because they need to employ someone to provide domestic assistance while they are in paid employment.

5.5. Conclusion: Levels of Income Support for Women with Disabilities

Women, especially those with children, form the majority of those living in poverty. Approximately 30% of people with disabilities are in the paid workforce compared to 70% of people without disabilities (Brudenell, 1990, p.23). People in sheltered workshops, Activity Therapy Centres and Day Training Centres are not employed (Brudenell, 1990, p.23). Not surprisingly, given the labour force participation rate of women generally, significantly less women than men with disabilities are in the paid workforce. Their patterns of employment and rates of pay are similar to those of other women. The additional costs of disability, women’s lesser earning capacity and child care costs – which will be discussed later – are all disincentives to seek open employment. Because of the means tests on pensions and the loss of fringe benefits, some women with disabilities would be significantly financially disadvantaged if they obtain open employment of a part-time or casual nature. A means test free disability allowance should be paid to all women (and men) with disabilities to enable them to attain an adequate standard of living and provide them with the financial means to seek and retain open employment.

Section Six: Gender and Disability

6.1. Introduction

Gender refers to the multitude of ways that the physical differences between men and women are socially constructed, valued and devalued. This section will look at the gender-specific barriers that women with disabilities must confront, and how having a disability impacts on the experience of being female in a society which ascribes greater social value to being male.

6.2. Body Image and Sexuality

In spite of the advances made by the women’s movement, the portrayal of women in the media still centres on the notion of the ‘body beautiful’. Women are supposed to yearn for the perfect figure and continuously strive to look ‘good’. While most women do not conform to the model of a ‘perfect’ female, this mould almost never includes women with disabilities. Our bodies are not ‘perfect’, indeed media images of women with disabilities focus on the ways in which the faces and bodies of some women with physical and sensory disabilities deviate from an ‘ideal type’. Instead, these images are intended to evoke feelings of pity and revulsion in its audience.

This affects our ability to find work. Many additional ‘female’ jobs such as secretarial/receptionist work require the woman to be ‘presentable’; that is, wear make-up, be ‘good looking’ and preferably young. Women supposedly provide the ‘glamour’ on the ‘frontline’ of many offices, and therefore must present the ‘appropriate’ image. Women with disabilities do not usually fit these selection criteria. In an article in ‘Accent Age’, March 1989, one woman with a disability recounted her experience of being told in a job interview for a receptionist position that she should wear make-up to give her a bit more colour. During the interview for another position, it was suggested that she accept a position as a telephonist in a backroom instead of the receptionist position for which she was being interviewed.

In reality the sexuality of women with disabilities is feared: it indicates that these women are able to act independently and struggle against oppressive gender stereotypes. As I indicated earlier, the ability to exercise this independence is dependent on the ability of women with disabilities to have an adequate level of income. A crucial element of female self-determination is the ability to express ourselves sexually. This includes the right to control our own bodies, to experience menstruation, to practice contraception and to choose to have and raise our own children. For many women with disabilities, particularly those with intellectual disabilities, these rights are non-existent. They are forcibly sterilised or given injections of unsafe contraceptives. It is assumed by ‘all knowing’ professionals and parents that they would not be able to handle their own sexuality or its consequences.

Conventional imagery of the ‘perfect’ woman is usually based on the assumption that women bear and raise children and are at some point involved in a heterosexual relationship. Many women, of course, do not fit this model, but many women with disabilities’ are faced with the double disadvantage of being considered unable to fulfil these essential criteria of ‘womanhood’. Their ability to access employment, education and training is also hindered because in female-dominated industries, a woman’s suitability for a job is often based on an assessment of her femininity and the perceived ‘natural’ ability of women to be manually dexterous.

6.3. Assertiveness

The ability to assert one’s right to say no to unreasonable requests or to demand access to relevant information is an essential component of the job seeking process. It empowers those who are seeking education, training or employment opportunities both to make informed choices and to act on those choices. Women, in general, tend to be less assertive than men. They are often told that it is ‘unladylike’ to assert their right to know or make decisions. (Assertiveness is often confused with aggression – a supposedly ‘manly’ trait). Women with disabilities face the double disadvantage of contending with service providers and others in the community who see women with disabilities as incapable of self-determination. This problem is compounded if these women are dependent on others for personal care, accommodation or economic security. Learning how to be assertive (and develop a positive self-image) is a crucial prerequisite for women with disabilities who to become economically independent.

6.4. Child Care and Domestic Responsibilities

Many women with disabilities are faced with the domestic responsibilities of housework and child rearing. The’ double day’ with which many women in paid work have to contend can be particularly difficult for some women with physical disabilities who cannot manage to do both ‘jobs’. The cost of domestic assistance is high, even for those on a wage, and women with disabilities who receive home help services while on the pension would lose this service when working.

The costs of child care are high even if subsidies are available. If child care is not obtainable in the local community or work-based, which is rare, then the additional cost of transporting children to and from Care would make the option of employment financially .unrewarding especially if it is part-time, temporary or casual.

Women who have a disability and have child care and domestic responsibilities may be unable to perform these duties without assistance and often receive no additional support from their families. This applies particularly – but not exclusively – to women from some non-English speaking backgrounds who previously had sole responsibility for domestic duties (Women are traditionally viewed as ,the prime caregivers of people with disabilities, and therefore it is often difficult, to arrange for others to provide assistance to them). Therefore, some women with, disabilities may be precluded from entering the paid workforce because they-have a primary responsibility for child care and domestic duties which is a full-time unpaid job and cannot take on additional responsibilities without adequate assistance. The functional consequences of a woman’s disability may create an additional disincentive to women in this situation seeking work.

6.5. Sexual Harassment

The sexual harassment of employees by co-workers or employers is illegal under the provisions of the Victorian Equal Opportunity Act 1984 and the Commonwealth Sex Discrimination Act 1984. Most complainants are women. Often, women are reluctant to report being sexually harassed, either because they are unaware that it is illegal or are afraid of the consequences if they do report it, such as allegedly making a difficult situation worse, or being branded a ‘troublemaker’ or a ‘tease’. Women with disabilities in either sheltered or open employment who are sexually harassed may not have adequate information about their right to a safe and secure workplace and may be seen by other workers or the employer as ‘an easy target’ and therefore perceived as less likely to report being harassed. Some women with disabilities may feel that their job security would be threatened if they were to take action.

Sheltered workshops are subject to the provisions of the legislation outlawing sexual harassment. However, women in sheltered workshops are sexually harassed, but are not usually believed, and can be sacked for making complaints while the offender goes unpunished (Women with Disabilities Feminist Collective, undated) pp.38-43). Often, women in sheltered workshops are unaware that they have a right to work in an environment free from sexual harassment.

6.6. Conclusion

Both men and women with disabilities are disadvantaged in their search for employment. Some of these barriers such as lack of educational opportunities, little information on job choices, career options, services and available, the high costs of transport, equipment and the lack of attendant care affect both men and women. But women with disabilities are also subject to the additional barrier of being female in a male-dominated society. The gender-dynamic makes virtually every aspect of a woman’s experience of disability more difficult. A woman’s ability to access to education, employment and training is closely connected to societal assumptions about women’s bodies and our sexuality, our domestic and childcare responsibilities, and appropriate feminine behaviour. It determines the type and variety of information we are given about career options and the types of work to which we have access. This disadvantage is compounded for women with disabilities who face additional disadvantages associated with disability. Consequently, this double disadvantage ensures that women with disabilities are worse off than other women wishing to access employment, education or training. Effective strategies are required to speed the process of change.

Section Seven: Raising the Issues: What is to be Done?

This paper has sought to raise the issues concerning the various barriers that confront women with disabilities in gaining access to education, employment and training.

It is clear that there are a number of factors which have created this double disadvantage.

1. Lack of education opportunities for women in the special education system.

2. Careers counselling for these women is very limited and where it is provided, the choices are concentrated within a narrow range of ‘female’ occupations.

3. The level of income support available for women with disabilities is not adequate to maintain a reasonable standard of living and does not cover the additional costs of disability. In addition, women with disabilities are more likely than men to be economically dependant on their family and have little control over their money.

4. Women with disabilities, like all other women, are less likely to access employment opportunities than are men with disabilities because of their domestic and child care responsibilities.

5. Women with disabilities are less likely to access generic employment and training services as well as those specific to the needs of people with disabilities than are men with disabilities. In addition, the outcomes for those women who do use these services are less satisfactory than those of the men, because these services are not designed to cope with the gender-specific needs of their female clients.

6. A lack of assertiveness skills, vulnerability to sexual harassment and societal emphasis on the ‘body beautiful’ and passivity in women, are additional gender-specific issues that affect women with disabilities.

Section Eight: Strategies for Change: Some Affirmative Action Guidelines

There are some positive steps which can be taken to address the issues raised here. It does however require a firm commitment from government decision makers, education, employment and training institutions, disability rights organisations and women with disabilities to effect structural change. This commitment should be viewed via a rights perspective rather than from a welfare viewpoint. It also requires that the disadvantages that women with disabilities experience are recognised as the same as the disadvantages experienced by other women, but that having a disability makes that disadvantage worse since women with disabilities face additional structural disadvantages because of their disability.

8.1. The Affirmative Action Guidelines

Strategy One: Information Provision
Women with disabilities must have access to information if they are to exercise their right to make informed choices about the type of employment, education or training they wish to pursue.

1. To this end, Secondary Education institutions (both mainstream and special) should:

a. Provide career education and counselling to all women with disabilities which recognises individual interests and abilities and their right to integrated services. Careers teachers should provide information on services which cater for women with disabilities.

b. Provide adequate information to these students about the range of career options open to them and not only those traditionally seen as ‘female’ occupations. This would include providing women with disabilities with information about affirmative action strategies designed to increase the participation of women in non-traditional occupations (eg. The Victorian Department of Labour ‘Girls can do anything’ campaign or the Ministry of Education’s ‘Maths multiplies choices’ advertising strategy).

c. Present the information in a format which is accessible to all women with disabilities. This will include provision of material in alternative formats such as tape, braille or large print and in straight-forward language.

2. The Commonwealth Employment Service (CES) should:

a. Develop a publicity campaign to increase the numbers of registered women with disabilities by actively informing women in special schools and sheltered employment of their right to register for work and use CES services.

b. Ensure that all of its staff receive disability awareness training and are knowledgeable about the range of employment, training and affirmative action initiatives available to assist women with disabilities. This includes providing women with disabilities with information about a range of occupations commensurate with their interests and abilities.

c. Provide training to all staff on gender and culture-specific barriers which confront women with disabilities.

d. Employ more women with disabilities as workers in the Department of Employment, Education and Training.

3. Sheltered workshops and supported employment projects should:

a. Provide information to women workers about their right to a safe and secure workplace. Supportive complaint mechanisms must be provided for women to report instances of sexual harassment or other grievances. Specific women (eg. female shop stewards) should be designated as first points of contact for women wishing to make a complaint.

b. Provide information to women workers about strategies for moving into open employment. These should take into account the gender-specific barriers that women experience in open employment.

4. Trade Unions should:

a. Provide information to all women with disabilities in sheltered, supported and open employment about their industrial rights including their right not to be sexually harassed or intimidated. Information about other areas of particular interest to women such as maternity leave, work-based child care, occupational health and safety and equal opportunity and affirmative action legislation should be provided. This information should be presented in appropriate formats to ensure that it is accessible to all women with disabilities.

b. Provide legal and industrial support and advice to women members who are harassed or are otherwise denied their industrial rights.

5. Disability rights and advocacy organisations should:

a. Target information to women with disabilities unable to access information via women’s services.

b. Continue to promote the involvement of women with disabilities in the disability rights movement. To achieve this:

  • Each organisation should include issues of concern to women within their workplans.
  • Disability organisations should actively encourage women to become members and become involved in their activities.
  • Women should be encouraged to join committees of management. One strategy is to decide that a certain minimum number of positions on committees must be filled by women.

6. Women’s services should:

a. Ensure that information provided is accessible to women with disabilities. This would include: Provision of material in audio or braille format; Ensuring that the language used is uncomplicated and free of jargon; Install Telephone Typewriter phone-lines for people with hearing impairments.

b. Ensure that all buildings are wheelchair accessible.

c. Ensure that the language used by these services about women with disabilities does not use terminology which is dis-empowering, eg: handicapped or ‘the disabled’ or sexist.

d. Promote the involvement of women with disabilities within their organisation. This would include developing strategies to employ and/or involve women with disabilities on committees of management.


Strategy Two: Income Security
Women with disabilities have a right to an adequate level of income.

1. To achieve this the Department of Social Security should:

a. Recognise the extra costs of disability by providing all women with disabilities with a means-test free allowance to offset these costs. This allowance should take into account the needs of women with disabilities who have children and domestic responsibilities and require additional support and assistance to fulfil their familial obligations.

b. The mobility allowance should be available to all women with disabilities and should not be restricted to those working in paid employment. It should be raised to a level that reflects the actual cost of travel which individuals with disabilities incur.

2. Organisations which manage sheltered workshops should:

a. Be actively developing flexible training programs and employment models which encourage and facilitate the movement of women workers in sheltered workshops into open employment in line with the provisions of the Disability Services Act.

b. Actively support the notion of a wage subsidy, based on equal pay principles, payable by the Federal Government to employers to enable those women workers with disabilities who, despite all efforts to support them, are still not deemed to be capable of achieving full ‘productivity’, obtain a job and receive an award wage.

c. Encourage women workers in sheltered workshops to join unions.

3. Trade unions should:

a. Encourage women workers in sheltered workshops to join appropriate unions.

b. Actively campaign for the payment of award wages to all women workers with disabilities, regardless of whether they are in open, supported or sheltered employment.

c. Develop affirmative action strategies to ensure that women union members with disabilities are able to participate equally in union activities. This would include: Ensuring that material provided to members is written in straightforward language and is available in accessible formats such as audio tape and large print; Providing attendant care, child care, sign interpreters and assistance with transport costs to enable women members with disabilities to attend union activities; Ensuring that all meeting room venues are wheelchair accessible.

4. Disability rights and advocacy organisations should:

a. Recognise that women with disabilities may have extra costs associated with child care and domestic responsibilities. These extra costs should be included in any cost analysis of disability.

5. Women’s organisations should:

a. Consider the extra costs of disability when determining income support policies for women.


Strategy Three: Education and Training
Women with disabilities must have access to adequate levels of education and training if they are to have the opportunity to find work, exercise their right of self determination and achieve an adequate level of income.

1. The Victorian Ministry of Education should:

a. Promote an integration program which allows all female students with disabilities to be integrated into mainstream education at all levels. There is no strong argument against full integration of school campuses and strong financial justifications. Full campus integration would allow adequate resources for attendant care and other support services without significant extra costs. In this manner, all facilities and teaching support can continue to be provided for students with disabilities in an integrated system.

b. Whilst special schools still exist: Staff should be required to be trained secondary education teachers so that they are able to adequately support students with disabilities at this level; Support/Resource personnel in special schools should be made increasingly available to mainstream schools to work with students with disabilities.

c. Ensure that staff in mainstream education receive disability awareness training and are made aware of any support services available to students with disabilities. This training should also include an awareness of gender-specific and cultural barriers.

2. To ensure equal access for women with disabilities to the TAFE system:

a. Existing pre-employment programs should be structured to ensure that they are accessible to the most disadvantaged groups such as women with disabilities. There should be a minimum participation rate set for women with disabilities.

b. Special entry places to TAFE courses and apprenticeships for disadvantaged groups should expand to meet demand. In most cases of over demand, the most disadvantaged such as women with disabilities should achieve access.

c. The sex-segregated nature of apprenticeships should be addressed to ensure equity of access to current ‘male-dominated’ apprenticeships for women with disabilities. To achieve this: TAFE colleges should provide information on non-traditional careers in trades to women with disabilities in accessible formats; Disability rights groups, special and mainstream schools, neighbourhood houses and women’s groups should be targeted as distribution points for information about non-traditional courses.

d. Adequate resources should be allocated in the provision of child care places to extend the maximum amount of hours that women with disabilities may place their children in child care where necessary to accommodate their disability-related requirements. Child care rebates should also take this need into account.

e. The newly constituted Access and Equity Advisory Committee to the State Training Board should consider the double disadvantage experienced by women with disabilities within the TAFE System and develop strategies to increase their access and participation within it.

3. The Commonwealth Rehabilitation Service (CRS) should:

a. Continue its campaign to increase the participation of women with disabilities in its programmes. This level of women’s participation should at least match their labour market participation rate (41.6%).

b. When a woman’s disability and its effect on her ability to find work is not immediately obvious, due recognition should be given to a client’s experience of disability as entitling her to CRS assistance rather than relying on a doctor’s opinion exclusively.

c. Develop guidelines on the obligations of clients to attend training courses or rehabilitation programmes which take into account the needs of women with children and domestic responsibilities who may only be able to attend on a part-time basis or at certain times of the day.

d. Attention should be paid to the needs of women undertaking rehabilitation who may need additional assistance within the home to meet their child care and domestic responsibilities. This would include situations where an expectation of additional support from other family members – particularly males – would be culturally inappropriate. However, whenever possible, other family members should be encouraged to support these women and perform domestic duties and child care.

e. The costs of child care while a woman is undergoing rehabilitation programmes should be fully paid for by the CRS in all cases.


Strategy Four: Employment Initiatives
A crucial factor in the process of women with disabilities obtaining access to open employment is legislative change.

1. To achieve this, the State government should:

a. Amend the Equal Opportunity Act (Victoria) to strengthen the prohibitions relating to discriminating against people with disabilities to ensure that adequate consideration is given to structural barriers which prevent people with disabilities from obtaining employment. This should include recognition of the additional structural disadvantages confronting women with disabilities seeking employment.

b. Remove prohibitions in the Act against ignoring provisions in other legislation which discriminates against people with disabilities.

c. Commit itself, in light of the current review of state industrial legislation, to removing legislative provisions which allow women with disabilities in sheltered employment and those on slow worker permits to be denied award wages and industrial rights.

2. The Department of Labour’s Women’s Employment Branch should:

a. Examine the impact of award restructuring on women with disabilities in an Issues paper.

3. The Federal government should:

a. Enact affirmative action legislation for people with disabilities along similar lines to the current affirmative action legislation for women. This legislation should recognise additional gender and culturally specific barriers.

b. Support the payment of wage subsidies, based on equal pay principles, to employers to ensure that all workers with disabilities receive award wages regardless of their ‘productivity’.

c. Fund child care places at an appropriate level to ensure that women with disabilities are not denied access to child care because of inflexible fee structures which do not take into account the additional costs of disability. All child care centres should be wheelchair accessible. Hours of opening and other restrictions on the placement of children should be flexible to ensure that the needs of women with disabilities who have transport difficulties are met.

4. The Department of Employment, Education and Training (DEET) should:

a. Monitor the participation and retention rates of women with disabilities within its labour market programs as a guide to the accessibility of its programs to women with disabilities.

b. Act on the recommendations contained in the recent Women’s Research Employment Initiatives Programme (WREIP) funded report on access to DEET- funded labour market programs for women with disabilities entitled Reaching for Employment.

c. The Women’s Employment Bureau should liaise with officers from the Office of Disability in the Department of Health, Housing and Community Services on issues that affect women with disabilities.

5. Employers should:

a. Promote equity of access to the workplace by women with disabilities by ensuring that equal opportunity and affirmative action legislation and principles are followed.

b. Ensure that women with disabilities, access to the workplace is guaranteed by providing wheelchair access, childcare etc.

c. Promote flexibility of job design to ensure that women with disabilities have access to positions on merit.

d. Recognise the ‘double disadvantage’ faced by women with disabilities when designing equal opportunity programs. This should include promoting disability awareness within the workplace.

e. When developing affirmative action programs to address the sex-segregated nature of a workplace via training and career-path programs, the specific attitudinal and other structural barriers which confront women with disabilities should be addressed. This should include confronting the issues of the sex-stereotyping of certain occupations and assumptions concerning female sexuality and disability.

f. Ensure that information concerning sexual harassment, child care and other rights at work is presented in an accessible format.

6. Unions should:

a. Encourage women with disabilities to participate in union activities. This should include ensuring that union meetings and procedures are accessible to women with disabilities.

b. Ensure that information provided to members is in an accessible format. This should include an awareness that some women with disabilities may have poor literacy and comprehension skills. A paper has been produced by the Members with Disabilities Advisory Committee (MDAC) of the Public Sector Union (PSU) on unions making themselves accessible to people with disabilities.

c. Create supportive complaint mechanisms to ensure that women with disabilities feel able to approach their union for assistance. This should recognise that some women with disabilities are not aware that they have a right to complain about a denial of their industrial rights and have lived or worked in environments where they have not been encouraged to do so.

d. Each union should create a disability advisory committee made up of members with disabilities to advise on disability issues.


Acts Used

Affirmative Action (Equal Employment Opportunity ) for Women Act (Australia).

Disability Services Act 1986 (Australia).

Sex Discrimination Act 1984 (Australia).

Equal Opportunity Act 1984 (Victoria).

Industrial Relations Act (1979) (Victoria).

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