Emerging From the Shadows: A report on the status of women with disabilities living in Australia

A paper written by Lina Pane for Women With Disabilities Australia (WWDA) October 1994. Copyright WWDA 1994.


This report has been written for Women with Disabilities Australia (WWDA), a group from throughout Australia, who have something in common. We all have a disability. WWDA is an organisation which seeks to ensure equal opportunities in all walks of life for all women with disabilities in the community. It’s also an opportunity to work together as women with disabilities, to build confidence, self-esteem and positive expectations about life’s goals.

WWDA is funded by the Office of the Status of Women, as the only organisation to represent women with disabilities in the women’s arena. In this working document – a position paper, on the status of women with disabilities in Australia, the issues of concern, strategies and recommendations will be put forward. It will be based on the United Nations Ten Areas of Concern, outlined in the ‘Interim Australian National Report to the United Nations’ Fourth World Conference on Women’ (Office of the Status of Women 1994).

It is important to note, that due to time constraints when writing this position paper, the experience of being a ‘woman with a disability’, is covered, in general terms.


In our society, women are frequently discriminated against, because they are women. People with disabilities are frequently discriminated against, because they are disabled. Therefore to be a woman and to have a disability is a double disadvantage. If women with a disability are also from a non English speaking background or an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander women they are often subject to a triple disadvantage.

The Larvarch report ‘Half Way To Equal’ reports that women with disabilities experience double disadvantage because they are subject to constraints which arise from society’s expectations of women’s abilities, in addition to social attitudes towards people with disabilities. As a result, women with disabilities are at a greater disadvantage to men with disabilities and non-disabled women and the population at large. [Larvarch;1992]

Women with disabilities want to live independently, be accepted for who they are, make their own life choices; feel safe; feel free from exploitation and sexual abuse and be free from discrimination. Women with disabilities want respect; have relationships; care for children and participate fully in the community. They want decent and well paid jobs; and to be recognised for and assisted with the unpaid work done at home; have access to information; transport; equipment; and work based and home based personal care. Women with disabilities want housing that is flexible; close to services and transport. They want opportunities to enjoy sport and recreation and to be recognised like other athletes. And they want transport that is easy to use and affordable.

The Australian Government has put in place polices, strategies and legislation protecting the rights of people with disabilities, yet when it comes to the implementing of these, there is still a long way to go. Major reports like ‘Women -Shaping and Sharing the Future’, ‘Half Way to Equal’ and ‘The National Women’s Health Policy’ set out various services and programs of the benefit of women with disabilities, yet women with disabilities are still categorised as a ‘special interest’ group and their experience is separated and marginalised [Meekosha;1990].

The persistent and growing burden of poverty on women with disabilities

Poverty continues to be a fact of life for many women with disabilities. Often these women living in poverty don’t have the resources to attain the standards set out by our materialistic society. This can result can compound a negative self image that many women with disabilities have about themselves in relation to others in society [Driedger and D’Aubin;1992].

In Australia, the social security system does offer income support for women facing specific disadvantage, including the aged, unemployed, sick and disabled with additional amounts towards the costs of children. However, women with disabilities face extra costs of disability, and are therefore more likely to be in poverty. Cooper argues that these additional costs are a very important equity consideration. “If people have the same level of income but its real value is reduced by costs which they require to do the ordinary activities which human beings do, then the group with the extra costs are disadvantaged” [Cooper;1993;75].

Cooper recommends that an introduction of a disability allowance to target people with disabilities with high support costs should be established and should follow the principles established under the child disability allowance and the mobility allowance [Cooper;1993]. Fulcher extends this to cover women who care for a person or people with disabilities. In a paper, ‘Disability and Women: an allowance’ he suggests that the government should provide a disability allowance for women who have a disability and women who care for a person or people with disabilities [Fulcher;1991].

Women with disabilities who struggle to meet costs of everyday living, are more often than not below the poverty line. Some even leave work to go on the pension so that they can get their aids and appliances free. The result of that is that many women become dependent on the charity model.

Women with disabilities have the same right to affordable and appropriate housing as other women. The issues and needs for women with disabilities concerning housing are complicated. There are issues facing women with disabilities which would not be neccessarily faced by other women and demand a careful analysis of their housing needs. Cooper suggests that the National Agenda for Women needs to develop policy reforms to enable women with disabilities to gain accessible and appropriate housing [Cooper;1992].

The objectives of the National Agenda for Women include improved access to income security, education, health, rehabilitation, accommodation, independent living and community services for women with a disability and women caring for another person(s) with a disability [OSW;1989]. These objectives must be fullfilled with appropriate consultation, analysis and particular policy reforms that will take into account the particular needs and issues for women with disablities.


  • Women with disabilities are more likely to be living below the poverty line, unemployed and have low self esteem. Women with disabilities, disability organisations and feminist groups should develop a lobbying strategy towards the introduction of Disability Allowance.
  • Women with disabilities, disability organisations and feminist groups should develop a lobbying strategy to examine the extra disadvantages in the housing sector which confront women with disabilities. Women with disabilities need equal access to affordable and appropriate housing, existing housing services, and accessiblity to refuges and other emergency type housing.

Inequality in access to education, health and related services and other means of maximising the use of women with disabilities capacities.

Women with disabilities experience the difficulty of overcoming the ‘power differential’, which impedes their taking responsibility for their own health care.

National health policies, strategies and campaigns such as The National Better Health for All Campaign do not seem to address the needs of people with disabilities [Better Health Comission;1987]. Relegation of women with disabilities, to disability specific services is implied by the National Women’s Health Policy, yet there seems to be no disability service that caters for the particular issues faced by female clients [Commonwealth Department of Community Services and Health;1989]. Both Blumberg and Geth write that as long as women with a disabilities are seen as less than whole people in a medical model, their anatomy will needlessly be the focus of their identity [Blumberg;1993], [Geth;1992].

Anecdotal evidence for women with disabilities also shows they have particular difficulty accessing information and services, for example, not being able to find guidance or practical help when managing female health, education, menstruation, contraception, exploitative relationships, sexual assault, menopause, late onset incontinence and osteoporosis. Although women’s health services are usually sympathetic, their services or facilities are often physically or intellectually inaccessible for women with disabilities.

Isolation in rural communities and its implications for personal and social well being is of concern to many rural women. For rural women with disabilities inaccessiblity to appropriate health care results in their health needs becoming invisible [OSW;1988]. A result of this invisability in rural areas is that women with disabilities are even more isolated.

There is a general recognition that there is a lack of literature and research available about the needs and issues concerning the health care for women with disablities. The issues surrounding the experience of motherhood for women with disabilities and sexuality in general is an unexplored area. There has been analysis and dialogue on issues of streilisation, the inadequacy of women with disabilities as mothers, the AIDS concerns for women with disabilities etc. all of which contribute to the negative attitudes of society. There has been little work done on the parenting needs of women with disabilites, the appropriateness of services for mothers with disabilities or general sexuality issues of women with disabilities [Westbrook and Chinnery;1990].

Cooper in ‘Ageing, Not Just a Personal Odyssey’ also illustrates how there is a lack of research and information on long term disability and ageing. “People with differing disabilities should be counted and provided with sufficiently good research on ageing issues for women with disabilities, how to maintain good health, how to reduce any secondary disabilities and to enable women with disabilites to have an enjoyable old age” [Cooper;1994;137].

A recent study by the Victorian Women with Disabilities Network, found from a preliminary survey that medical and health services treat women with disability firstly in relation to their disability and secondly, their needs as a women.

In ‘Cultivating Common Ground – Women with Disabilities’ Gill illustrates how women with disabilities realise the importance of organising, and inclusion in planned and existing health programs [Gill;1992]. These women work through organisations such as WWDA, to continue to work collectively for policy changes and to acknowledge their right to quality health services, information and choices. These women should be able to input into resesrch and analysis carried out by health providers in the government and non-government sectors and to contribute to policy changes.


  • Women with disabilities should be given support to set up their own health care needs support group, as the mainstream health service is not providing this service.
  • A review of and improved access to mainstream health services to better service women with disabilities.

Violence against women

Violence against women is a violation of human rights. Women with disabilities are subjected to multiple forms of violence which is often within an oppressive situation, as many women with disabilities are dependent on others for assistance. Violence by carers, either family members, attendant carers or institutional carers towards women with disabilities is often not recognised or is tolerated, because the woman is dependent on the carer. Many women don’t know where to turn for help.

Disabled women and girls are vulnerable to rape, abuse and sexual harassment in institutions and in the community, [Waxaman;1991]. Chenoweth writes that women with disabilities face increased risks of violent assaults, not specifically related to their disability. Rather that it is the social implications of that disability that provides their vulnerability to abuse. [Chenoweth;1993] Women with disabilities are more likely to experience psychological abuse, as being a woman with a disability is often experienced as a negative attribute, encouraging low self-esteem and self-worth. There is little positive exposure of women with disabilities in the media or other parts of society [Pane;1993].

Many women with disabilities are less likely to seek help after an experience of violence because they feel timid and unconfident about speaking up, they are often isolated and uninformed about support services and women’s services such as refuges are not physically accessible.

Women with disabilities see marriage as a goal in their lives, as a way of getting economic security and personal care. Yet physical dependence on one’s husband can put many women with disabilities at risk [Cooper;1990]. The expectation of getting married and having children is not perceived as an opportunity or choice for women with a disability, as she is seen as disabled first and a woman, with sexuality second. These attitudes lead to lack of sexual fullfillment, lonliness, singleness and isolation for many women with disabilities.


  • There needs to be more research and documentation on violence against women with disabilities. The lack of literature illustrates the invisible experience and the powerlessness of women with disabilities.
  • Consultations should be held with women with disabilities to raise issues of violence and list strategies useful for overcoming violence. This consultation should also be video taped, so it can be distributed and accessible to all, especially the print-handicapped, rural people (often forgotten), home bound people and people living in institutions.
  • In areas of community perception other than the media, the image of women with disabilites should be lifted to be a more positive image. This will assist to counteract the feeling of powerlessness felt by many women with disabilities which leads to under-reporting of violence, lack of assertiveness and the acceptance of potentially violent situations.

Effects of armed or other kinds of conflict on women with disabilities

Australia has been accepting women refugees into our community for many years. Some of these women may have come with or developed a disability because of armed conflict in their country of origin. These disabilities may range from the loss of a limb, deafness blindness, ongoing reactions to chemical warfare, to pschological trauma resulting from the human rights abuses such as rape, torture, death or dissapearence of family members etc.

There is very little written about the these effects of armed or other kinds of conflict on women with disabilities. However it is an area in desperate need of research and analysis.


  • To research and document the effects of armed or other kinds of conflict on women with disabilities in Australia.

Inequality in the access of women with disabilities to, and participation in the definition of economic structures and policies and the productive process itself

An employment revolution for woman has occurred in Australia in the last 20 years, yet women with disabilities have not participated equally [Meekosha;1990]. Pingitore suggests this is due to the double disadvantage of both gender and disability discrimination encountered by women with disabilities [Pingitore;1993].

The 1993 Australian Bureau or Statistics Survey, entitled ‘Disability, Aging and Carers’ illustrates that in terms of paid employment, the participation rate of women with disabilities, trails that of men with disabilities and non disabled women. The labour force participation rate of disabled females was, 39.9%, disabled males was 52.6%, that of non disabled women was 65.9% and non disabled males was 88.2%. These figures show that women with disabilities are at the ‘bottom of the heap’ [ABS;1993].

Barriers to paid employment can be divided in two areas, those which are external to the work place and those which are internal [Pingitore;1993].

External barriers are perceptions of factors in a persons immediate environment, that discourage movement into the open employment market, which includes assertiveness, family concern, education and training, knowledge of employment services and physical access.

  • Education and the opportunity for education of women with disabilities, often prescribes opportunity at the employment level. According to Toluide, a major source of discrimination in education has occurred through institutional segregation [Toluide;1982]. Lloyd writes that most people with disabilities go to a segregated school, where undue attention was given to training in living skills at the expense of academic qualifications [Loyd;1993].
  • Training – Ladanyi found that career counselling when offered to girls and women, is usually geared towards traditional female occupations, such as clerical, secretarial work and child care. These careers are not always suitable for women with poor dexterity and co-ordination and often mundane [Ladanyi;1988].
  • A lack of knowledge of services available, to assist women with disabilities find employment is another barrier. If women with disabilities do not know of the existance or cannot access employment agencies they are missing out on potential employment opportunities.
  • Meekosha argues that the Equal Opportunity legislation does not look at issues of physical access, work modifications, support and training [Meekosha;1990].
  • Society’s lack of vision (that is, the overall assumption), that people with disabilities are unfit to participate in normal life activities is an invisible barrier which cannot be counteracted by equal opportunity legislation but needs to be addressed through the media and other community mediums.

Internal barriers, within the workplace, which women with disabilities face include employer and co-worker attitudes, job design, lack of attendant care and flexible work arrangements [Pingitore;1993].

For women with disabilities to participate fully in the economic opportunities available, internal and external barriers must be confronted and broken down.


  • All people with disabilities are disadvantaged when seeking employment. Women with disabilities not only face barriers such as lack of educational opportunities, little information on job choices, career options and services available, but are further disadvantaged by their gender.
  • Women with disabilities must be enabled to access relevant and appropriate information and resources, if they are to have the opportunity or choices about employment, education or training.
  • Government should extend the affirmative action policies to include women with disabilities. These policies should be audited and reported.
  • Funding should be provided to education facilities for support services for women with disablilities, and the participation of these women in those educational facilities should then be tracked and audited.

Inequality between men and women with disabilities in the sharing of power and decision making at all levels

Inequality between men and women in the sharing of power and decision making at all levels, has been identified as a main area of concern for the Australian Government, illustrated in ‘Women – shaping and sharing the Future’ [OSW;1993].

In general, women do not participate equally in decision making, either in policies, decision making positions, local government and under represented in parliament and as employers. However, some women are beginning to be heard, be counted and are in a position of sharing power with men. Society at last, is finally becoming aware of women’s role in society, and women themselves are demanding to be heard, and treated as equals.

What about women with disabilities? Hannaford writes that the position of women with disabilities is yet to be understood [Hanniford;1985]. Lloyd argues that this position is due to her being a woman and a person with a disability. This leaves her in a position of ambiguety. Where does her alliance lie? Is it to the women’s movement or the disability movement? Lloyd goes on to illustrate that the former is orientated towards non-disabled women and the latter towards disabled men [Loyd;1992]. Meekosha goes even further, stating that women with disabilities not only face inequality between men with disabilities, but also women [Meekosha;1990]. Women with disabilities are therefore marginalised and disempowered by the two movements which should be advocating for their rights. Women with disabilities are ‘left merely to inhibit the empty space that the progress of women has left behind’ [Hannaford;1985;18].

The concept of disability must be viewed within the constraints of differences such as culture, class, gender, sexuality, etc. Government, the women’s movement and society in gerneral view women with disabilities as a homogenous group. Although there are commen concerns, these must be analysed in the light of the complexities which inluence all people. Women with disabilities are not a separate group, simply because disability is affected by the degree and stigma of discrimination imposed on individuals by society. Women with disabilities should have the same rights as other women, men and men with disabilities, and if there needs to be some extra services, legislation, etc. this should not be seen as outside of the mainstream but purely an extension of the mainstream.

Vash argues that human beings are more alike than different, regardless of variances in their physical bodies, sensory capacities or intellectual abilities [Vash;1981]. What makes people different is the social construction of disability, like that of gender. The structures, institutions, and values of the wider communitywhich determines disability, more than the biological characteristics of the disabled [Asch and Fine;1988]; [Meekosha and Pettman;1991].

Neither the disability movement or the feminist movement, fully address the issues of women with disabilities.

In the disability movement, a woman faces sexism and class politics and therefore disability alone is not a basis for collective organising [Meekosha;1990]. Anecdotal evidence shows that men with disabilities are more likely to be in positions of power,. while women with disabilities, are more likely to be in supportive positions.

Mainstream feminist organisations and women’s services can still be accused of complicity with oppressive ableist structures, beginning at the very basic level of physical access [Meekosha;1990].

The experience of being a woman with a disability, needs to be linked, not separated. “Whilst only women with disabilities can speak as and for women with disabilities, others with overlapping concerns, such as women and men with disabilities are equally responsible in the task of working towards change” [Lloyd;1990;217].


  • Disability and women’s organisations should put affirmative action strategies into effect.
  • Disability should not be used as a category to separate women with disabilities experiences, as this only marginalise and disempowers.
  • Women with disabilities should be funded and empowered to take charge of their own lives.

Insufficient machinery at all levels to promote the advancement of women with disabilities

The promotion of women with disabilities to mainstream is inadequate. This includes federal, state and non-government machinery.

The 1993 Office of Status of Women review of the federal government machinery, affirmed that ministers and their portfolios had primary responsibility for developing and implementing policies to meet the needs of Australian women [OSW;1994]. Where do women with disabilities stand in relation to these policies? What is being made in advancing women with disabilities?

The Australian Government has advocated and even implemented some policies, strategies and legislation allegedly to protect the rights of women with disabilities, yet the position of women with disabilities is changing less rapidly than other ‘disadvantaged’ groups.

Government reports on women, for example ‘National Non-English Speaking Background Women’s Health Strategy’ (1991), National Agenda for Women’ (1992), Half Way to Equal’ (1992) and ‘Women – Shaping and Sharing the Future’ (1993) all recognise that women with disabilities experience a double disadvantage or triple if ethnicity is counted. This recognition however, is categorised as one of the ‘special needs’ group [Pane;1993]. “Women with disabilities, like other ‘minority’ women are no longer satisfied with appearing on special needs agendas at the end of government reports” [Meekosha;1990;40].

In ‘Half Way to Equal’ recommendation 58 deals specifically with women with disabilities and the problems they face in trying to take their rightful place in the community. To do this the report recommends that disability should not be dealt with in isolation, but should be a consideration at a fundamental level in implementing all recommendations [Larvarch;1992].

Women with disabilities are mentioned and often a section, paragraph, page is dedicated to them, when writing reports such as those on health, violence, media etc. To relegate women with disabilities to one section or page marginalises their concerns, and confines them to a specialist group rather than their concerns being fundemental to all policies, strategies and legislation.

Even with the changes in policies, strategies and legislation, if those organisations supporting women with disabilities are not adequatly supported, women with disabilities will come up against many barriers to joining the mainstream. Segregation and division into ‘special needs’ groups marginalises women with disabilities and perpetuates their existing position of inequality and powerlessness.


  • The development and implimentation of an affirmative action policy for women with disabilities is overdue and is essential, to bring social justice to women with disabilities. Successful affirmative action however, depends on the action being taken on a program by program basis across the whole of the federal public sector. Furthermore, broad affirmative action policy should be developed along these lines, in state and local governments and the private sector.
  • WWDA supports the Lavarch report, ‘Half way to Equal’ which recommends increases to the numbers of women with disabilities receiving employment, training and placement services, so that their opportunities will be improved.
  • The Federal Government, state governments and non-government organisations must be willing to act upon their strategies policies and legislation which protect and enhance women with disabilities.

Lack of awareness and commitment of internationally and nationally recognised women’s human rights

In Australia there is no Bill of Rights, however there is a wide range of federal anti-discrimination legislation such as the Sex Descrimination Act. There is also a commitment to the principles set out in international conventions protecting women’s human rights, such as the Convention on the Elimination Against All Forms of Discrimination Against Women(CEDAW).

The Sex Discrimination Act 1984 recognises women’s human rights to equality by prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sex. marital status and pregnancy, and sexual harassment.’ The Disability Discrimination Act 1993 prohibits discrimination on the ground of disability in the areas of work, education, access, accommodation etc [Hasluck;1993].

How protective are these Acts for women with disabilities? Cooper writes that women with disabilities are not sufficiently protected by the Sex Discrimination Act, the Affirmative Action Act or the Disability Discrimination Act. She suggests that these acts have ‘loopholes’ large enough for women with disabilities to fall through [Cooper;1993].

The Sex Discrimination Act 1984, has an exemption where it’s not unlawful to discriminate on the grounds of sex, allowing voluntary bodies, religious and charitable benefits to discriminate. For example, the Department of Human Services and Health while contracting out service provision to voluntary agencies finds no statutory requirement for women with disabilities to be equally represented in any disability program. Recognising this, the Lavarch Report ‘Half Way to Equal’ report, recommended that relevant federal government departments develop affirmative action programs for women with disabilities [Larvarch;1993].

The federal Affirmative Action Act 1986, is designed to address the structural/systematic barriers to access employment etc. for women. While this 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 the additional disadvantages such as disability [Tomas;1991].

The Disability Discrimination Act on the other hand, is designed to oversee the human rights of people with disabilities in Australia (protection where the discrimination is on the basis of disability). However as the Disability Commissioner, Elizabeth Hastings points out, there will be ‘times when a woman will find it difficult to say whether she is being discriminated against because of her sex, her disability or perhaps her race! [Hastings;1993].

This act is a positive initiative for women with disabilities because it is prepared to take a look at the specific concerns of women with disabilities. Social acceptance of and support for the Disability Discrimination Act will ensure that people with disabilities are not excluded from some equal opportunities within the community which we all live.

To make a difference, the recommendations which reports like ‘Half Way to Equal’ have presented must be implemented.


  • For future legislation, and changes to the Sex Discrimination Act, the Affirmative Action Act, the Disability Services Act and the Disability Discrimination Act, women with disabilities should be involved and consulted. The Acts should also be linked or cross referenced to each other to avoid difficulty in distinguishing between sex discrimination and disability discrimination, for a woman with a disability.
  • Organisations for women with disabilities, and disability organisations in general should be invited to participate in the development of policies which relate to disability and gender issues.
  • The Australian government should lobby in the United Nations for the extention of the Convention on the Elimination Against All Forms of Discrimination Against Women(CEDAW) to allow for class action. This mechanism may assist women with disabilities in other countries to attain social justice and extends the possibility of action against descrimination for women with disabilities in Australia.

Insufficient use of mass media to promote women with disabilities positive contributions to society

Women’s portrayal in advertising and the employment of women in the media is changing, but there are still concerns that women are portrayed in unrealistic, degrading or submissive roles. Considering this, women with disabilities are even more highly devalued, as there are few images portrayed of women with disabilities. There are few ‘positive’ images and if by chance women with disabilities or men with disabilities are portrayed, its an image of tragedy and deprivation, portraying little chance of normality.

The ideal of feminine beauty as portrayed by the media, is one that all women are subject to. The fashion trade, the rise of cosmetic surgery and the continued popularity of events such as the ‘Miss World’ competition promote the idea that to be socially desirable a women needs to be physically attractive. The pressure to conform to rigid beauty standards put forward by the media and therefore society add extra pressures to women with disabilities, who are perceived and perceive themselves to be less perfect.

Some films and movies made for television have taken on the issue of disability, the result often seems to be follow the existing entrenched steriotypes, such as an image of the disabled wife who selflessly checks herself into a nursing home so her husband can ‘be free to find a real women’, or the amazing feats of disabled man, who is able to overcome his disability and succeed in the world, making him a hero [Medgyesi;1994].

Underlying all this is the social construction that women’s role is traditionally that of home maker, child bearer and rearer. The role of the woman with a disability, however is not so clear as those things seen as traditionally the women’s domain are seen as impossible for a women with a disability, and her ability to care is be seen as impossible.

The greatest barrier according to Driedger in ‘Women with Disabilities, Challenge the Body Beautiful’, is that there are few positive role models, leaving women with disabilities feeling invisible and without goals [Driedger;1992]. There have been efforts in Australia by women with disabilities to confront the ‘body beautiful’ issue by condemning beauty pageants and therefore the promotion of perfect bodies. However the ongoing focussing on a standard of appearance, which is impossible to reach if you have a disability, results in inevitable failure for women with disabilities.

There have been heroic women who have confronted these negative steriotypes. Ellen Stohl, a paraplegic, posed nude for ‘Playboy’. To many, Ellen was heroic as she had attempted to break through the ignorance about women in wheelchairs, and the assumption that people with disabilities are asexual. However her action was a shock to many, even feminists and disability rights activistists. Her action questioned the assumption that a woman in a wheelchair cannot be sexy [Maddox;1994]. King writes, “that she could ‘flaunt’ her sexual being, violates the code of acceptable appearance for a disabled woman” [King;1993]. Women with disabilities are viewed as asexual and the media and accompaining community attutudes perpetuate these negative steritotypes.

There are few positive role models of women with disabilities in the media. This negative image combined with unemployment, percieved lack of opportunity and discrimination contributes to the negative image women with disabilities have of themselves. Disability should not be viewed as a tragic fate (a negative image)but as an opportunity to play a major role in processes of social change (a positive image) [Hahn;1988].


  • When writing scripts or producing films for television or for the big screen, about issues around people with disabilities, in particular women, should be portrayed realistically, as positive role models and not as the ‘tragic’.
  • Consultation with disability organisations in the involvement of writing scripts, involving women with disabilities.
  • Employment actors with disabilities to take the part of a character with a disability, instead of hiring non-disabled actor to play the role.
  • Production of documentaries on women with disabilities about their life, loves, work, children, etc.which show positive role models for women with disabilities and the non-disabled community.
  • The greater exposure of positive images of women with disabilities.
  • Women with disabilities should be empowered to be assertive and given opportunities to be active in the choices they make in relation to their lives.

Lack of support and recognition for women with disabilities contribution to managing natural resources and safeguarding the environment

Australian women see managing the environment as a major concern. That environmental issues are a significant importance to women and women have considerable skills to contribute to the solutions [OSW;1994].

Women with disabilities also take an interest in the environment. The number of women with disabilities is growing annually not only because of this region’s rising population, but also due to the disabilities that accompany rapid economic growth and social change, including disabilities that are caused by environmental degradation, accidents, rising crime, civil and political turmoil, poor health and malnutrition [Staples;1991]. She goes on to say ‘we know that there is a problem, as women have a special knowing about the sort of things we have to do, as women have been resource managers for generations, i.e. we manage our homes, making choices about out time and money’ [Staples;1991;51]. Those choices women make are the same choices to be made for the planet.


  • Issues and concerns about the environment are important to women with disabilities. The environment and how it affects women with disabilities needs to be researched further.


Women with disabilities are at least half of the 18.0% of Australians with disabilities [ABS;1993]. Not all of women with a disability claim a handicap consequent to disability, that is not all need assistance from another person. The effect of their disabilities are spread throughout the community as all have multiple relationships such, grandmother, mother, sister, daughter, aunt, niece, neighbour, co-worker etc.

Women with disabilities are less visible in the shadowy world of statistics. Discussions with peers in other countries have revealed similar stories of reduced visibility. Patriarchal welfare systems may be to blame; more concerned with protecting women with disabilities rather than enabling them to achieve full potential.

Women with disabilities share the ideals of feminism and many share the goals for professional and political rewards. Other women with disabilities are mired in the struggle to gain freedom from institutions and adequate community supports. Women’s organisations do not appear to have moved far from seeing women with disabilities as objects of charity and dependence rather than seeing them as colleagues.

The following recommendations are intended to do two things; firstly to remind Australian policy makers that lack of intent to discriminate is no defence, and secondly, to inform and assist other governments to develop programmes to assist women with disabilities in their own countries.


  • Funding for self-help health advocacy programmes for women with disabilities should be funded by government departments involved in health administration, until mainstream services catch up with the needs of women with disabilities.
  • Government programmes which are directed at researching and alleviating violence against women should include women with disabilities.
  • Funding bodies should liaise with the organisations of people with disabilities about adoption of affirmative action programmes.
  • Funding bodies and offices for the status of women should liaise with women’s organisations about sharing expertise and developing empowerment of women with disabilities.
  • Women with disabilities’ organisations should be funded at all levels of government to develop their research and advocacy functions.
  • National organisations of women with disabilities should receive sufficient funding to carry out development of relevant groups.
  • Government departments should implement the Lavarch recommendations.
  • Service providers that have successfully contracted with government to carry out programmes such as vocational training or personal care, should be required to demonstrate gender and disability equity.
  • Relevant government departments, and interdepartmental committees should immediately address the costs of disability and devise, with consumer input, adequate strategies to alleviate poverty amongst women with disabilities and their dependants.
  • Legislative change and modification of existing legislation is imperative to improve the status of women with disabilities to enable equitable access.
  • Development of mechanisms to enable class action of women with disabilities, to take social injustice to the international arena.


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