WWDA Submission to the National Supported Accommodation Assistance Program Review

In 1998, the Commonwealth Department of Health and Family Services announced a National Review of the Supported Accommodation Assistance Program (SAAP). This is a copy of the submission WWDA wrote to inform the development of a Discussion Paper for the Review. The Discussion Paper would then be used to form the basis of public consultations for the Review. Copyright WWDA 1998.


Housing situations are precarious for many women with disabilities. A decline in the supply of low cost housing, an increase in unemployment and the level of poverty, and changes in the service delivery policies of specialist services, have increased the risk of homelessness for many Australians. The impact of these changes is even greater on the more vulnerable among the homeless, most notably, women with disabilities. There are a range of factors which make women with disabilities the most vulnerable group to homelessness or risk of homelessness in our society.

In Australia, approximately 18% of all women are disabled and more than 50% of people with disabilities are women (Mulder 1996). Women with disabilities are among the most economically and socially disadvantaged of all groups in society. Over 50% of women with disabilities in Australia live on less than $200 per week, they are more likely to be institutionalised, less likely to own their own home, less likely to be employed, less likely to have completed basic schooling, obtain a university qualification, or successfully move from a rehabilitation program into employment; and less likely to receive appropriate services than men with equivalent needs or other women. Research indicates that, regardless of age, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation or class, women with disabilities are assaulted, raped and abused at a rate of at least two times greater than non-disabled women, yet are much less likely to receive assistance or services if they experience violence. Approximately 50% of women with disabilities will be sexually assaulted during their lifetime (Sobsey 1988). Fifty percent of women with disabilities have been sexually abused as children, and 39%-68% of girls with developmental disabilities before the age of 18 will be assaulted (Roeher Institute, 1988). Research suggests that the more disabled a woman is, the greater the risk of her being assaulted (Sobsey, 1994; DAWN, 1988).

Women with disabilities face double discrimination by society – as women they are discriminated against on the basis of gender and as people with disabilities, they are discriminated against on the basis of their disability. Women with disabilities in Australia pay the highest level of their gross income on housing, yet are in the lowest income earning bracket. Women with disabilities face discrimination in accessing housing, whether this be in the private or public rental market.

Women With Disabilities and Access to SAAP Services

There have been several reports which highlight the fact that women with disabilities are the group with the greatest level of unmet need in relation to SAAP services in Australia (see for example: Hardy, J (1994) Time to Change; AGPS, Canberra).

The National SAAP Evaluation must address this issue as a matter of priority in the Evaluation.

The National SAAP Evaluation should also be aware of, and make it clear in any documents and/or reports arising from the Evaluation, that all SAAP services in Australia have a legal obligation under the Disability Discrimination Act 1992 to provide services for people with disabilities. The DDA makes it unlawful to discriminate in the provision of goods, services or facilities against people on the basis that they have, have had, or may have, a disability. The Act also makes it unlawful to discriminate against a person on the basis that one of her or his associates may have a disability. The Act requires that people with disabilities be given equal opportunity to participate in and contribute to a full range of social, political and cultural activities. Access for people with disabilities to goods, services and facilities provided by non-government organisations can no longer be an afterthought. The DDA promotes and protects equality of access for people with disabilities – including attitudinal, informational and physical access.

The National SAAP Evaluation should encourage SAAP services to develop Disability Discrimination Act Action Plans to address the discrimination of women with disabilities who need to access SAAP services. The Disability Discrimination Act (1992) allows Commonwealth and State government departments, public authorities, educational institutions and anyone who provides goods or services to develop Action Plans (Tait 1995). Action Plans are strategies which identify discriminatory practices and develop blueprints for bringing about changes to those practices. Action Plans place the onus to remove discriminatory practices on the organisation rather than on disadvantaged individuals.

Training of SAAP Workers

There is very little training available to workers in SAAP services regarding women with disabilities. A training module should be developed as a matter of urgency. This should be done as a collaborative venture between women with disabilities and SAAP service providers, to be available through the normal SAAP training channels.


There is very little information targeted to women with disabilities with regard to SAAP services. Research undertaken by Women With Disabilities Australia (WWDA) has found that many women with disabilities are unaware that services exist, or how to reach them. An information strategy should be developed, and specifically targeted to women with disabilities. This was a recommendation of the National Domestic Violence Forum (held in 1996).


The lack of personal care available in SAAP services (such as refuges) can prevent women with disabilities from accessing them. This can be a result of services not knowing what support is available. It can also be due to service policies – requiring clients to be self managing or not allowing care agencies to provide services in services (such as refuges) for security reasons.

Formal networks and service agreements with personal care services need to be developed. SAAP service policies should be reviewed and amended as necessary.

Best practice

A Best Practice Standard for SAAP services working with disabled clients should be developed, and included in appropriate standards and service agreements. This should be done collaboratively between women with disabilities and SAAP workers.


Lack of access to aids and appliances can prevent women with disabilities from using a SAAP service. It may not be necessary for each service to carry all types of equipment. Equipment ‘pools’ should be developed so that services within geographic areas can share the resources. TTY telephones should be installed in all SAAP services and referral agencies for use by deaf and/or hearing impaired women.

Building modification

Inaccessible buildings are clearly a barrier to many services. Using a sector-wide approach will allow for modification of buildings to be carried out in an efficient manner, taking advantage of remodelling, or the building of new services.

This submission provides merely a snapshot of some of the issues relating to women with disabilities and SAAP services in Australia. WWDA has highlighted these areas in order to inform the development of the National SAAP Evaluation Discussion Paper. Following the release of the Discussion Paper, WWDA will provide a more detailed submission, which will take into account other areas identified in the Discussion Paper.

About Women With Disabilities Australia (WWDA)

Women With Disabilities Australia (WWDA) is a federating body of individuals and networks in each State and Territory of Australia and is made up of women with disabilities and associated organisations. The national secretariat is located in Canberra, the capital city of Australia. WWDA is run by women with disabilities, for women with disabilities. It is the only organisation of its kind in Australia and one of only a very small number internationally.

WWDA seeks to ensure opportunities in all walks of life for all women with disabilities. In this it aims to increase awareness of, and address issues faced by, women with disabilities in the community. It links women with disabilities from around Australia, providing opportunities for them to identify and discuss issues of common concern. WWDA works in partnership with other disability organisations and women’s organisations, and generates and disseminates information to women with disabilities, their families and carers, service providers, government and the media.

WWDA is inclusive and does not discriminate against any disability.

The objectives of Women With Disabilities Australia are:

  • to develop a network of women with disabilities throughout Australia to work together for their mutual benefit;
  • to advocate for every woman with a disability to have the opportunity for true involvement in all levels of society;
  • to develop leadership and the sharing of responsibilities to enable women with disabilities to take their place in whatever section of society they choose;
  • to change social attitudes, practices, and power relationships which discriminate against women with disabilities;
  • to lobby for the implementation of procedures and enactment of legislation which will advance and benefit all women with disabilities and combat sexism;
  • to inform and educate the public with a view to advancing the opportunities for women in the political, creative, civil and social fields.

WWDA has a comprehensive understanding of issues for people with disabilities, particularly women. WWDA has a commitment to providing employment and training opportunities for women with disabilities. This means that where possible, WWDA employs women with disabilities to conduct projects, undertake consultations etc. Women with disabilities manage WWDA projects and programs and provide consultancy services to the organisation as required. WWDA’s philosophy asserts that women with disabilities be equitably remunerated for their work and expertise, including for their input into consultative and review processes; management and advisory committees, reference and working groups.

WWDA is managed by a National Executive Committee, which is elected each year at the Annual General Meeting. There are 12 members on the Committee, including at least 1 representative from each State and Territory branch. All members are women with disabilities. The National Secretariat is managed on a day to day basis by an Executive Director, who reports directly to the National Executive Committee. There is a branch of WWDA in each State and Territory of Australia (6 States and 2 Territories), including a regional WWDA Group in Newcastle. All the State and Territory branches operate on a voluntary level. The national WWDA office employs 2 staff – one full time Executive Officer and 1 part time bookkeeper. The national WWDA office also provides opportunities for women with disabilities on JobStart and Disability Employment Programs.

The total membership of WWDA is currently, approximately 1400. Around 264 organisations are associate members of WWDA.

WWDA Policy and Program Areas

WWDA works to respond to issues and needs identified by its members. It is a proactive organisation that works hard to effect systemic change for women with disabilities at all levels of society. To this end, it works closely with all levels of government in order to influence policy and legislation that incorporates the needs and issues of women with disabilities. It works closely with mainstream organisations to ensure that these organisations work towards eliminating discrimination against women with disabilities.

Some of the priority policy and program areas of WWDA are outlined here, including major projects and activities conducted over the last 12-18 months.

Violence Against Women With Disabilities

The issue of violence against women with disabilities has been identified by WWDA members as a major issue for them. WWDA has responded to the expressed needs of women with disabilities in relation to violence issues by undertaking a range of innovative projects, as well as lobbying government to effect policy and legislative change to protect women with disabilities who experience violence, in all its forms.

WWDA undertook 2 major projects during 1997 which focused on women with disabilities’ access to women’s refuges and violence services. Both these projects, funded by the Office of the Status of Women, were developed to assist government funded refuges and services around Australia to eliminate discrimination by developing and implementing Disability Discrimination Act Action Plans. Both these projects were very exciting for WWDA and a big step forward in the development of the organisation. One of the more empowering aspects of the projects was the fact that women with disabilities were involved all the way through and were in charge of the project.

In February 1998, WWDA conducted a national workshop on women with disabilities and violence. This workshop was the first of its kind in Australia and brought together key experts from a range of sectors, including women with disabilities; domestic violence workers; disability workers; and researchers. The Workshop was funded by the Office of the Status of Women. Twenty six women with disabilities participated in the 2 day Workshop. This included: women with visual impairments; women with hearing impairments; women with acquired brain injury; women with intellectual disability; women with psychiatric disability; and women with physical disability. Over the 2 days of the workshop, the women participating identified gaps in policy, program and service delivery areas as well as developing detailed strategies to address the gaps.

In early 1998, WWDA developed an Information Kit on Women With Disabilities and Violence. The development of this Kit was much needed, as there has been little or no research conducted on the relationship between gender, violence and disability in Australia. There was also very little information available on the issue in all medium.

In March-April 1998, WWDA lobbied the Government, through development of a submission, to include the needs of women with disabilities in its development of Model Domestic Violence Laws for Australia.

Leadership and Mentoring

Leadership is a major issues for women with disabilities in Australia. Lack of training opportunities, employment and education mean that women with disabilities have few chances to develop leadership skills. In most states of Australia, education for women with disabilities is not compulsory. As an organisation, WWDA is very committed to promoting leadership and mentoring for women with disabilities in Australia. In early 1995, WWDA was represented at the International Women’s Conference held in Beijing, and in 1997, WWDA was represented at the International Leadership Forum for Women with Disabilities, held in Washington. These two international meetings identified the need for leadership training for all women, including women with disabilities.

In October 1997, WWDA conducted a National Leadership Workshop for women with disabilities in Australia. Several of the recommendations from this Workshop identified the need for WWDA to develop strategies and processes which would foster leadership for women with disabilities. It was identified by women with disabilities that a mentoring package and program was needed in order to foster and develop leadership skills for women with disabilities in Australia. WWDA has recently applied for funding from the Global Fund for Women to develop such a package.

Information Technology

Women with disabilities in Australia have identified the need to be included in the information technology revolution, particularly the Internet (WWDA 1997). WWDA is currently undertaking work in order to investigate the specific requirements of women with disabilities (all disability types) which will enable and promote their access to the Internet and associated technologies. WWDA has recently secured funding to provide an Internet Training Workshop for women with disabilities, as well as looking at ways to electronically link the State/Territory branches of WWDA.


WWDA believes that ageing is not yet understood in relation to people with longterm disabilities, arising from accident or illness in utero, in childhood or as young adults. WWDA has recently forwarded a submission to the Department of Health & Family Services on A National Strategy for Ageing Australia. Some of the recommendations put forward by WWDA in the submission were:

  • that information gathering strategies be developed in order to determine the numbers of people with longterm disabilities, as current information on aging with disabilities is scanty;
  • research is required to assist in the development of appropriate lifespan care models to help those with physical disabilities who are now ageing in unprecedented numbers;
  • that the interest already shown by people with disabilities in managing their health better, be used to assist health workers develop health care models
  • that research also includes ways of assisting people with disabilities to adjust to ageing and possible increased dependency;
  • that health professionals be trained in working with a social model of disability;
  • that particular attention be paid to the health of ageing women with disabilities who may be considered even more at risk of secondary disabilities;
  • that research include longitudinal studies of people with long term disabilities in order to determine what strategies have already been adopted by surviving aged people with disabilities.