A Report of the WWDA ‘Introduction to the Internet Workshop’ for Women With Disabilities

Women With Disabilities Australia (WWDA) developed and conducted an Internet Training Workshop for women with disabilities. The Workshop was held in Melbourne, September 1998. This is an evaluation report of that workshop. Copyright Women With Disabilities Australia (WWDA) 1998.


Women With Disabilities Australia (WWDA) is an organisation of individuals and networks in each State and Territory made up of women with disabilities and associated organisations. 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 to identify and discuss issues of common concern.

WWDA is inclusive and does not discriminate against any disability. WWDA is an organisation run by women with disabilities, for women with disabilities.

In mid 1998, WWDA approached the Commonwealth Office of the Status of Women for funding to run an Introduction to the Internet Workshop for women with disabilities. The need for this workshop had come about in response to the expressed needs of women with disabilities in Australia. OSW agreed to fund this initiative, and $5,000 was granted to WWDA by OSW for the Workshop. The Workshop was organised to coincide with the Annual General Meeting of Women With Disabilities Australia (WWDA). The Annual General Meeting was held in Melbourne at the Hotel Y (YWCA, Elizabeth Street) in September 1998. Members of WWDA’s National Executive Committee were flown to Melbourne from around Australia for the Annual General Meeting. A large number of WWDA members from Victoria also attended the Annual General Meeting.

The Internet Workshop was organised to be conducted following the AGM. The reasons for this were to decrease the costs of running a national Introductory Internet Workshop (as the women participating were already being flown to Melbourne for the AGM). Another reason for conducting the Workshop following the AGM was because the same venue could be used – the AGM was held at the Hotel Y in the Conference facilities and the Internet Workshop was held in the YNET Training Centre, which was located in the Hotel Y. The Workshop was run over two days, with different women attending each day.

The Objectives of the Workshop were:

  • to introduce women with disabilities (particularly members of the WWDA National Executive Committee) to the Internet, particularly the World Wide Web;
  • to introduce women with disabilities to the potential uses of the Internet for women with disabilities;
  • to promote access to information technologies (particularly the Internet) for women with disabilities;
  • to use the Workshop as a pilot to inform the organisation and development of a larger Internet Training Workshop for women with disabilities;
  • to identify barriers to women with disabilities accessing the Internet.

This report to the Office of the Status of Women provides an overview of the Introduction to the Internet Workshop for women with disabilities which was conducted by WWDA in September 1998.

The Context

Women with disabilities in Australia have identified the need to be included in the information technology revolution, particularly the Internet (WWDA 1997). The Internet is seen by many women with disabilities as an important accessibility aid to access mainstream information and services, as well as information to meet their specific needs as women with disabilities. There is currently a dearth of on-line information for women with disabilities, including virtually no Australian content.

Consultation and background research undertaken by WWDA reveals the following:

  • In Australia, approximately 18% of all women are disabled and more than 50% of people with disabilities are women (Mulder 1996). 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 and less likely to receive appropriate services than men with equivalent needs or other women.
  • Research indicates that women with disabilities are 2-12 times more likely to experience violence than their non-disabled peers. 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; Disabled Women’s Network, 1988).
  • There has been a groundswell of opinion and research highlighting the potential for information technologies to improve living standards for women (Office of the Status of Women 1996). This is particularly more relevant for women with disabilities, who are significantly more socially disadvantaged than their non-disabled peers.
  • Women have been largely excluded from the Information Technology market. A study undertaken by the Australian Bureau of Statistics found that women of all ages were extremely poorly represented amongst users of the Internet and Email compared to men (Australian Bureau of Statistics 1996). This is even more so for women with disabilities, who often lack the means to purchase computers and are also restricted in their access to information technologies due to factors including poverty, lack of transport, inaccessible venues and so on.
  • It has been well documented that women experience higher levels of disability and chronic illness than men. The acceptance of Information Technology by women with disabilities will become an increasingly important issue to service deliverers and policy makers, but statistics show their current involvement with computers and on-line technologies to be very limited.
  • With services increasingly going on-line (in particular, health, legal and education) and a reduction in face-to-face services in many regional areas, women (as the main users of such services) are going to rely more and more on on-line access. Women with disabilities already face difficulties in accessing these types of services. It is imperative that the needs of women with disabilities are incorporated into any on-line services. There is a need for on-line content and mechanisms which specifically deal with the needs of women with disabilities.
  • The Internet has the potential to create great opportunities for women with disabilities in Australia. For example, it can provide easy communication opportunities for women with speech impairments; women with disabilities who are otherwise isolated, can use it to participate in either social or work activities; opportunities exist through the Internet to enable women with disabilities to participate more equitably in the workforce – women with disabilities who are effectively housebound now have the opportunity to work from home, should they choose.
  • Anybody with limited mobility–or even just limited time–can appreciate how the Internet and electronic databases have opened vast amounts of information to easy access. The Personal Computer is one of the greatest accessibility aids ever created but people with disabilities have actually lost ground in recent years. For example, a decade ago most computer screens displayed only text, and it was relatively easy for software to “speak” this text aloud to people with visual impairments. The immediate result was a new level of independence for people who could not see the printed word. But today’s more powerful Personal Computers and software, which use graphics heavily to communicate large amounts of information to the sighted person, have proven problematic for blind people. Similarly, as the Internet’s World Wide Web becomes more graphical and interesting for people with sight, its content threatens to become less accessible to blind people than it is today.

Women with disabilities in Australia have identified the need for training in the use and potential of the Internet (WWDA 1997; 1998). To this end, WWDA applied for funding from the National Office of the Information Economy’s ‘AccessAbility Online Grants Program’ in mid 1998. One of WWDA’sfunding applications, entitled “Promoting Access to Online Information for Women With Disabilities in Australia” was successful. WWDA received $64,000 to enable WWDA to promote access to on-line information for women with disabilities in Australia. The main strategies to achieve this will be:

  • to develop an Australian women with disabilities website as a model of best practice in design and content, including the development of a national electronic based women with disabilities discussion group;
  • to conduct an Internet Training Workshop for women with disabilities; and
  • to provide an Internet access point for each State and Territory branch of WWDA and electronically link these branches.

The Introduction to the Internet Workshop, conducted at the WWDA Annual General Meeting, provided an opportunity for WWDA to identify barriers for women with disabilities when accessing the Internet, and also to use the findings from the Workshop evaluation to inform the development of a National Internet Training Workshop for women with disabilities.

Planning and Organising the Introduction to the Internet Workshop

The Workshop was organised by the WWDA Executive Officer, who also organised the WWDA Annual General Meeting. The planning and organisation of both the Workshop and the Annual General Meeting took several months. Those invited to attend the Workshop included members of the WWDA National Executive Committee and also WWDA members from Victoria. Invitations to the Workshop were printed and distributed to WWDA members by post approximately 6 weeks prior to the Workshop. As places at the Workshop were limited, participants were requested to RSVP, and participants were selected on a ‘first come first serve’ basis.


The Workshop (and the Annual General Meeting) were held at the Hotel Y in Elizabeth Street, Melbourne. This venue was chosen because a Computer Training Centre was available at the Hotel, along with Conference rooms (for the Annual General Meeting) and some accommodation. It was considered important if possible to conduct the Annual General Meeting and Workshop at the one venue so that the women did not have to travel between venues. This is an important factor when arranging events for women with disabilities. Being able to hold more than one event at the same venue reduces fatigue and also means that women who use wheelchairs do not have to worry about trying to organise accessible transport to take them between venues. The YNET Training Centre was reasonably accessible for women using wheelchairs and scooters. The facilitator for the Workshop (Keren Flavell) was a woman who was employed by the Hotel Y as the manager of the YNET Training Centre. Keren had facilitated many workshops for community groups learning to use the Internet, however she had not worked with women with disabilities before. WWDA conducted many meetings with Keren prior to the Workshop to brief her about the needs of women with disabilities in relation to accessing the Internet.

Accommodation and Attendant Care

Several of the participants were able to be accommodated at the Hotel Y. However, there were some women who had to be accommodated at other venues due to the fact that the bathrooms at the Hotel Y were not accessible for women using wheelchairs and scooters. Most of these women were able to be accommodated at venues close to the Hotel Y so they did not have to worry about organising transport to and from the Hotel Y. However, as most hotels only have one or two ‘disabled rooms’, 2 women did have to be accommodated at venues further afield and did require transportation to and from the Hotel Y each day.

A spare hotel room at the Hotel Y was booked for both days of the Workshop. This was to enable those women participating in the Workshop (who weren’t staying at the Hotel Y) to be able to have somewhere to rest if they needed to. The need for a ‘Rest Room’ was identified by participants at the National Women With Disabilities and Violence Workshop, which was conducted by WWDA in February 1998. In evaluating that Workshop, many of the participants suggested that a Rest Room would have been useful. WWDA was able to take this feedback on board when planning the Introduction to the Internet Workshop.

Several of the women attending the Workshop (and the Annual General Meeting) required attendant care. This was organised several months prior to the Workshop. A Melbourne based nursing agency was used to provide the care. WWDA also had to organise the hire of equipment (such as shower chairs and hoses etc) prior to the Workshop.


WWDA had an overwhelming response to the Workshop advertisement. The Workshop places were filled very quickly, and there were many women who were unable to attend due to the restriction on numbers. Several of the participants at the Workshop had never had access to the Internet before. Some had never had access to a computer. Approximately 40 women took part in the Workshop. Twenty attended the Saturday Workshop and another 20 attended the Sunday Workshop. One of the participants who registered for the Workshop is blind. This created a challenge for WWDA, as the YNET Training Centre did not have any computers that were accessible for blind people. The facilitator of the Workshop had also never provided Internet Training to anyone who is blind.

Royal Victorian Institute for the Blind

As one of the Workshop participants is blind, WWDA had to organise a computer with Internet access for blind people, to be available at the Workshop. This proved to be rather difficult. WWDA initially approached the YNET Training Centre and asked if they would be able to provide the necessary computer and software. The YNET Training Centre was unable to do this and stated that WWDA would have to organise it ourselves. The WWDA Executive Officer contacted the Royal Victorian Institute for the Blind (RVIB) to ask if they could lend us a computer with the appropriate software for the weekend of the workshop. After much negotiation (taking several weeks and countless phone calls) this was agreed to, however RVIB stated that they had to charge WWDA for hire of the equipment. RVIB agreed that one of their technicians would drive over to the YNET Training Centre on the Friday night prior to the Workshop and install the necessary software onto one of the computers. They would then return on the Sunday after the Workshop was finished and de-install the software. This meant that WWDA had to pay not only for the hire of the software, but also travel expenses for the technician.

The woman participating in the Workshop who is blind (Di), had never had access to the Internet before, and the Workshop facilitator had never worked with a blind person before. She also had no knowledge of the software which is used by blind people who access the Internet. This meant that prior to the Workshop, WWDA had to organise a one-on-one facilitator to work with the blind woman. Again, this proved rather difficult. WWDA spent several months prior to the Workshop trying to organise this and it proved very time consuming and expensive (particularly in relation to phone calls, as WWDA was arranging everything from Canberra and the Workshop was being held in Melbourne). WWDA liaised with the RVIB to try and find someone who would work on a one-to-one basis. As the Workshop was being conducted over a weekend, it became very difficult to find anyone who was familiar with the software, had the skills to teach on a one-to-one basis, and who was prepared to work on a weekend. With the assistance of RVIB, WWDA practically searched Victoria for someone who was prepared to take this on. We eventually found someone about 4 days prior to the Workshop. The person concerned stated that they would provide one-to-one facilitation for 3 hours on the Sunday at a charge of $200. As we were in no position to negotiate the price, we had to accept it.

Workshop Evaluation

General Comments

From an organisational point of view the Workshop ran smoothly and was well organised. On reflection, WWDA believes that more time could have been spent with the facilitator prior to the Workshop to ensure that she clearly understood the needs of women with disabilities. One aspect that did receive some criticism from one WWDA member was that the Invitation advertising the Workshop (included with this report) was not produced in alternative formats.

Again, on reflection, organising a Workshop of this nature from Canberra is not easy. It means you often have to rely on information you are given over the telephone and there is no opportunity to check things out – eg: accessibility of premises and so on.

Having women who were at different levels of ability attend the workshop proved problematic. There were some women who were more advanced than others, and some who were absolute novices. With only one facilitator for twenty women this caused some difficulty. Some of the more experienced women found themselves having to assist the inexperienced as the facilitator was unable to get around them all. This meant that some of the women who had basic skills in using the Internet were not really able to expand on those skills because they were required to help those with little or no experience.

It does appear that for a group of 20 women, more than one facilitator is needed. Again it may have been useful to have women split up into different groups according to their level of ability/experience with the Internet, however this would have been quite difficult to organise and difficult to implement – unless separate workshops were held and naturally cost would be a big factor in this.

Another area that proved problematic was having Di working with a one-to-one facilitator, in the same room as 19 other participants. One of the problems which became evident was that Di had a lot of trouble hearing the instructions of both the one-to-onr facilitator and the computer software program (Jaws) due to the background noise of the other participants and the instructions of the Workshop facilitator. On reflection, Di believes she would have got much more out of the workshop if she could have been in a separate room.

A positive outcome from the Workshop has been the YWCA of Australia’s response to WWDA’s feedback. Following the Workshop and the Annual General Meeting, WWDA wrote to the Executive Director of the YWCA to provide feedback about our experiences with the YWCA as a venue for accommodation ands also the YNET Training Centre as an Internet Training Centre. WWDA raised the issue of accessible bathrooms not being available at the Hotel Y. We also requested that the YNET Training Centre purchase the software required for their computers to enable blind and/or visually impaired women to have access to the Internet. In a response to WWDA’s feedback, the YWCA have agreed to purchase the software required and have also invited WWDA to have input to discussions with architects about renovating rooms in the Hotel Y so that they are accessible for women using wheelchairs.

A Workshop Evaluation Form was developed prior to the Workshop and was given to each woman attending. A stamped self addressed envelope was also included so that the participants had the option of completing their evaluation form at home and sending it back to WWDA at a later date.

Feedback from Evaluation Forms completed by participants at the Workshop has been reproduced here.

What were you hoping to get out of coming to this Workshop?

  • An ability to use Internet and email effectively to communicate throughout Australia with National Executive Committee members.
  • Absolute complete Internet control.
  • An increased knowledge of different methods and what is available, and practice.
  • To have the ‘mystery’ of Internet access, in its many and different parts, revealed in simple terms and then ‘hands-on’ tuition given to those unfamiliar with technology.
  • To learn how to access Internet information and perhaps to be converted to using a computer.
  • Not much as my level of skill was at the teaching level.

Did you get what you wanted from the workshop?

  • More. I experimented on two new packages I had not used before.
  • No
  • Yes, except that I was too scatterbrained to make the most of the opportunity.
  • In a small way.
  • Yes.
  • No. I thought there may have been a higher level of input, but you also had to take into consideration everybody’s levels.

Can you tell us what you thought about the workshop overall?

  • I would have liked to have had a one to one lesson in a separate room as the acoustics were bad and made the lesson difficult. The two packages I trialled were mismatched, but this was the fault of the person setting it up, but overall, excellent.
  • Not enough teachers.
  • Well designed, but I am not really competent at present to assess it as I should.
  • To have the opportunity to start on the road to discovery was welcome, but limited by the lack of guidance.
  • Very good. The instructor was extremely friendly and helpful. She dealt cheerfully with people at very different levels of computer experience.
  • The tutor needed more people to help her for those people who had no experience at all.

Which parts of the workshop did you like the best?

  • Talking with the instructor and learning how to deal with possible problems.
  • General assistance and meeting other members of the workshop provided one or two contacts I can follow up.
  • The general introduction.
  • Being able to access some information on disability issues, though information on what is available in Australia/New Zealand/Pacific would have been more helpful. Time to get some Australian information out about this area and not depend on the USA/UK.
  • It was good to attend which I appreciated but I would like to see another one held for those at a higher level.

Can you think of any ways we could improve the workshop?

  • It started rather late. The Clinton Report was on the Net and everyone started to read the Starr Report. I was eventually sucked in too. It was beyond anyone’s control although it led to some realistic reflections on the state of the world.
  • One on one trainers for at least 90 minute sessions.
  • Lighting at the venue could have been better; placement of screens with background windows caused some glare but no doubt this is better than screens reflecting. It seemed a pity.
  • With the project to supply “all the works” to National Executive Committee members, we will be better able to access and pass on information, and possibly an update workshop might be necessary to keep ‘on line’ with newest technology.
  • More people to help during the workshop.

Workshop participants were asked to rate aspects of the workshop as either:

  • Excellent
  • Very Good
  • Satisfactory
  • Disappointing

The results were:

The Venue:

  • 17% of participants rated the venue as excellent.
  • 50% of participants rated the venue as very good.
  • 17% of participants rated the venue as satisfactory.
  • 17% of participants rated the venue as disappointing.

The Facilitator:

  • 17% of participants rated the facilitator as excellent.
  • 50% of participants rated the facilitator as very good.
  • 17% of participants rated the facilitator as satisfactory.
  • 17% of participants rated the facilitator as disappointing.

The Workshop Content:

  • 17% of participants rated the facilitator as excellent.
  • 50% of participants rated the facilitator as very good.
  • 17% of participants rated the facilitator as satisfactory.
  • 17% of participants rated the facilitator as disappointing.

Are there any other comments or suggestions you would like to make?

  • With the facilitators help, I began to find my way to some sources of information that interests me. I was really pleased and grateful that this session was organised and was free.
  • I think that the facilitator presumed ALL participants were computer literate, many were, but the introduction to the Workshop could have sorted out the ‘sheep’ from the leaders and concentrated more on those needing help. I am not sure that we got good value overall from the facilitator.
  • Space to manoeuvre appeared somewhat limited although this would apply at any venue.

Workshop Budget

Over 40 women participated in the Introduction to the Internet Workshop at the YNET Training Centre following WWDA’s Annual General Meeting in September 1998.

The breakdown is as follows:

Accommodation = $1172.30
Attendant Care = $232.50
Facilitator Hire = $650.00
Workshop Room Hire, Equipment Hire, Blind Institute Trainer, Blind Institute Software Hire: = $959.30
Workshop Coordinator Salary = $401.94
Design, Printing & Postage of Workshop Invitations = $420.00
Catering = $1218.40
Internet Workshop Photos = $40.55
TOTAL = $5094.99 (Australian)