WWDA Submission to the Queensland Review of Maternity Services


The Review of Maternity Services was established by the Queensland Minister for Health in July 2004 to examine existing and future models of maternity care, in particular midwifery models of care, and recommend strategies to enhance choices for women, within a framework of safety and sustainability. This Submission is WWDA’s response to the Queensland Review of Maternity Services. Copyright WWDA December 2004.


Synopsis

Women With Disabilities Australia (WWDA) Inc. is the national peak body for women with all types of disabilities in Australia. It is a not-for-profit organisation constituted and driven by women with disabilities. It has a very diverse membership base, with associate members from a wide range of sectors – all who support the self-determination of women with disabilities.

This paper is a Submission in response to the Review of Maternity Services in Queensland. The paper raises issues for women with disabilities that must be considered in any remodelling of services. In summary those issues are:

  • Women with disabilities are sexual beings.
  • Public perception of women with disabilities becoming pregnant and becoming mothers is negative.
  • Lack of support, information, resources and training coupled with the negative stereotyping of women with disabilities as mothers leads to questioning of parenting abilities and increased likelihood of removal of children.
  • Heavy reliance on prenatal testing puts pressure on women to abort due to possible disability, regardless of accuracy of testing, and added pressure on women with genetic disabilities to get screened or abstain from having children.

Some suggestions are made of ways that Maternity services can be more inclusive of women with disabilities such as:

  • Providing accessible information and support.
  • Access to the same range of services.
  • Training to staff.
  • Linking to disability services.

Motherhood is a right often denied women with disabilities because of fear and supposed ‘costs’ to society. However the benefits of diversity, tolerance and difference when all are supported and given choices to be part of society are much greater to all of society in the long term.


Section One: About Women With Disabilities Australia (WWDA)

Women With Disabilities Australia (WWDA) is the peak organisation for women with all types of disabilities in 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 is unique, in that it operates as a national disability organisation; a national women’s organisation; and a national human rights organisation.

The objectives of Women With Disabilities Australia (WWDA) are:

  • to actively promote the participation of women with disabilities in all aspects of social, economic, political and cultural life;
  • to advocate on issues of concern to women with disabilities in Australia; and
  • to seek to be the national representative organisation for women with disabilities in Australia by: undertaking systemic advocacy; providing policy advice; undertaking research; and providing support, information and education.

Women With Disabilities Australia (WWDA) addresses disability within a social model, which identifies the barriers and restrictions facing women with disabilities as the focus for reform.

NB: More information about WWDA, including its major roles and functions, is included in Appendix One.


Section Two: Gender and Disability

Women with disabilities in Australia encounter discrimination on several levels, each of which restricts their options and opportunities for equal participation in the economic, social, and political life of society. Women with disabilities are disadvantaged attitudinally, economically, politically, psychologically and socially. Aside from ableism, women with disabilities also face sexism, racism, ageism and discrimination based on sexual orientation. They 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. This discrimination is often embedded in cultural societal values that limit women’s opportunities for self-improvement and self-development (Frohmader 1998; Pardo 1997).

The position from which women with disabilities seek to participate fully in the community is socially constructed rather than in direct relationship with medically defined impairment. This means that women who have physical, sensory or intellectual disabilities, or mental or emotional distress, are denied opportunities, discriminated against and excluded by the barriers that society creates. It is more often than not the experience of discrimination, lack of services, inaccessible transport, violence, inflexible working opportunities, and/or lack of access to education that disables many women with disabilities, rather than the actual experience of the impairment.

Disability, then, is the result of disabling social, environmental and attitudinal barriers. Social change, in this context, is about the eradication of oppression experienced by people with impairments. This contrasts strongly with the dominant ‘medical’ construction of disability, which emphasises overcoming or conquering disability through medical treatment or individual fortitude (Crowe, 1996). The social construction of disability is critical to understanding the nature and extent of violence against women with disabilities (Howe, 2000).

Despite the fact that in Australia, approximately 20% of all women are disabled and more than 50% of people with disabilities are women, women with disabilities continue to be categorised as a special interest group; their experience isolated from the mainstream and marginalised.

(See Appendix Two for information regarding the status of women with disabilities in Australia).


Section Three: Issues for Women with Disabilities Around Access to Maternity Services

According to the terms of reference this review is to look at the “provision of maternity services (ante-natal, birthing and post-natal, including community follow-up) across Queensland, with a view to enhancing the choices available to women within the context of continuing to provide contemporary best practice and safe and sustainable care, wherever consumers live.”

To do this review the Expert Advisory Panel will:
1. Examine existing and future models of care, in particular midwifery models of care, and recommend strategies to enhance choices for women.
2. Consider ongoing mechanisms to support the implementation, monitoring and evaluation of endorsed recommendations.

WWDA is not an expert in the area of maternity services or models of midwifery, however women with disabilities do, and do want to, access maternity services and so the needs and circumstances of women with disabilities must be considered in any development of models. This section raises the general issues that women with disabilities encounter when exploring pregnancy and motherhood. Much of this information is a direct excerpt from the WWDA publication “There’s No Justice – There’s Just us” (Frohmader, 2000).

Sexuality

Whereas able bodied women experience problems in being treated as a sexual object, women with disabilities experience the exact opposite – being treated as an asexual object. It has commonly been assumed that women with disabilities are either incapable of sexual function or just shouldn’t want it. This is true of society in general as well as of most professionals with whom women with disabilities come into contact. (Gardner in Kallianes and Rubenfeld, 1997).

Waxman writes “Many of us find sexuality to be the area of our greatest oppression…..We are more concerned with being loved and finding sexual fulfillment than getting on a bus….” (cited in Kallianes and Rubenfeld 1997). She maintains the development of sexual identity is more difficult for young people who have bodies different to their peers, or who have learning difficulties. Overprotective parents and carers tend to keep these young people away from sexual education and normal social experiences (Shakespeare et al 1996).

Asch and Fine (1988) note that ‘to date, almost all research on disabled men and women seems to simply assume the irrelevance of gender, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation or social class….having a disability presumably eclipses these dimensions of social experience’ (cited in O’toole 1996). These attitudes have serious implications for women with disabilities wellbeing and access to proper health care. Assumptions that women with disabilities are not sexually active result in a lack of access to services and to information leaving women with disabilities without appropriate instruction on protecting themselves from sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV/AIDS and vulnerable to abuse (McCarthy cited in Kallianes and Rubenfeld 1997). It also means that women with disabilities are not expected to access maternity services (ultrasounds, obstetricians, midwifes etc.) and consequently staff are not trained, there is no support or information, and equipment is unavailable.

Motherhood

There is a dearth of research in Australia around parenting and disability. Although the traditional image of the mother as the sole caretaker and nurturer of her child is in the process of change, it is still the image society uses as its reference point. Whatever the definition, motherhood is culturally defined. In most contemporary societies, women are still expected to marry and have children. Those who don’t are sometimes seen as ‘unnatural, ‘rebellious’, or ‘deviant’ and those who can’t have children are often viewed with sympathy. However, a double standard exists for women with disabilities. What is expected, encouraged and at times, compelled among non-disabled women is not expected, discouraged and proscribed among women with disabilities. Since women with disabilities are seen as dependent and in need of being taken care of, it is difficult for many to imagine how a mother with a disability can fill the caring and nurturing mothering role (Shaul et al cited in Kallianes & Rubenfeld 1997). The result of this has been that women with disabilities have been denied sex-education and contraception, discouraged from childbearing, forced to undergo abortions or sterilisation and lost custody of their children (Waxman 1993).

Since marriage and mothering signify sexuality and acceptance into the mainstream, it is hardly surprising that women with disabilities face barriers to sexual and reproductive freedom from the legal and medical communities, the public, and their families and friends. Many women with disabilities have experienced denial of their desire to become mothers through coerced sterilisation, contraception or abortion; lack of access to information and services; discrimination if they have attempted to adopt children or become foster mothers; along with the hegemonic effects of the widespread belief that women with disabilities cannot and should not bear and raise children (Finger 1984; 1985; Cole 1988; Callo-Brazil 1993; Lonsdale 1990; Asch and Fine, 1988; Waxman 1993; Kallianes & Rubenfeld 1997). When women with disabilities do become mothers they encounter many difficulties because the non-disabled world assumes that the disability makes them unfit to be mothers. Many lose custody of their children in divorce while others may have their children removed from their care by social welfare agencies, solely on the grounds that they have a disability (Corbett, 1989).

Many feminists have claimed that the social construction and values placed on the role of motherhood have served to limit the role of women and their opportunities. However, for some women with disabilities, motherhood is seen as a positive opportunity for intimacy, regeneration and human commitment (Deegan & Brooks 1995). As Morris (1995) states: “Feminism has challenged the social conditioning that channels women to see their major, if not only, role as mothers and nurturers. At the same time, social prejudices virtually demonise disabled women who desire to be mothers. While many disabled women choose not to have children, some find it a rewarding experience, and resent the denial of their desire to form or continue intimate and familial relationships”.

Many disabled feminists contend that the denial of disabled women’s reproductive and parenting rights also relates to their social and economic marginalisation. Because women with disabilities are themselves depicted as burdens to society and as irresponsible for having children, their sexual activity is open to public scrutiny and control (Kallianes & Rubenfeld 1997). Waxman (cited in Kallianes & Rubenfeld 1997) contends that ‘the disabled woman who becomes pregnant is judged to be immoral by society and seeks to punish her by removing her children from her…..while a non-disabled woman’s pregnancy is considered a miracle, a disabled woman’s pregnancy is considered a crime against society’. This is born out be anecdotal evidence from members of WWDA who have decided to have abortions because they were unable to find supports for when they would have the baby, and women who were pressured into sterilisation from being told they would not be able to care for children. In reality the women may only need 2-3 years of support and would be as good a mother as any other.

A research study undertaken in Australia by Westbrook & Chinnery (1995) aimed to compare the childrearing experiences of mothers with and without physical disabilities. The study looked at the support the women received from health practitioners and members of their social networks and the satisfaction and problems they encountered in caring for their children as babies and as toddlers. The study found that:

  • 36% of the disabled women received negative reactions to their pregnancy from others, compared to 9% of the non-disabled women;
  • 12% of the disabled women rated their doctors care during the pregnancy as ‘poor’, compared to 2% of the non-disabled women;
  • 20% of the disabled women were advised by their doctor to have an abortion, compared to 0% of the non-disabled women;
  • 23% of the disabled women found prenatal classes ‘unhelpful’ compared to 3% of the non-disabled women (reasons given by the disabled women as to why the classes were unhelpful included: lack of information; no consideration given to the needs of the women with disabilities; feeling excluded in the classes);
  • 24% of the disabled women found the maternity hospital staff ‘unhelpful’ compared to 7% of the non-disabled women ( reasons given by the disabled women included: special needs of women with disabilities were ignored; patronising and bullying behaviour; rude and uncaring attitudes).

Reproductive Rights and Reproductive Technologies

For women with disabilities, reproductive rights is seen as more than the right to choose not to have a child. It also encompasses the right to be recognised as sexual; to bear and raise children (even a child with a disability); to be seen as ‘fit’ to mother and to refuse the use of genetic technologies, as well as the right to make use of reproductive technologies such as donor insemination and IVF (Kallianes & Rubenfeld 1997; Saxton 1984; Finger 1984; Asch 1988; Morris 1991; Rock 1996; Hershey 1994, List 2000).

Many disabled feminists support a woman’s right to abortion. However, when abortion is chosen as a result of prenatal screening which has detected foetal ‘abnormality’, many disabled feminists express concerns that social prejudices and negative stereotypes about disabled people lead to automatic assumptions that women with disabilities should not bear children, and babies who may be disabled should not be permitted to be born (Kallianes & Rubenfeld 1997). Many women with disabilities find it extremely disturbing that ‘birth defects’ are the most socially acceptable reasons for women to have abortions. They contend that the fear and hatred of disabled persons is exploited to advocate the right to abortion (Rothman 1989; Rock 1996; Hershey 1994; Fine & Asch 1988; Morris 1991; Kallianes & Rubenfeld 1997).

There is a range of opinion and views about abortion among women with disabilities – just as there is among all women. There are many women with disabilities who strongly reject and challenge selective abortion. There are others however, who do not advocate prohibiting selective abortion, but insist that pro-choice advocates should not prescribe any specific reasons (such as foetal disability) to justify a woman’s right to abortion (Fine & Asch cited in Kallianes & Rubenfeld 1997). They believe that focusing on a woman’s right to choose an abortion in the case of a ‘deformed foetus’ exploits disability as ‘a good reason’ to have an abortion. They assert that this disparages the lives of disabled people (Fine & Asch cited in Kallianes & Rubenfeld 1997). Many women with disabilities argue that women should not have to provide a socially acceptable reason for abortion – the most compelling reason should be the right to bodily integrity and self-determination.

An area which has been rarely examined in the reproductive technology debate, is the social context in which reproductive technologies are developed and promoted. For example: who conceives of the need for reproductive and genetic technologies, allocates the resources, decides how they will be used, and for whom they will be used? Ross (cited in Kallianes & Rubenfeld 1997) points out that ‘reproductive technology is not produced in a political vacuum – when technology is produced, for whom its produced, who has access to it, whom it is forced upon – are all political questions’. Many feminist writers (such as Dworkin 1996, Atwood 1996, Corea 1996, & Rowland 1996) believe that reproductive technology is primarily about access to, and abuse of, women’s bodies by men – for medical research and experimentation; for financial gain; for clinical experience and adventure; and for the manipulation of life. Disabled feminists agree but go one step further by asserting that reproductive technologies are also about a return to eugenic practices (Kallianes & Rubenfeld 1997).

Pre-natal Screening

The culture of perfection pervades our society and has long oppressed us all as women. We are criticised as being too fat, too tall, too short, too old etc etc. Pre-natal testing has now offers up the potential to have only a “perfect child” and to reject children perceived as imperfect. Many women with disabilities argue that promotion and routine use of genetic testing inappropriately exaggerates and emphasises the negative aspects of disability whilst ignoring the worth of disabled people’s lives (Finger 1990; Hershey 1994; Simpson 1992; cited in Kallianes and Rubenfeld 1997). It is important then to examine the social context in which reproductive technologies are developed and promoted. For example, often economic arguments are used to justify prenatal selection. The British Royal College of Physicians recommended a nationwide program of prenatal screening arguing that ‘it is cheaper to screen and counsel the whole population than it is to treat affected children who would otherwise be born to unprepared couples” (Kristol 1993).

Women presented with a diagnosis of foetal abnormality may find themselves being encouraged to consider a termination and save themselves the “heartache” of having a child with a disability when ultrasound and prenatal testing is always and scientific. We must take care then that women are given a clear understanding of the accuracy of prenatal testing, the implications of the diagnosis and the space to decide for themselves whether they wish to have prenatal screening, and after screening, whether they wish to continue a pregnancy.

In summary the issues raised here can be put into a few statements;

 

    • Women with disabilities are sexual beings.

 

 

  • Information, education and support about sex and sexuality is often limited for women with disabilities.

 

 

 

  • Public perception of women with disabilities becoming pregnant and becoming mothers is negative.

 

 

 

  • Supports available for women with disabilities who are pregnant are limited due to the negative images.

 

 

 

  • Lack of support, information, resources and training coupled with the negative stereotyping of women with disabilities as mothers leads to questioning of parenting abilities and increased likelihood of removal of children.

 

 

 

  • Heavy reliance on prenatal testing puts pressure on women to abort due to possible disability, regardless of accuracy of testing, and added pressure on women with genetic disabilities to get screened or abstain from having children.

 


Section Four: Recommendations to Assist in the Development of Maternity Services

Given the above information and the issues that are relevant to women with disabilities, the following are suggestions on some ways maternity services could be more inclusive and supportive.

 

    • Information in accessible formats and accessible to women in isolated or ‘out of the ordinary’ settings.

 

 

  • Training to staff at all levels to raise awareness of disability from a human rights perspective, and awareness of the issues that have been raised above in relation to the possible experience and circumstances of women with disabilities.

 

 

 

  • Ensuring that support is available to women with disabilities, including peer support, and that the range of choices available are made accessible to all women with disabilities, or fully explored so the choice is the women’s (e.g. Not making assumptions about delivery methods, or screening choices).

 

 

 

  • Access to supports and technologies, parent education classes, and necessary equipment and resources before during and after birth (including any extra needed due to disability needs).

 

 

 

  • Appropriate unbiased information on prenatal testing, including accuracy of testing, risks associated with testing methods and referral to counseling and appropriate information about supports.

 

 

 

  • Clear referral and support to access extra services if needed, and to ensure integration with community follow up such as Child Health Services and disability services.

 

 

 

  • Flexibility to extend support if it will assist women with disabilities to develop as parents.

 

 

 

  • Policy of providing support to women with disabilities before choosing removal of children, and if necessary creating support.

 

 

 

  • Establish and maintain links with agencies that have support and information for women with disabilities.

 

Motherhood is a right often denied women with disabilities because of fear and supposed ‘costs’ to society. However the benefits of diversity, tolerance and difference when all are supported and given choices to be part of society, are much greater to all of society in the long term.


Section Five: References

Crowe, (1996) cited in Howe, K. (2000) ‘Violence Against Women With Disabilities – An Overview of the Literature’; accessed online http://www.wwda.org.au/keran.htm.

Frohmader, C., (1998), Violence Against Women with Disabilities, A Report from the National Women with Disabilities and Violence Workshop. Canberra. Women with Disabilities Australia (WWDA), Canberra.

Frohmader, C. (2002) ‘”There is no justice – There’s Just Us!” – The Status of Women with Disabilities in Australia’. Prepared for Women With Disabilities Australia (WWDA), Hobart, Tasmania. This book contains the following references that are cited in the text: Asch and Fine, 1988; Atwood 1996; Callo-Brazil 1993; Cole 1988; Corbett 1989; Corea 1996; Deegan & Brooks 1995; Dworkin 1996; Finger 1984; 1985; Hershey 1994; Kallianes and Rubenfeld 1997; Kristol 1993; List 2000; Lonsdale 1990; Morris 1991; Rock 1996; Rothman 1989; Rowland 1996; Saxton 1984; Waxman 1993; Westbrook & Chinnery 1995.

Howe, K. (2000) ‘Violence Against Women With Disabilities – An Overview of the Literature’; accessed online http://www.wwda.org.au/keran.htm.

Pardo, P. (1997) ‘Disability Rights and Feminism: From Exclusion to Inclusion for Women with Disabilities’; http://www.cailc.ca/see3.htm.

Pardo, P. (1997) ‘From Silence to Song: Voices of Women With A Disability From Around the World’. http://www.cailc.ca/see3.htm.


Appendix One: More Information About Women With Disabilities Australia (WWDA)

Women With Disabilities Australia (WWDA) is the peak organisation for women with all types of disabilities in Australia. It 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 Tasmania. Women With Disabilities Australia (WWDA) was incorporated in 1995 and evolved from the National Women’s Network within Disabled People’s International Australia (DPIA), where it had been operating as an un-funded Network for some eight years. WWDA was initially established by a group of women with disabilities who felt that their needs and concerns were not being acknowledged or addressed within the broader disability sector, or the women’s sector in 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 is inclusive and does not discriminate against any disability. 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. WWDA seeks to ensure the advancement of education of society to the status and needs of women with disabilities in order to promote equity, reduce suffering, poverty, discrimination and exploitation of women with disabilities. WWDA is unique, in that it operates as a national disability organisation; a national women’s organisation; and a national human rights organisation.

WWDA addresses disability within a social model, which identifies the barriers and restrictions facing women with disabilities as the focus for reform.

The aim of Women With Disabilities Australia (WWDA) is to be a national voice for the needs and rights of women with disabilities and a national force to improve the lives and life chances of women with disabilities.

The objectives of Women With Disabilities Australia (WWDA) are:

  • to actively promote the participation of women with disabilities in all aspects of social, economic, political and cultural life;
  • to advocate on issues of concern to women with disabilities in Australia; and
  • to seek to be the national representative organisation for women with disabilities in Australia by: undertaking systemic advocacy; providing policy advice; undertaking research; and providing support, information and education.

WWDA is managed by a National Management Committee, which is elected each year at the Annual General Meeting. All members of the Management Committee are women with disabilities. WWDA has only two paid staff members: an Executive Director, and a Business Manager. There are two classes of membership of WWDA: full membership, and associate membership. Full membership is open to women with a disability who are resident in Australia. Associate membership is open to individuals and organisations who are supportive of the aim and objectives of the Association.

WWDA receives a small amount of operational funding from the Commonwealth Department of Family & Community Services, and is required to re-apply for this funding annually. Other sources of funds for WWDA come from grants project funding, a small amount from donations, and some from membership fees.

Women With Disabilities Australia (WWDA) is at the forefront of support and advocacy, with, and on behalf of, women with disabilities in Australia. WWDA’s major roles, functions, and activities include: provision of systemic advocacy for women with disabilities; research and policy development; project development and implementation; education and information provision; and addressing the issue of empowerment and women with disabilities, both individually and collectively. WWDA’s policy and program areas have included: Preventing Violence Against Women With Disabilities; Sterilisation and Reproductive Health of Women and Girls with Disabilities; Leadership and Mentoring; Information and Communications Technology; Housing; Health and Well-Being; Ageing; Education, Employment and Income Support; and Human Rights.

WWDA’s innovative programs have been critically acclaimed at national and international levels, and the organisation has been rewarded with a number of prestigious awards in recent times. In late 2003, WWDA was formally invited by the French Government to apply for the French Republic’s Human Rights Prize for 2003. WWDA was one of only two Australian entries invited to apply for the Prize. Although WWDA did not win the Prize, the judges said:

“We found your action aiming at improving the condition of women with disabilities a very deserving one indeed��..we congratulate your organisation for devoting so much efforts to such a worthy cause and wish you every success in your endeavours.”

In December 2001, WWDA was named the National Winner of the Australian Human Rights Award. The judges were impressed by the broad base of WWDA’s work and influence and the range of methods used to advocate for women living with disabilities, from lobbying to education. They said WWDA deserved ongoing recognition and was a valuable and visible organisation. They further stated:

“…WWDA has achieved an enormous amount in a short period of time, working tirelessly on behalf of one of the most marginalised and disadvantaged groups in Australia. Areas in which it has worked assiduously include unlawful sterilisation of women and girls with disabilities, reproductive health, violence against women with disabilities, and leadership and mentoring. Although it has a domestic focus, WWDA has provided inspiration for women with disabilities all over the world, receiving letters of thanks from as far away as the Ukraine and the USA.”

WWDA’s groundbreaking work in the area of preventing violence against women with disabilities has seen the organisation awarded the Australian Heads of Government National Violence Prevention Award (1999), as well as a nomination for the United Nations Millennium Peace Prize for Women Award (2000).

WWDA’s Policy priority areas for 2004-2009 include:

  • Violence against women with disabilities, including unlawful sterilisation
  • Health, with particular focus on cervical screening; breast screening; and screening for Osteoporosis
  • Housing and Accommodation
  • Disability Support
  • Employment and Income Support
  • Information and Communication Technologies
  • Education
  • Women With Disabilities At Risk

Other priority work for 2004-2009 will include:

  • Contributing to the development and implementation of Commonwealth Government social policies affecting women with disabilities;
  • Futher development of the infrastructure of the organization, including capacity building;
  • Increasing WWDA’s capacity to support women with disabilities in developing countries;

More information about WWDA can be found at the organisation’s extensive website, located at: www.wwda.org.au.


Appendix Two: The Status of Women With Disabilities in Australia – A Snapshot

Women with disabilities are, from the government record, one of the most marginalised and disadvantaged groups in Australia. Analysis of data available from a variety of sources, gives us the following information about women with disabilities in Australia.

    • There are 3.6 million people in Australia with a disability, making up 19% of the total population. The proportion of males and females with a disability is similar (around 9.5% each) although it varies across age groups.

 

 

  • There are 1.8 million women with disabilities in Australia. There are more women with disabilities in the older age groups, most notably those 79 years onwards.

 

 

 

  • Of the 1.1 million people with a profound or severe core activity restriction, 616,000 are women with disabilities (56%). Among older people with disabilities, the rates of severe and profound disability are markedly greater for females.

 

 

 

  • Over 57% of women with disabilities living in households need assistance to move around or go out, shower or dress, prepare meals, do housework, undertake property maintenance or paperwork, or communicate.

 

 

 

  • Women with disabilities are less likely to be in paid work than other women, men with disabilities or the population as a whole. Men with disabilities are almost twice as likely to have jobs than women with disabilities. In 1997-98 Commonwealth Government funded open employment services assisted over 31,000 people with disabilities in their efforts to find and maintain jobs on the open labour market. 66.6% of those assisted were men with disabilities. Annual Census of Commonwealth Government funded open employment services show that the percentage of women with disabilities being assisted by these services has continued to decline.

 

 

 

  • Women with disabilities’ participation rates in the labour market are lower than men with disabilities’ participation rates across all disability levels and types. Women with disabilities are less likely than men with disabilities to receive vocational rehabilitation or entry to labour market programs. Commonwealth Rehabilitation Services statistics for 1994/5 indicate only 35% of referred clients were female with women more likely to be rehabilitated to independent living (45%) than vocational goals (36%).

 

 

 

  • Women with disabilities earn less than their male counterparts. 51% of women with a disability earn less than $200 per week compared to 36% of men with a disability. Only 16% of women with a disability earn over $400 per week, compared to 33% of men with a disability.

 

 

 

  • There is a higher incidence of incapacity (10.2%) for unemployed females in Australia compared to unemployed males (7.6%). This applies consistently across all age groups. Unemployed females have a one-third greater incidence of incapacity than unemployed males. The higher incidence of incapacity for unemployed females is more pronounced for those under 50 years age, and especially for 30-39 and under 21 year olds.

 

 

 

  • Women with disabilities are less likely than their male counterparts to receive a senior secondary and/or tertiary education. Only 16% of all women with disabilities are likely to have any secondary education compared to 28% of men with disabilities.

 

 

 

  • Women with disabilities are substantially over-represented in public housing, comprising over 40% of all persons in Australia aged 15-64 in this form of tenure. Women with disabilities are less likely to own their own houses than their male counterparts.

 

 

 

  • Women with disabilities pay the highest level of their gross income on housing, yet are in the lowest income earning bracket. Some women with disabilities pay almost 50 per cent of their gross income on housing and housing related costs. Over 20% of women with disabilities living in public housing are dissatisfied with the service they receive from their State or Territory housing authority.

 

 

 

  • Women with disabilities spend more of their income on medical care and health related expenses than men with disabilities.

 

 

 

  • Women with disabilities have a consistently higher level of unmet need than their male counterparts across all disability levels and types. Women with disabilities are less likely to receive appropriate services than men with equivalent needs or other women. 60% of recipients of disability support services funded under the Commonwealth/State Disability Agreement are men with disabilities.

 

 

 

  • Women with disabilities are less likely than women without disabilities to receive appropriate health services, particularly breast and cervical cancer screening programs, bone density testing, menopause and incontinence management. In Australia, 41% of women with disabilities with core activity restriction aged 70-75 have never had a mammogram. Almost 30% of women with disabilities aged 70-75 with core activity restriction have never had a pap smear. Of those women with disabilities aged 70-75 core activity restriction who have had a pap smear, 39% have not had regular pap smears (every 2 years). These figures are likely to be much higher for women with disabilities with different disability types (eg: intellectual, cognitive, psychiatric, deaf/hearing impaired, blind/visually impaired) across all age groups.

 

 

 

  • Girls and women with disabilities are more likely to be unlawfully sterilised than their male counterparts. Between 1992-1997 at least 1045 girls with disabilities in Australia have been unlawfully sterilised. Comparisons with other data sources suggest that the true number is much greater, perhaps by a factor of several times.

 

 

 

  • 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. Statistics indicate that 90% of women with intellectual disabilities have been sexually abused. 68% of women with an intellectual disability will be subjected to sexual abuse before they reach 18.

 

 

 

  • Women with disabilities are more likely to be institutionalised than their male counterparts.

 

 

 

  • Women with disabilities are often forced to live in situations in which they are vulnerable to violence. They are more likely to experience violence at work than other women, men with disabilities or the population as a whole.

 

 

 

  • Access to telecommunications is a major area of inequity for women with disabilities in Australia. A national survey in 1999 found that 84% of women with disabilities are restricted in their access to telecommunications. 49% of women with disabilities are restricted by issues of affordability; 76% by poor design of telecommunications equipment; 20% by lack of training; 20% by lack of information; and 18% by discrimination.

 

(Sources: Anderson 1996; Frohmader 1998; WWDA 1998; WWDA 1999, ABS 1999, ABS 1993, AIHW 1998, AIHW 1999, AIHW 2000, Currie 1996, Brady and Grover 1997, Temby 1997, Cooper and Temby 1997, Horsley 1991, Binstead 1997, Rutnam, Martin-Murray and Smith 1999, Warburton et al 1999).