WWDA Submission to the Social Policy Research Centre on the Discussion Paper ‘Designing the Evaluation of the Commonwealth Disability Strategy’


The Commonwealth Disability Strategy (CDS) was introduced in 1994 to provide Australian Government Departments and agencies with a planning framework to ensure access to all federal programs, services and functions for people with a disability. The original strategy applied to the activities of all departments, agencies and authorities for ten years (1994-2004) and aimed to ‘enhance access opportunities for people with a disability to the programs, services and infrastructure of society’. The CDS was reviewed in 1995, 1997, and 1999. In 2004, the Australian Department of Family and Community Services contracted the Social Policy Research Centre to design an evaluation of the Commonwealth Disability Strategy (CDS). A Discussion Paper ‘Designing the Evaluation of the Commonwealth Disability Strategy’ was released in July 2004. This Submission is WWDA’s response to that Discussion Paper. Copyright WWDA August 2004.


1. Introduction

Women With Disabilities Australia (WWDA) is the peak organisation for women with all types of disabilities in Australia. It is a not-for-profit organisation constituted and driven by 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 (More information about WWDA can be found at the organisation’s extensive website, located at: www.wwda.org.au).

This brief paper is a Submission in response to the Social Policy Research Centre on the Preliminary Discussion Paper ‘Designing the Evaluation of the Commonwealth Disability Strategy’.

NB: WWDA only received the Discussion Paper on July 28, 2004, with closing dates for comments being August 6, 2004. Due to the very short time frame, WWDA has elected to provide general comments only, and will provide more detailed input in the further stages of the CDS Evaluation.


2. Conceptual Framework for the Evaluation

WWDA supports the proposal to locate the evaluation of the CDS in a human rights framework. Such an approach would reflect the shift in perspective that has taken place internationally over the past twenty years – an approach motivated by charity towards people with disabilities to one based on rights. Locating the evaluation of the CDS within a human rights framework would reflect the human rights perspective on disability, including:

  • viewing people with disabilities as subjects and not as objects;
  • moving away from viewing people with disabilities as problems towards viewing them as holders of rights;
  • locating problems outside the disabled person and addressing the manner in which various economic and social processes accommodate the difference of disability or not, as the case may be.

Furthermore, locating the evaluation of the CDS within a human rights framework would reflect the fundamental values that underpin human rights, including:

  • the inestimable dignity of each and every human being,
  • the concept of autonomy or self determination that demands that the person be placed at the centre of all decisions affecting him/her,
  • the inherent equality of all regardless of difference, and
  • the ethic of solidarity that requires society to sustain the freedom of the person with appropriate social supports.

(Quinn, Degener et al 2002)

It should also be pointed out that the in May 2004, the Australian Government (through the Attorney General’s Department) released the ‘Draft National Action Plan on Human Rights’. Within the Draft, the Australian Government cites the Commonwealth Disability Strategy (CDS) as one of its major initiatives for addressing the human rights of people with disabilities in Australia. Given that the Government views the CDS as a major mechanism to promote the human rights of people with disabilities, it seems only fitting that the CDS Evaluation be positioned in a human rights framework.

Additionally, WWDA would recommend that the CDS itself (rather than just the framework for the Evaluation) be developed within a human rights framework. Given that the CDS represents the Australian Government’s response to the Disability Discrimination Act (which provides protection for everyone in Australia against discrimination based on disability), it would seem logical that the CDS be developed within a human rights framework.


3. Evaluation Methodology

WWDA recognises the importance of a range of evaluation methods in undertaking the evaluation of the CDS. The Discussion Paper currently describes four main methods within the proposed ‘general evaluation’:

  • National and international comparison of similar strategies and policies, done through a literature and document review;
  • Identification of the changes in the role of government and the impact of these changes on the lives of people with disabilities (done through a literature review);
  • Review of quantitative data about the outcomes from the CDS, including the range of government functions and programs across the range of experiences of people with various impairments. They will include data about the use of government and government-funded services and support such as employment, income support, information and advocacy, accommodation and health;
  • Perceptions of CDS achievements, barriers and expectations through consultation with the stakeholders listed in Section 1.

WWDA would strongly recommend the use of more qualitative methodologies in the evaluation, particularly in relation to the outcomes from the CDS. For example, reviewing quantitative data about the use of government and government-funded services and support, may not provide a true reflection of the outcomes from the CDS.

Quantitative techniques are necessarily reductionist and so cannot capture the particular experiences and the subject’s own perceptions of their experiences. Qualitative methods on the other hand, can obtain greater density of information, vividness of description, and greater clarity of meaning than is possible in quantitative processes. Qualitative evaluation approaches recognise the social and behavioural context in which events occur, aim towards exploration of social relations; and describe reality as experienced by people.

In undertaking qualitative evaluation methods, it will be important to ensure that meaningful consultation occurs with people with disabilities. There have been far too many occasions where Government have provided ridiculously short and impossible timeframes for consultation with people with disabilities on various Government policy reviews and initiatives. Recent examples include the consultations on the development of a Comprehensive and Integral International Convention to Promote and Protect the Rights and Dignity of Persons with Disabilities; and the Draft National Action Plan on Human Rights.

Additionally, in undertaking consultations with stakeholders on their perceptions of CDS achievements, barriers and expectations, it will be important to ensure that those conducting the consultations, make every effort to include people with disabilities who have direct experience of the use of government and government-funded services and support (such as employment, income support, information and advocacy, accommodation and health). When disability peak organisations (for example) are given extremely short time frames to contribute to reviews etc, it is not always possible for them to consult in a meaningful way with their members. It should also be pointed out that many people with disabilities are not necessarily members of disability (or other) organisations.


4. The Current CDS – Major Issues

4.1. The Lack of Success of the CDS

The CDS was introduced in 1994 to provide Australian Government Departments and agencies with a planning framework to ensure access to all federal programs, services and functions for people with a disability. The original strategy applied to the activities of all departments, agencies and authorities for ten years (1994-2004) and aimed to ‘enhance access opportunities for people with a disability to the programs, services and infrastructure of society (Productivity Commission 2004). The CDS was reviewed in 1995, 1997, and 1999. As highlighted in the Discussion Paper, and also in the recent Productivity Commission Review of the DDA (2004), the reviews found that the CDS had had little success in enabling people with disabilities to access mainstream government services and programs.

It is of major concern that despite repeated reviews of the CDS, little appears to have changed in relation to its lack of success. WWDA believes that serious questions need to be asked about the commitment of Government to the Commonwealth Disability Strategy (CDS).

4.2. Performance Reporting Framework

The revised CDS, developed by KPMG in 2000, employed a performance reporting framework whereby government agencies were given the flexibility to develop, implement and monitor their own disability policies. The revised CDS identifies government agencies as either policy advisers, regulators, purchasers, providers and employers. As detailed in the Discussion Paper, the CDS encourages (but does not mandate) each agency to establish disability policies, and the only mandated activity is annual reporting.

Given that the Australian Government identifies the CDS as a major mechanism to promote the human rights of people with disabilities, coupled with the fact that reviews of the CDS have found that it has had ‘little success in enabling people with disabilities to access mainstream government services and programs’, it is extraordinary that the compliance measures were watered down in the revised CDS developed in 2000.

Whilst annual reporting of compliance with the CDS is the only mandated activity of agencies, there is no indication of what occurs if agencies do not meet this measure of compliance. There is also no indication of what occurs if the agency doesn’t meet a certain level of compliance in their annual reporting process. For example, what is the ‘penalty’ to agencies who either don’t comply with the annual reporting requirements, or who, alternatively, might ‘report’ but don’t meet a certain standard of compliance? Given that reporting against the CDS is not tied or linked to agency funding, there is little incentive for agencies to treat the CDS as a serious component of their business.

4.3. Implementation and Monitoring

As highlighted in the Discussion Paper, the goal of achieving inclusion for people with disabilities has implications for all levels and areas of government policy, functions and programs, whether disability-specific or not.

WWDA believes that effective implementation and monitoring of the CDS has been hampered by the lack of a whole of government approach, and has been further hampered by the fact that the responsibility for implementation has been located within the Commonwealth Office of Disability (OOD). The Office of Disability (OOD) is located within the Commonwealth Department of Family & Community Services (FaCS), the Department largely responsible for disability policy. Unfortunately, this often leads to a perception (both within and outside Government) that anything relating to disability is the responsibility of FaCS. WWDA has long experienced being shoved from one Department to another because no one Department sees the particular ‘issue’ as being their responsibility. For example, when conducting systemic advocacy in relation to the unlawful sterilisation of women and girls with disabilities, WWDA has had FaCS pass the issue/s over to the Attorney General’s Department – the rationale being that ‘sterilisation’ falls within the Attorney-General’s portfolio. The Attorney-General’s Department has then ‘re-directed’ the issue back to FaCS, with the rationale being that FaCS deals with ‘disability’. This is not an isolated example, rather, in WWDA’s case, it is very often the norm. Access to Breast and Cervical Screening for women with disabilities is a further example. FaCS sees the issue as falling within the portfolio of the Department of Health & Ageing, and subsequently the responsibility of the Minister of that Department. However, when trying to get the issue acknowledged within the Department of Health & Ageing (and by that Department’s Minister), the issue gets re-directed back to FaCS, as it is considered by the Department of Health & Ageing as a ‘disability’ issue.

In Australia in 2004, it is clear that many people with disabilities are effectively denied the opportunity to realise the basic rights and responsibilities of other Australian citizens. Disabled people continue to be medicalised, to be treated as different from the ‘norm’. Rather than being full citizens, they face restricted access to economic, social, political and cultural participation. While disabled people constitute one-fifth of the population (3.9 million people), they are neither visible in the community, nor likely to hold high office in the public or private sectors. At some point in their lives most of them are at serious risk of poverty, abuse and discrimination.

WWDA believes that ‘disability’ needs a whole of government approach, and this means giving it a profile at the Commonwealth level where such an approach is clearly reflected. For example, in recognising the need for affirmative action for women, the Australian Government established the Commonwealth Office of the Status of Women (OSW) in 1976, and located it within the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet. The role of the OSW is to ensure that government policies, services and initiatives are evaluated for the benefits they will provide to women, their impact on women and their accessibility by women (OSW 2004). The existence of the Office of the Status of Women (OSW) does not remove the responsibility of Government agencies to address the needs of women. Rather, the OSW provides a leadership role by mainstreaming women’s issues – that is, by working to ensure that a focus on women’s experiences, issues or perspectives becomes everyone’s business.

WWDA believes that ‘disability’ warrants a similar approach. Given that achieving inclusion for people with disabilities has implications for all levels and areas of government policy, functions and programs, it would seem logical and sensible to locate the Office of Disability within the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, rather than its current location within the Commonwealth Department of Family & Community Services (FaCS).

4.4. Achievements & Facilitators

The Discussion Paper makes reference to the fact that since its implementation in 1994, ‘the accomplishments of the CDS have been modest’ (p7). In looking at ‘practical achievements’ since the 2000 CDS version, the Paper cites a report conducted by FaCS in 2002 which claimed the success of the CDS in prompting government agencies to provide information in accessible formats. WWDA would seriously question this assertion. WWDA continues to experience problems in receiving information from Commonwealth Government Departments and agencies in accessible formats. This extends to the Department of Family and Community Services (FaCS) itself. With the increased reliance on providing information in electronic formats, Government Departments tend to rely on making information available in only Portable Document Format (PDF). This is despite the fact that PDF documents are not accessible to a number of people with disabilities. Whenever PDF documents are used on the web, they should always be supplemented by an accessible alternative (in HTML, RTF, or text format). In August 2002, the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission issued the following statement:

‘The Commission’s view is that organisations who distribute content only in PDF format, and who do not also make this content available in another format such as RTF, HTML, or plain text, are liable for complaints under the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA)’.

It is difficult to comprehend how FaCS (2002) can claim the success of the CDS in prompting government agencies to provide information in accessible formats, when agencies consistently demonstrate an ignorance in the fundamental requirements for providing accessible information for people with disabilities.

The Discussion Paper makes reference to the fact that ‘numerous authorities have noted the decrease in the rate of employment of people with disabilities in the public sector’. It also refers to ‘a survey of people still in Commonwealth employment found employment satisfaction had increased since the implementation of the revised CDS’ (Orima Research 2002). WWDA would question these findings. For example, we know that currently, people with a disability represent 3.6% of employees within the Australian Public Service (APS), down from 5.5% a decade ago. This decline occurs across all job classifications. Research conducted by the Australian Public Service Commission (APSC) shows that people with a disability employed within the APS are significantly more dissatisfied with their job than people without a disability. Only 49% of people with a disability have a job satisfaction index of over five compared to 77% of people without a disability (APSC 2004).

In relation to the APS and people with a disability, the Australian Public Service Commission (2004) states:

‘Overall, the picture is not positive. Despite the strategies agencies report having in place, the representation of people with a disability is continuing to decline. Significant numbers of employees with a disability disagree their agency is providing support and they are more dissatisfied in their jobs. Further analysis is needed in this area to identify possible causes. Agencies also need to consider more carefully, including in consultation with their employees with a disability, the effectiveness of their strategies.’

It is clear that discrimination continues to be a major barrier for people with disabilities in employment. In 2001-02, as in most years, over half of all Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) complaints to the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission (HREOC) were in the area of employment (HREOC 2002, Productivity Commission 2003). In its recent Review of the Disability Discrimination Act, the Productivity Commission (2004) found that:

‘the number of complaints under the Disability Discrimination Act (1992) and participants’ views indicate that disability discrimination in employment remains a significant issue. Overall, the Act appears to have been least effective in reducing discrimination in employment’.

Given these findings, it would appear that the CDS has had little impact in reducing the discrimination experienced by people with disabilities in employment.


5. Ideas on Key Priorities

NB: Given the short time frame for this submission, WWDA has only been able to provide brief comments on this section. WWDA therefore looks forward to ongoing opportunities to contribute to the Evaluation of the CDS.

5.1. Representation

WWDA supports ‘Representation’ as a key priority for Commonwealth responsibilities to people with disabilities. As highlighted in the Discussion Paper, representation of and by people with disabilities in government policy and processes assists in the process of social change for people with disabilities. The Discussion Paper currently lists the ‘Draft UN Convention process’ and ‘Peak disability bodies funding and support’ as the possible case studies to be used to evaluate the key priority area of ‘representation’. WWDA believes that other case studies could include a comparison of strategies used in other areas. For example, the Commonwealth Government has developed a monitoring system that provides a whole-of-Government status report on the representation of women on Commonwealth boards and bodies (see OSW ‘Appoint Reporting’ 2004). It is clear that there is a need for a similar strategy to assess, monitor and improve the representation of people with disabilities on Commonwealth boards and bodies.

In evaluating the representation of people with disabilities in Commonwealth Government policy and processes, it would also be useful to assess not only whether representation occurs, but how it occurs. For example, there is a very real tension between what constitutes ‘representation’ and what constitutes ‘exploitation’, and the lines can often be blurred. It is WWDA’s experience that Government Departments can often ‘invite’ a woman with a disability onto a particular Board (for example), but there is no provision made by that Department for remuneration for the woman’s time and/or expertise. Women with disabilities can often find themselves ‘represented’ on a Government Board whereby they are the only person there in their own time and at their own expense.

The Discussion Paper cites ‘Peak disability bodies funding and support’ as a possible case study for evaluating representation. WWDA believes that it will be important to assess not only ‘whether’ the Commonwealth funds Peak disability bodies, but the outcomes of this funding in relation to representation. For example, WWDA is a peak disability organisation funded by FaCS on an annual basis. In the period July 1 2003 to April 30 2004, WWDA provided twenty – two formal submissions to a wide range of government processes, reviews and consultations. These submissions represented the views of the members of WWDA in relation to the particular issue being addressed in the submission. Despite each submission being provided to the funding body (FaCS), WWDA received no feedback from FaCS on any of the submissions. The issue then, for consideration within the CDS evaluation, is how does the Department utilise the representations made by the peak bodies it funds?

5.2. Citizenship

WWDA recommends the use of the term ‘citizenship’ rather than ‘access’ as a key priority for Commonwealth responsibilities to people with disabilities. WWDA believes that the term ‘access’ may be to restricting, and too often, many people assume that ‘access’ refers only to physical access and/or access to information.

People with disabilities have been constrained by lack of access to full citizenship in a variety of ways, including discriminatory legislation, denial of education and employment, and constructions of disability that suggest incapacity and abnormality (WWDA 2002). Citizenship for people with disabilities includes being part of and participating in the social life and surrounding community within which they live. The right to such participation in the life of the community is protected in state and commonwealth legislation and in international conventions, yet for people with disabilities it is still not a reality and it is difficult for people with disabilities to attain true citizenship (Meekosha, 1998). Such opportunities include having the fundamental rights enjoyed by all citizens: that they should be able to feel safe, to be free from exploitation and sexual abuse, to have access to public services and to be able to make their own life choices.

People with disabilities also hold expectations to participate fully within society through relationships, caring for children and living with dignity and respect. Participating within society requires access to information, education, health, transport, housing, facilities and equipment, public services and work based and home based personal care, many of which people with disabilities (particularly women with disabilities) find difficult to attain.

The Discussion Paper currently cites the Electoral Commission; Telstra; and a government agency that has used innovative methods of access, as possible case studies in evaluating the CDS in relation to access. WWDA believes that in evaluating citizenship, other case studies could include the following examples.

a) An assessment of available Government data relating to people with disabilities and their access to, and use of government and government-funded services and support such as employment, income support, information and advocacy, accommodation and health. For example, in 2002, the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) completed a major study into the unmet need issue (Unmet Need for Disability Services) and it found that, despite some additional funding being added via the Commonwealth/State Disability Agreement (CSDA) there were, in 2001:

  • over 12,500 people still in need of accommodation and respite services;
  • over 5,400 people needing employment support;
  • over 8,200 places required for community access services;

b) An assessment of relevant Commonwealth legislation. For example, in mid 2004, the Australian Government commenced work (through the Standing Committee of Attorney’s-General) on the development of universal legislation for the authorisation of non-therapeutic sterilisation of minors with a decision-making disability. WWDA asserts that this is an example of proposed legislation which patently infringes the human rights of people with disabilities (in this case, minors with a decision-making disability). There are no instances where authorisations to sterilise have been sought for minors without decision-making disabilities in the absence of a threat to life or health.

c) Commonwealth Programs – there are a number of Commonwealth Government Programs which exclude people with disabilities, and clearly contravene the intentions of the CDS. For example, women with disabilities in Australia are not identified in the Commonwealth Government’s national breast and cervical screening policies and programs as an under-served population or target group, and there is no data collected in Australia on uptake rates of breast and/or cervical screening for women with disabilities, despite the fact that women with disabilities are one of the most under-screened groups of women in Australia. Similarly, in relation to homelessness, violence services (such as refuges) and other SAAP funded services, do not collect data on women with disabilities. For example, the South Australian SAAP National Data Collection Annual Report 1998-99, provides data on Indigenous Australians and people from a Non-English Speaking Background, but does not provide any data, nor indeed, any reference to, people with disabilities.

5.3. Attitudes, Prejudice & Discrimination

WWDA supports ‘Attitudes, Prejudice & Discrimination’ as a key priority for Commonwealth responsibilities to people with disabilities. As highlighted in the Discussion Paper, discriminatory attitudes are barriers to the dignity and respect of people with disabilities. Negative attitudes can threaten not only individual dignity but basic human rights to life and the right to freedom from violence and abuse.

Women with disabilities are devalued by society as a result of stereotyped and negative attitudes towards them. Much of the discrimination experienced by women with disabilities is based on an implicit notion that they are not the same as other women and so cannot be expected to share the same rights and aspirations. Women are generally discriminated against due to gender bias but women with disabilities face compound discrimination by being both women and disabled.

The attitudes of the public are heavily influenced by how women with disabilities are portrayed in the media, in the newspaper, radio or television. Unfortunately, women with disabilities are rarely portrayed in a positive manner. This lack of positive representation of women with disabilities in the media reinforces stereotyped and negative attitudes (WWDA 2002).

The Discussion Paper currently cites the Human Rights and Equal Opportunities Commission (HREOC) and the Office of Disability (OOD) as possible case studies in the evaluation of the CDS. WWDA believes that in evaluating attitudes, other case studies could include:

  • The Draft National Action Plan on Human Rights (Attorney General’s Department);
  • National Disability Abuse and Neglect Hotline;
  • Commonwealth Government Media Campaigns (for example: the recent national domestic violence media campaign; national breast and cervical cancer screening media campaigns; etc).
  • Productivity Commission Review of the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) 2004.

5.4. Other Key Priorities

The Commonwealth Disability Strategy (CDS) articulates the Australian Government’s desired outcome for people with disabilities as ‘full inclusion in all aspects of community life…….To this end, the Government supports equity of access to all mainstream Australian Government policies, programs and services to ensure that people with disabilities are empowered to achieve economic and social participation.’

Given the CDS states the intention of Government to ‘ensure that people with disabilities are empowered to achieve economic and social participation’, WWDA believes that the following areas could be considered as key priorities in relation to the Commonwealth’s responsibilities to people with disabilities:

  • Human Rights
  • Advocacy (systemic and individual)
  • Employment, Education & Income Support;
  • Equality & Non-Discrimination (including gender-specific measures)

WWDA believes that possible case studies could include:

  • Standard Rules on the Equalisation of Opportunities for Persons with Disabilities (1993)
  • Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women 1979 (CEDAW)
  • Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights 1966 (ICESCR)
  • Covenant on Civil and Political Rights 1966 (ICCPR)
  • Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) 1992;
  • Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) Standards Development;
  • Attorney General’s NGO Forum on Domestic Human Rights
  • Partnerships Against Domestic Violence Strategy

6. References

Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) (2002) Unmet Need of Disability Services: Effectiveness of Funding and Remaining Shortfalls; AIHW Cat. No. DIS 26, Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW), Canberra.

Australian Public Service Commission (2004) State of the Service Report 2002-2003; accessed online: http://www.apsc.gov.au/stateoftheservice/0203/index.html

Commonwealth Office of the Status of Women (OSW) (2004) Office of the Status of Women – About Us; Accessed online August 2004: http://www.osw.dpmc.gov.au/index2.htm

Frohmader, C. (2002) ‘There Is No Justice: Just Us’ – The Status of Women with Disabilities in Australia; Prepared for Women With Disabilities Australia (WWDA). Canberra.

Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission (2002) Annual Report 2001-02, Canberra.

Meekosha, H. (1998). “Inclusive participation in a diverse society? Contesting hegemonic normalcy in the citizenship debate”. Paper presented at the Women, Citizenship and Difference Conference, Australian National University, March.

Productivity Commission (2003) Review of the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) Draft Report. Available online: http://www.pc.gov.au/inquiry/dda/draftreport/index.html

Quinn, G. and Degener, T. et al (2002) Human Rights and Disability: The current use and future potential of United Nations human rights instruments in the context of disability. United Nations, New York and Geneva, 2002.


Appendix 1: About Women With Disabilities Australia (WWDA)

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.

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, an island State 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 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.

More information about Women With Disabilities Australia (WWDA) can be found on WWDA’s website at: www.wwda.org.au


Appendix 2: The Position 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).