Category Archives: Women

Robyn Hunt wins Supreme Award at Attitude Awards

Hi everyone

I’m very pleased to announce that my AccEase colleague, Robyn Hunt,who authors most of the blog posts on this blog site has received public recognition for the work she does in the disability sector.

Robyn Hunt wining the Making a Difference Award at the Attitude Awards - with Jill Lane and Ruth Dyson

Robyn Hunt wining the Making a Difference Award at the Attitude Awards – with Jill Lane and Ruth Dyson

The Attitude Awards were held Robyn won the Making a Difference category award from 20 finalists and then was awarded the Supreme Award with the contenders being the winners of the other seven categories.

Robyn Hunt accepting the Supreme Award at the Attitude Awards

Robyn Hunt accepting the Supreme Award at the Attitude Awards

As you well know, Robyn is a tireless supporter of disability rights and has stuck to the task despite it being an area that gets little mainstream recognition.

The full report “Disability rights advocate wins Attitude Award” is on the TVNZ website.

Congratulations to Robyn, who is a most deserved winner!

Cheers
Mike Osborne
Director – AccEase Ltd

PS – You can watch the full awards ceremony online – and the video controls are accessible.

 

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Making New Zealand Accessible. Disabled women claim their place

This post is edited notes from a panel presentation in conjunction with the Tirohia mai exhibition at the National Library September 28th 2013. The exhibition marks 120 years of women’s suffrage in New Zealand.

What does accessibility, in the broadest sense mean to me as a disabled woman? What does it mean to the wider community of disabled women? How can it be improved for all disabled women? What would make the greatest difference?

This exhibition is very important as it begins to give us access to some of our disability herstory 120 years after women in NZ were able to vote. Without the vision of curator Rosslyn Noonan we wouldn’t be there at all so a big thank you to her. The experience of contributing to the exhibition has been exciting, frustrating and moving in equal measure.

Thinking about our history, from nineteenth and early twentieth century institutions where if you were blind you had to ask for permission to marry. Women were locked away for life for behaviour seen as aberrant, or because they were diagnosed as being “congenital idiots”.

Technology and other changes both help and hinder – blind telephonists, mostly women, lost their jobs with technological change and changes to the public service in the late 1980’s. Some never worked again. We have been deinstitutionalised. The “bins” have been emptied. New Zealand Sign Language is a national language. We have all kinds of cool equipment, and our first openly disabled woman MP.  But how much has really changed?

We are still struggling to get good personal care and support, and we are still being abused.

Some disabled women are not “allowed” to mother their children. Disabled girls still struggle to get a good education. Many disabled women live their whole lives in poverty as part of the growing inequality in New Zealand, part of the growing “precariat,” particularly as we age.

There are huge unresolved issues relating to body image, sexuality and the conventions around how a woman looks or should look. We are poorer, less employed, and more prone to intimate partner violence than non-disabled men. We have less access to sexual and reproductive health than non-disabled women, and some particular groups of disabled women have poorer general health than just about anyone else.

We are way behind other developed, and even some developing countries with the lack of attention and systemic indifference given to our concerns as disabled women.

So, for me access is about pretty much everything.

The Oxford Dictionary definition, (paraphrased) describes access as “the right or opportunity to benefit from something,” approach or see someone, to obtain or retrieve, to approach or enter a place.

Accessibility for me means I want access to the same as other women no less, as well as the supports I might need as a disabled women.

Among other things, accessibility means access to information, and physical access. It means being able to read the horrible signage on the Wellington buses. Reading the prices in the Supermarket is another. Health-related info is pretty important. It is an act of revenge when I go for a mammogram to ask about the availability of information in alternative formats? After all why shouldn’t they feel as uncomfortable as I do?

For all disabled women it means access to the support we need as women to enable us to live good, full lives whatever that might mean to us. We need access to the systems and structures that govern our lives, whether it is access to Sign Language in the workplace, or easily accessible information about candidates in the upcoming Local Government elections, a truly accessible voting process and access to standing for public office. I know of one disabled woman standing for a District Health Board. I hope there are others.

It means access to our children and the support we need to mother them and to deal with intimate relationships when they go wrong or where there is violence.

Importantly we also need access to initiatives for and progress made by all women. At present many of us are shut out.

We need access to the policy agenda that sees our interests and rights as women ignored and neglected.

We need access to information and to debates that affect us as disabled women as well as to the environment where these debates take place.

We need access to the women’s research agenda and to the research process itself. Even when research is conducted on our issues, it is frequently conducted from a non-disabled standpoint. It will therefore lack real validity.

We need more access to our own history.

We need access to the tools and resources that can challenge the systemic disadvantage and discrimination we as disabled women encounter on an everyday basis.

We need access to each other, and the skills and gifts and strengths we bring in all our rich diversity and intersectionality.

We need access to structures, tools and resources that will enable us to work on our own issues and choices. Together we can do it all.

We have the Disability Rights Convention, CRPD. with its twin track approach, including all of us and we have the Women’s Convention, CEDAW.

That is all very well. But what will make the greatest difference right now.  Returning to the Tirohia mai exhibition. It has been very difficult to find information about our herstory. I was shocked that we could not even find a good quality photo of Dame Anne Ballin. We have discovered how woefully lacking we are in good quality, recent information about disabled women. It is outrageous that Statistics New Zealand has not produced any comparative disability gender analysis since 1996. This is shameful.

Having good, accessible comparative readily available data is critical for us to make real change. We need a comparative gender report from the current and all future surveys.

Working together on a disabled women’s agenda would also help. Disabled People’s Organisations are full of women. Many of us are leaders there, so how come we are not working on women’s issues. Do we not see them as important?

I was sad that the women’s caucus in the NEC of DPA has been abolished, and that VIEW has lost its founding fervour for change.

Nothing will be handed to us. While we will find allies in different places we have to drive the change ourselves, that is, if we really want it. As disabled women we have to keep saying “Nothing about us without us! and work for change together.

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Filed under Disability Issues, Disability Rights, Inclusion, Information Accessibility, Web Accessibility, Women

Women, disableism and literature

In my last blog post I analysed why disabled women are invisible in New Zealand. This time, since I am joining other bloggers around the world on Blogging against Disableism Day, I have selected a subject which, as a disabled woman, is dear to me.

Being denied something which is generally of value to others is disableism, (discrimination,) at work, intentional or not. This is particularly true for those of us born with disabilities growing up.

Children and young people as they grow see similar life experience to their own life experience reflected around them through all kinds of media. It helps them find out who they are, and how they want to be in the world, good or bad. If they love reading good books they will probably meet a range of life experience, similar and dissimilar to their own in books.

Disabled children are denied this experience. Problematic “inspiration porn” and other negative media depictions aside, there are few, if any, good books written from their perspective by disabled authors who understand this experience of growing up with a disability at a very deep human level. Disability is constructed differently in different societies. It is constructed from a generally unchallenged non-disabled perspective in western literature. There is no body of literature or debate beyond a struggling academia to support any change, at least in New Zealand.

I do wish I could find similar life experiences to mine reflected in our literature. It was bad enough growing up without New Zealand books as my generation did. But I often experienced feelings of isolation as I didn’t know anyone like myself. Nor could I read about anyone like me, except Helen Keller, whose life experience was light years away from mine, in ways other than time, geography and personal circumstances. Even her impairment was promoted as a non-disabled construct and largely remains so.

Mental illness does seem to be an exception to the rule of silence. Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s The Yellow Wallpaper is a powerful example. Closer to home I have of course read Janet Frame’s early books. But there is now a climate of denial around her experience. Whether or not she was mentally ill, she still had the searing experience of being labelled and treated as disabled. I am also interested in the experience of Robin Hyde, although some of her writing is out of print and not accessible. At that time she probably would not identify as disabled, a fairly modern concept.

Disabled Women’s experience is starting to be reflected in dance, and in art and crafts, although disabled artists are often referred to as “outsider” artists, which I don’t like. Another less discriminatory term should be used.

Literature seems to be more difficult to infiltrate here. While I can find some international non-fiction about disabled women’s experience, often academic, I long for some general well-written, thoughtful, crunchy, insightful and satisfying everyday accounts of lives lived in the modern everyday world of disabled women, whatever that might be.

Self-publishing may not be the answer either, as I have seen too many poorly written edited and presented books telling “inspirational” life stories. They are frequently self-absorbed and undisciplined.  Doris Lessing’s description of the writing process is my favourite. She says,

“The whole process of writing is a setting at a distance. That is the value of it – to the writer and to the people who read the results of this process, which takes the raw, the individual, the uncriticised, the unexamined, into the realm of the general.”

Has no New Zealand publisher ever seen such a manuscript written by a disabled woman on the subject of the lives of disabled women? Has none ever been written, or do publishers think there is no market for such books? This situation needs to change.

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Disabled women Invisible in New Zealand

Several events lately have caused me to reflect on the invisibility of disabled women in New Zealand, and to think about how that might change. This year is the 120th anniversary of women’s suffrage in New Zealand. The Women’s Studies Association conference will be held in Wellington this weekend. I won’t be attending. What follows explains why.

Interests and rights neglected

The interests and rights of disabled women have been neglected by the women’s movement and successive New Zealand governments for many years. In my long history of working in the disability world, and of disability activism I have been frustrated by the lack of any real inclusion of disabled women in women’s rights initiatives and progress.

The few initiatives have never been sustained or updated, or been retained in the collective consciousness, so every time a group of women with the least power and energy, and the least access to resources wants to do something they have to start from scratch. Those of us who have attempted action have been met with indifference, opposition, and even hostility, sometimes from our own community.

It is discouraging to note that our issues are still subsumed either into those of disability generally, or into women generally, thereby becoming invisible. While other intersections such as race, poverty and LGBT are now being explored, disabled women are still not in that loop. Disabled women are often invisible within these intersections as well.

Left off the agenda

It isn’t for want of trying on the part of many of us. Yet it is extremely hard to get on to the feminist, or any other agenda for that matter. It is so hard to find any useful data or relevant research, especially where our situation can be compared to non-disabled women. Feminist academics and writers studiously ignore our experience and perspective in their work. There is little comparative data available on almost anything. Attempts to find or create any are ignored. An example – Despite the length of time these programmes have been available it is impossible to find any information on disabled women’s access to and uptake of cervical screening and mammography programmes compared to non-disabled women. Research and related contributions by disabled women to a funded research programme into violence against women was strongly resisted, and the results reflected this.

Systemic discrimination

Does no one care that birth mothers who are disabled women can still have their children taken from them simply because they are disabled, or disabled mothers are more likely to have their children seen to be ‘at risk” and taken away by CYF, or that disabled men are able to adopt with non-disabled partners but disabled women with non-disabled partners can’t?

Analysing the problem

We have to find answers to this question of invisibility of disabled women and our issues.

Here is an attempt to start to tease out the problem:

Systemic

  • There is a lack of access in the broadest sense of disabled women to information and to the debate. (Disabled women in Australia have just produced a report on the digital Divide for disabled women.)
  • New age ideas that we are all individually responsible for our own destinies and disability is our own fault. See also some religion.
  • Policy makers and activists don’t see intersections, or see them as too hard.
  • Our sexuality and rights to be mothers are not recognised by systems, structures and policy implementation.
  • Disability itself is not a “sexy” issue, never mind disability and gender.
  • Agencies with responsibility for all women take little or no account of disabled women.
  • Lack of political will.

Feminism

  • Does feminism itself disable us?
  • The work of the few disabled feminist researchers is not valued as “real” feminism or “real” research.
  • The personal is political has excluded and denied our experience.

Other women/feminists

  • Feminists in the “caring” professions are part of the problem, and issues for carers eclipse ours.
  • Feminist writers and academics ignore us, our place and our experience. Their research is from a non-disabled perspective.
  • Non-disabled women construct gender and disability in different ways from disabled women. These constructs are damaging and disempowering.
  • We are not “real” women so we can be safely ignored.
  • Our experience of the behaviour of non-disabled feminists indicates they are ambivalent about disabled women and our issues.
  • Other intersections such as race and class “trump” disability when the chips are down.
  • A perception by other women that we are “less than them” and might drag the cause down or cost too much, or make women generally seem “not able.”
  • Perhaps we represent some kind of atavistic reminder of something seen as dreadful and unwomanly – even as feminists age or acquire impairments they don’t generally apply feminist analysis to their disability status.
  • Body and other differences are problematic.

Disabled women ourselves

  • Our impairments mean we don’t have the energy of other women.
  • There is a lack of our own discourse on disability and feminism.
  • Are disabled women too busy just surviving, or too apathetic?
  • In a small country we are isolated from each other and don’t have enough critical mass.
  • We are seduced by individualistic approaches to progress.

Disability

  • The siloed way disability services and resources have been and still are provided – divide and rule – has led to disunity and insularity in our own community of disabled people and of disabled women.
  • Disabled women leaders have been expected to lead all disabled people, not just women.
  • There is competition among impairment groups that diminishes energy and dilutes resolve and direction.

Is it about systemic issues? Is it about us, disabled women, or is it about other women and feminists? Or is it a bit of both, or all of the above. Or just maybe no one else cares, and I am wasting my time and energy.

This is a big picture view and I am not criticising any individual, including a few staunch allies, or any initiatives. I want to break this resounding silence once and for all, and begin some genuine, constructive and respectful discussion to find real answers to this problem of invisibility which I am beginning to fear won’t be solved in my lifetime.

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