Category Archives: Women

Three disability Christmas wishes 2014

This time last year I wrote a Christmas blog with three wishes. Doing it again might mean I lack imagination. Last year’s wishes have certainly not been magically granted. But Christmas is the time of wishful thinking, so here is mine for another year.

My first wish is that the great team of audio describers we trained earlier this year will have lots of work next year, for theatre, civic events such as parades, operas and other musical events, and in museums galleries, and even sports events where TV may not provide an adequate commentary or any coverage at all.

My second wish is that that the New Zealand Government decides to ratify the Marrakesh Treaty to increase the amount of copyright material available in alternative formats to print-disabled New Zealanders.

My third wish, and dreams are free, is that there is a concentrated effort to include disabled women and children in family violence services, as well as action to protect disabled women and men from abuse in disability support services of all kinds.

So there are three more wishes. A very happy Christmas and a safe and restful break to all my readers. May 2015 make all our disability wishes come true.

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Filed under Accessible Engagement, Disability Issues, Disability Rights, Inclusion, The Arts, Women

Levelling the playing field for disabled women

This is an edited and updated version of a speech given on a panel at Rehabilitation International Seminar, Embracing the Opportunities April 16 2014, held in Wellington.

Disabled women in New Zealand have made progress but there is still a long way to go. I will not outline yet again in detail the many inequalities faced by disabled women. For many disabled women the playing field is some distance away, never mind whether they can access it, or whether it is level or not.

In 2014 disabled women in New Zealand are still relatively invisible  and our interests, rights and perspectives are still neglected. We are still generally left off the agenda.

There is still systemic discrimination and a lack of understanding of the issues we face as disabled women, for example, mothering our own babies, the right to found a family, or for some women, sterilisation without their consent, a subject which has been in the news lately, relating to Article 17 of the CRPD  the integrity of the person. Women’s health and other important information and services are still quite inaccessible to us. A Google search for disabled women in New Zealand finds very little.

The current debate about social and economic inequality is exclusive of disability generally, never mind disabled women.

To continue the sporting analogy we are way behind the eight ball in international terms. That includes being behind some developing countries where disabled women are finding a strong voice.

Green MP Mojo Mathers’ message to disabled women at a celebration on International Women’s Day in Auckland earlier this year was reported as “Speak out when you see or experience injustice, identify potential partnerships to strengthen your voice and lobbying power and believe in your ability as women to make change happen.”  The message was to ”inspire change.” Celebrations are important, as is inspiration. But right now much more is needed. We need concerted and collected action.

Disabled women today

There is no longer a women’s caucus in DPA. That’s not because there is nothing left to do.  DPA has a policy on women. I know there is one because I and other disabled women helped to write it a long time ago.  There is now only one woman on the National Executive. What is the situation in other Disabled People’s Organisations?

Vision Impaired Empowering Women, VIEW was founded as a move for progress and a voice for blind and vision impaired women. It is now a localized support group.

We are forgetting our history. The inclusion of disabled women in the 120 years celebration of women’s suffrage Tirohia Mai exhibition, last year, was an attempt to reclaim it. But after the disabled women’s presentation alongside the exhibition the following discussion was more about disability history generally than about disabled women’s history or rights. It is clear that the energy of the eighties and early nineties has been dissipated.

Ironically this has happened at a time when we have more tools for progress at our disposal than we have ever had.

Tools for change

We have protection under the Human Rights Act and the Health and Disability Commission Act.

Objective 14 of the Disability strategy says “promote participation of disabled women in order to improve their quality of life.”

The CRPD takes the “twin track” approach” with Article 6 focusing directly on rights for disabled women and with disabled women’s issues threaded throughout. Our government is obliged to pay attention to disabled women’s rights.  And there are the other UN conventions such as CEDAW, the women’s convention and CROC, the children’s convention.

We have the Office for Disability Issues which has always been headed by women, and the Think Differently campaign.

There are also less formal, but potentially powerful tools available, in the form of the arts, the media and the Internet and the range of social media. Women With Disabilities Australia are a great example with their networks, web site, research, and publications. There are many excellent disabled women bloggers here and elsewhere. Social media are a very valuable tool for the growing International network of disabled women.

But in practice in New Zealand every other issue always seems to be more important and little work has been done on analysing what the twin track approach of the CRPD might mean today in a New Zealand context. There is no focus point for disabled women’s issues.

Sometimes in the disability world it is difficult to focus on the gender issue. Violence against women in a disability context tends to be lost in the compelling wider issue of general violence and abuse of disabled people, or issues for other, non-disabled women.

Disability is complex and nuanced, but we can no longer avoid the need to unpick these complex issues.

The intersection of disability and gender seems to create a barrier to the collective imagination. I am not sure why, since other groups of women are confronting intersections of gender and race for example, with some vigour.

In New Zealand we have not developed any widely accepted discourse on women and disability. We have not applied a gender analysis to disability or a disability analysis to gender, never mind other intersections.

Disabled women are leaders, but we are expected to lead on behalf of all disabled people, or to be content to see leadership as individual personal achievement.

Ageing disabled women

But action is becoming more urgent. As the population ages and women, disabled and non-disabled, live longer the numbers of disabled women are outstripping the numbers of disabled men. There will be more increasingly frail older disabled women who are living in poverty because of a lifetime of limited education and employment options.

The need for data

The response we often get is that there is no information about disabled women. That is not good enough. When the Disability Survey results from Statistics New Zealand come out next month we should expect and demand that all reports include gender analysis. We have to demand the same from everyone who collects any disability data, from MSD, the Ministry of Health, service providers and anyone else who collects and analyses population and other related information. Good information provides a strong foundation for us to build a level playing field.

Where next

Nothing will be handed to us. Without action from disabled women the playing field will remain the same as it has always been, distant and lumpy.  It needs leadership from us. We have to make our voices heard and work together across disability groups. Let’s not be seduced by individualistic approaches to progress. We may have to do things differently.

We can look for opportunities to add a disabled women’s perspective, as well as identifying and prioritising particular issues of importance to us. For example, there are opportunities for a gender perspective in the new government action plan for disability? There are also people who can be strategic allies and supporters, disabled and non-disabled. We have to find them and enlist their support.

Disabled women need an active and strategic voice to make change. How we develop that voice is the question. How do we develop a feminist and disability analysis for the twenty first century? I am interested to hear what disabled women think on the topic. This is a challenge to action.

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Filed under Disability Issues, Disability Rights, Inclusion, Information Accessibility, 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!

Mike Osborne
Director – AccEase Ltd

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


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Filed under Disability Rights, Media, Women

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.


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