Leadership program for women with disabilities spurs change

MENTORS: Cynthia Brown of Milawa, Tegan Allen from Everton and Renee McCarthy of Yarrawonga will mentor women with disabilities. Picture: MARK JESSER

MENTORS: Cynthia Brown of Milawa, Tegan Allen from Everton and Renee McCarthy of Yarrawonga will mentor women with disabilities. Picture: MARK JESSER

It was hurdle after hurdle for Tegan Allen to make it through high school.

The legally blind Everton resident said a lack of understanding from some peers and staff made it “a fight to get through”.

“I was the thing that had to change, not them,” she said. 

“They didn’t really like having to do the extra things for me, like working around ways for me to do VCE.”

Ms Allen has only recently spoken out about the spaces in her life where she has experienced disadvantage.

But a leadership program for women with disabilities, created by Women With Disabilities Victoria, gave her the confidence to advocate for change. 

“Usually when you go out, you feel as though you’re the only one with a disability, but in that room full of people you felt a part of things,” Ms Allen said. 

“We went on to learning about our rights and gaining confidence.

“Seeing the growth in confidence in the group was wonderful.

“I’m now doing a bit of work with Wangaratta Council consulting with them about their streetscape and working with council to improve that.”

Ms Allen has become a mentor for this year’s program, running for the first time in Wangaratta over April and May through Women’s Health Goulburn North East. 

Yarrawonga’s Renee McCarthy, who is also a mentor, said it was important to prevent disabled women from becoming isolated.

“All women should look at this course because it will open doors you never realised were closed,” she said. 

Women’s Health Goulburn North East health promotion worker Bernadette Fraser said the program worked to address concerning statistics about disadvantage. 

“One in five Victorian girls and women have a disability and these numbers are higher in rural and regional areas,” she said. 

“They are twice as likely as those without a disability to experience violence throughout their lives and they have high levels of homelessness.

“The enabling women leadership program is a first step to engaging those women in identifying the things that need to change.

“It’s not us saying we need to do this to help you or give you better access – it’s working with them to identify what their priorities are.”

An information session will be held from 11am on Wednesday March 9 at the Wangaratta Library. 

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