WORLD-FIRST research in the North East has exposed the barriers for women living with disabilities in country Victoria.
During 2016 Women’s Health Goulburn North East (WHGNE) led a partnership with Women with Disabilities Victoria to deliver and evaluate Enabling Women, a community leadership program for women with disabilities.
More than 40 women in the North East participated in the leadership program and 13 women who identified with a disability completed the course.
WHGNE’s health promotion worker Bern Fraser said the research had revealed the lack of transport, social isolation, discrimination and violence from others and feeling unsafe as the key barriers to community participation for women living with disabilities in rural communities.
“We were aware of the disadvantage experienced by women with disabilities but shocked by the layers of discrimination and harassment for rural women, with long-term impacts to their health and wellbeing,” Ms Fraser said.
“Women with lived experience of disability are resilient and bring specialist knowledge and understanding to improve planning, community safety and participation for men, women and children of all abilities in their community.”
Wodonga participant Jacqui (Jazz) Telford said education was vital to improving the life experiences for people with a disability.
“People with a disability are first and foremost people,” she said.
“I’ve got cerebral palsy but the inference that it defines me is poles apart from the truth.
“We need far greater education in schools, preschools and kindergartens so that people grow up knowing there is diversity in the community.”
Ms Telford said fewer public transport links in country Victoria was a problem for people with a disability.
She praised Dysons for their excellent services, saying the issue was with connecting transport links.
“There is no bus service to the train station,” she said.
Now studying to be a writer, Ms Telford said the women’s leadership program had been life-changing.
Inspired by the original Star Wars series and Carrie Fisher’s motto “Stay afraid, but do it anyway”, Ms Telford planned to write fantasy novels that represented people with a disability.
“My (Enabling Women) mentor modelled how to be successful,” she said.
“The program has done wonders for me; I have a whole lot more confidence and it validated my choices.
“I obviously already had aspirations but I’ve been able to put them into context.”