• Women with disabilities are more likely to be victims of domestic violence than their non-disabled peers (Getty Images)Source: Getty Images
Here's my wishlist for International Day for People with Disability.
Sue Salthouse

3 Dec 2018 - 10:00 AM  UPDATED 14 Dec 2018 - 11:05 AM


The 2018 theme for International Day of People with Disability is an important one - “Empowering persons with disabilities and ensuring inclusiveness and equality”. The first part of the theme really speaks to those of us who are people with disabilities. To take our place in the world we need to reaffirm our confidence in ourselves. In the past we have been relegated to the role of second-class citizens.

Empowerment is a component of self-esteem, and we need to hold a strong belief in ourselves in order to assume our place as full contributors to society. In addition, disability alliances benefit from us supporting each other to be strong, to be in control of our lives, and to claim our rights. Disability pride is at the heart of our empowerment. For this reason, we celebrate International Day of People with Disability.

The second part of the theme is more relevant for the non-disabled. Both government and civil society including the corporate world have a responsibility to put structures and actions in place that ensure inclusiveness and equality; and eliminate barriers to the building of a more inclusive society. For this, we welcome your celebrations with us.

Internationally the United Nations emphasises that the theme speaks to the 2030 Agenda for the Sustainability Development Goals to ‘leave no-one behind’ and that all countries need to ensure the full and equal participation of persons with disabilities. Australia’s obligations are no different from the international ones.

Women with disabilities are particularly affected because of the intersection of gender inequality and disability discrimination

But, celebrations aside, the fact is that neither part of this year’s International Day of People with Disability theme is yet a reality in Australia or in any part of the world. The very reason that the United Nations has gazetted an international day such as this, is to acknowledge that our human rights and fundamental freedoms are too often denied, and that there is a real need to focus attention on the situation for people with disabilities.

One of the consequences of inequality is the creation of a power imbalance between those with disabilities and the non-disabled and this leads to a range of discriminations we experience. Into this power vacuum flood behaviours which exploit people with disabilities in a myriad of ways. Women with disabilities are particularly affected because of the intersection of gender inequality and disability discrimination.

Unfortunately, the unconscious bias concerning people with disability is stronger than that measured for gender and ethnic diversity. In the workplace, women with disabilities find it harder to get jobs than their male counterparts or non-disabled women. Home ownership is low and assumptions about our abilities, coupled with the prejudice of landlords, make it harder to find a house to rent. These two factors combine to relegate women with disabilities to high levels of economic insecurity and poverty. The associated worry can lead to mental illness and depression. Women with disabilities are over-represented in the lowest income quintiles.

Women with disabilities are 40 per cent more likely to be victims of domestic violence than their non-disabled peers

There is a power differential between a woman with disabilities and those who provide assistance in activities of daily living. Lack of respect in this relationship can range from subtle put-downs and neglect to overt acts of violence. All people with disabilities experience higher rates of violence than the non-disabled or other marginalised groups in our communities. Women with disabilities are 40 per cent more likely to be victims of domestic violence than their non-disabled peers. Twenty per cent report a history of unwanted sex. People with disabilities experience twice the rate of non-consensual sharing of intimate images.

Yet – look around. Women with disabilities are everywhere, despite these negative impacts on our lives arising from having disabilities. You will find us in the workplace, in your neighbourhood, your sporting club and entertainment centres. We are members of all diversity groups, and in the full range of relationships and families. We care for children and ageing parents. Our presence in these places is our triumph, and the reasons for us to be recognised for our strengths and our contribution to society.

My wish on this International Day of People with Disability, is for all Australians to work together to further reduce all the barriers to full participation for all people with disabilities. This will be the reason to celebrate together.

Sue Salthouse is an Our Watch ambassador and disability advocate.

If you or someone you know is impacted by sexual assault, family or domestic violence, call 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732 or visit www.1800RESPECT.org.au. In an emergency, call 000.

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