Are disabled women identified as people with a disability to the exclusion of being acknowledged as women? As we celebrate International Women’s Day, we invite three women who use Livability’s services to share their experience of disability, femininity and getting their voice heard.
The 8th March is International Women’s Day – a global day celebrating the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women.
The campaign gives voice and expression to women, enabling them to tell their stories and be respected. The day also marks a call to action for accelerating gender parity.
This year’s theme is #PressforProgress, with a strong emphasis on calling friends, colleagues and whole communities to think, act and be gender inclusive.
How many of the stories we hear come from disabled women? Is any attention given to their experience of being a woman or is it overlooked with more attention being given to their disability?
The Guardian journalist Frances Ryan, has written that disabled women often face barriers in exploring and expressing their life as a woman, with more attention being given to their disability. But equality needs to be won on ‘on both issues of disability and gender.’
Livability spoke to some of the disabled women that use our services, to learn about their experiences; views on barriers facing women today and whether their story is being heard in society.
Our contributors include:
Michelle holds a diploma in drama and loves poetry. Michelle’s communication is assisted by using a microphone to amplify her voice.
Rosie is an enthusiastic young woman who loves sharing her stories. Rosie is an expert in lip reading and uses Widgit symbols to help her express herself and contribute to conversations.
Sharon is a bubbly and hospitable woman who is an excellent communicator.
The contributions were shared in a Livability ‘Share Your Story’ discussion – an initiative at the charity that explores the experience and opinions of the people that use our services. The workshops support a range of communication and accessibility needs. The excerpts are taken from a 2 hour long discussion, so do not appear in full.
Michelle: ‘It is really important to share our stories because it helps to explore who I am. I had always thought of myself as a daughter, sister and service user, but I hadn’t really spent a lot of time thinking about who I am or about being a woman. Before I came to Livability, that was a bit of a barrier for me, but now it’s like I have seen who I am and what I can do and that helps me with so many things.’
Michelle: Most people think I shouldn’t have a boyfriend, but I do have one, his name is Eddie. On Valentine’s Day, Eddie came to see me and we went up to my place. When we came down, Sharon and the staff had organised a surprise Valentine’s event for us and prepared a table with a red cloth, hearts and roses, and drinks. [The people I live with] made me feel ok to be with my boyfriend – they see me more as a woman than society does but I am a woman. Like everyone else, I have a partner.’
Sharon: ‘I’m not “just” a disabled person. I like to dress up and look nice so that I feel good about myself. I love clothes and colours. I don’t want people just to see my [wheel]chair but notice me more!’
Sharon: ‘At Livability we are all equal – but society doesn’t see me.’
Michelle: ‘No, they see the chair! We don’t seem to ever have the same opportunity as many women have or men, especially if you are in a wheelchair! It is getting better… but it’s still not yet ok yet to be a [disabled] woman.’
Rosie: ‘Not everybody respects us, we don’t get to choose things like other people do.’
Michelle, Rosie and Sharon together expressed that … ‘We want more opportunities to share in women’s activities, to think more about being a woman, to share in more stories about disabled women. Everything is possible if the barriers are removed and if attitudes don’t stop us. We really enjoy being women – see us as women and not wheelchairs!’
Sharon also said: “I know that women don’t get paid as much as men because it says in the news, but then we don’t even get interviews for jobs because we are disabled women, so we don’t get paid at all !”.
As we PressForProgress may the voices of disabled women be heard, in working together for a more inclusive and equal society.
The Guardian – A disabled woman’s struggle is any woman’s struggle