The early years
Some may say the history of Women with Disabilities Victoria started in 1992, others may say that it started decades or centuries before this – with disability and feminist activists demanding their rights and shining a spotlight on issues that others ignored.
Knowing that the issues these activists fought for had not yet been resolved, and that often gender and disability were not explored at the same time, in 1992 a diverse group of women with disabilities met together to do something.
This group became the Victorian Women with Disabilities Network (VWDN). They would meet on the first Saturday of every month, at the Disability Resource Centre in Burnley or the John Pierce Centre in Prahran, to discuss anything relevant to the needs of women with disabilities and to develop strategies to bring about change.
The Network was very member driven. It had an important focus as a social support group for empowering women with disabilities. They also got involved in writing letters and making policy, focusing on health related issues, parenting issues, and domestic violence. The group followed the mantra of ‘nothing about us without us’.
Strengthening the work of the Victorian Women with Disabilities Network
The Network matured. In 1994 we developed a constitution and became incorporated.
As the Network grew, it took on some projects, including a project, led by Margaret Cooper, to gather and publish member’s stories in Oyster Grit: Experiences of Women with Disabilities. In this book published by the VWDN in 2000.
By 2003 the Network saw an opportunity to apply for funding to establish a systemic advocacy service. We established a partnership with Women’s Health Victoria and who auspiced funding to develop a model of advocacy for a new systemic advocacy and information service. The organisation was now operating full-steam ahead.
Women with Disabilities Leadership Project. From 2004 – 2005, the VWDN received funding to conduct this research project. The experiences of five women with disabilities with leadership experience were documented. This work helped identify the leadership needs of women with disabilities, and analyse the impact of disability and gender on leadership.
2006: A Project Manager, Keran Howe, was employed to implement the advocacy service model and prepare VWDN as an independent organisation.
2007: The inaugural Board of Govenance was elected and the organisation became a Health Promoting Charity, granting tax concession status. Keran Howe was appointed the first Executive Officer.
2008: Building the Evidence. This research, the first of its kind, explored the status of family violence policy and practice in Victoria, in responding to violence against women with disabilities, and provided a credible base on which to advocate for change.
2009: VWDN assumed management of all funds as an independent organisation.
2009: Funding was received from Portland House Foundation to explore a leadership program for women with disabilities. In September, over 100 women attended a Leadership and Disability Roundtable.
In 2010, members of the Victorian Women with Disabilities Network decided to change the name of the organisation, and became Women with Disabilities Victoria (WDV). Members thought the new name better reflected what the organisation stood for, (and it was easier to pronounce).
2010: Young Women’s Health Forum. VWDN held a forum for information sharing by young women with disabilities to improve access to health care.
2013: WDV undertook a scoping study for a workforce development program on Gender and Disability. This program was subsequently funded and continues to provide workforce development to disability service providers in Victoria.
Voices Against Violence: a seven part research project, undertaken in partnership with the Office of the Public Advocate and Domestic Violence Resource Centre Victoria, identified the nature of violence against women with a disability in Victoria.
WDV provided submissions and presented to hearing on the Royal Commission into family violence and the Inquiry into Abuse in Disability Services. These submissions positively influenced the recommendations of the Royal Commission and the Inquiry with regard to addressing violence against women with a disability.
2014: Voices Against Violence: a seven part research project, undertaken in partnership with the Office of the Public Advocate and Domestic Violence Resource Centre Victoria, identified the nature of violence against women with a disability in Victoria.
2015: WDV provided submissions and presented to hearing on the Royal Commission into family violence and the Inquiry into Abuse in Disability Services. These submissions positively influenced the recommendations of the Royal Commission and the Inquiry with regard to addressing violence against women with a disability.
Claiming Our Future (2010)
A comprehensive report about Women with Disabilities Victoria’s history, humble beginnings and major success in policy, advocacy and empowerment of Victorian women with disabilities, from its inception in 1995 to 2010.