Recognition of the strides that have been made as well as the challenges that remain was the focus of a panel discussion held Friday regarding the role women with disabilities have played in the struggle for women’s rights.
Held by the disability rights organization Access Living in recognition of International Women’s Day, the event featured academics, caregivers and advocates who discussed the many issues facing women within the disability community, which according to UIC Professor Carol Gill have at times been overlooked by the rest of society.
“Women with disabilities actually have quite a long history of not being recognized as part of the population,” said UIC Associate Professor Gill. “We’re left out of programs for services, health initiatives, research, and policy, from domestic violence shelters to cardiovascular fitness programs to osteoporosis research to educational equity policy. We frequently don’t get counted, we’re not seen, and we’re invisible.”
According to Gill, often times women with disabilities encounter what she described as “genderlessness”, where society only sees their needs as related to their disability while failing to address the issues that concern them as women.
“For too long, women with disabilities have been discouraged from viewing ourselves as women or taking on women’s roles,” she explained. “We often get the message that we’re not capable of creating our own families or taking care of people.”
The disability rights community has made big strides toward changing such views, thanks in no small part to the increased role women with disabilities have taken on within the women’s rights movement, the professor added. “Women with disabilities have really been movers in getting disability recognized as a human rights issue,” Gill said.
Throughout the discussion, the panelists acknowledged some of the many advances that have been made in the struggle for equal rights. Most credited was the landmark protections established in 1990’s Americans with Disabilities Act, which University of Michigan Professor Petra Kuppers cited as a major reason why she moved to the U.S. from her native country of Germany.
Also heralded by the panel was the recent signing by President Barack Obama to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act, which includes provisions to provide grants for services and training to end violence against women with disabilities.
Despite such achievements, the panel pointed out progress still needs to be made at the global level.
“Women’s rights and disability rights are one,” said Access Living President Marca Bristo. “Women can’t go anywhere without the voice of women with disabilities and women with disabilities cannot go anywhere without the voice of women.”
Thus far, the U.S. has yet to ratify the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, a human rights treaty authorized by 124 countries designed to ensure people with disabilities have full legal rights. A motion for ratification failed to pass in the U.S. Senate last December.
Here is more from the event: