Choose to challenge: building a community to support women with disability

Screenshot of a virtual meeting with all 18 people in the meeting smiling with their hand raised. Australian Network on Disability logo in the top left corner of the image and #ChooseToChallenge in the bottom right corner.

“Women with disability belong. We belong in the room, at the table, in the conversations, in negotiations and where decisions are being made. We belong just as we are.” – Robbie Francis Watene, Her Abilities Award winner

Next Monday, 8 March, we celebrate International Women’s Day. This year’s theme is “choose to challenge.” While women with disability challenge misconceptions and unfounded stereotypes daily, organisations across the country can challenge the culture that leads to these misconceptions and stereotypes.

Businesses can remove the barriers that may impact the experience women with disability have in the workforce. Building an equitable community is one certain way to allow women with disability to thrive in the workforce.

Winners of the 2020 International Her Abilities Awards, presented at the Zero Project Conference, know the power of community. Robbie Francis Watene, Rights Awardee, Gamze Elibol, Arts, Culture and Sports Awardee and Bernice Oyeleke, Health and Education Awardee, have all gone on to create communities that provide opportunities for people with disability.

Choose to challenge: building an equitable community

“I can only do what I do because of those who have supported me, encouraged me, and believed in my work,” – Robbie Francis Watene

Community is instrumental in creating equitable and inclusive environments. Each of the Her Abilities winners cultivated communities that provided opportunities for people with disability in their own organisations. Through a global enterprise, an NGO and an Arts Centre, the winners provided an avenue for people with disability who may have faced barriers elsewhere.

For organisations across Australia, its a good reminder that a supportive and equitable community can be built within. Facilitating an environment where we can build up the confidence and skills of women with disability benefits all of us – including our staff and customers.

To start on this journey, it may require organisations to challenge their own internal culture, including recognising barriers that may prevent this from happening now, and examining areas that can be improved.

Choose to challenge: building up a momentum

For any challenge that requires cultural change, there is power in numbers. Gamze acknowledges this, knowing that collaboration between women with disability and women without disability is key in creating a better future.

“If we move together as all women, nobody could stop us. We are strong together.” – Gamze Elibol.

Establishing an Employee Resource Group or assigning a Disability Champion in your workforce may be the first step in building momentum. Establishing these groups also ensures that the voices of women with disability are heard.

It allows for a space where employees with disability are actively collaborating on developing projects, procedures and products, meaning services across the business are designed accessible from the beginning.

If we all took this approach to our business, we would achieve a future that is disability inclusive; where women with disability no longer need to challenge outdated misconceptions or stereotypes and no longer need to break down barriers to reach a level playing field.

For Bernice, this is the ideal future.

“I envision an inclusive society where people with disabilities have equal opportunity to achieve on an equal basis with other people without disabilities. A less restrictive environment that activates the potentials of people with disabilities. A society where all barriers are removed for a person with disability, so that whatever a person with disability wants to achieve [like school or working] he or she can without restriction,”—Bernice Oyeleke

Hear from the Her Abilities Awards Winners

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