Independent Living Institute

Disabled Women

Disability Awareness in Action
Resource Kit No. 6


Download the "Disabled Women Kit" as a PDF file (120 KB)

Strategies for Change


"Every day I discover something new. Through the organisation I not only learned my rights but also my obligations to other disabled people and to my country." Diariétou.

"Designers, architects, builders and engineers should keep in mind that disabled people also live in the city and that they have needs such as wheelchair ramps, designated parking spaces and special access. We are all part of society. " Paulina.

Organise media campaigns to make the public aware of the needs and abilities of disabled people. " Marie-Therese.

International Action
Use the following documents to work for disabled women’s rights. All articles in these documents are of relevance to disabled women in certain circumstances. We have given you any articles or clauses that specifically mention women or disability.

You can get copies of all United Nations documents from your national UN information office or from the relevant agencies.

Regional Action
To meet the challenge of including disabled women in society is beyond the capacity of any one organisation. It is crucial that the priorities of disabled women be addressed in partnership between development agencies, the regional bodies, national governments, women’s organisations and disability organisations.

National Action
All states have a responsibility to create the legal base for achieving the objectives of full participation and equality for disabled women and men, in accordance with Standard Rule No. 15.

Legislation should not discriminate against disabled people and should include aspects such as social security, environmental access, transport, medical and technical facilities. It should take into particular consideration the needs of disabled women as a legal right.

Organisational Action
Individual Action
Funding for Change
Organised activity cannot be effective if it is unsupported. The Standard Rules specifically encourage member states to fund disabled people’s organisations.
"Although there is a law on disabled people in my country, it is not put into practice. Nothing is done in our favour. . . I participated in a seminar on disabled people which took place in Strasbourg. I am a member of the Bucharest branch of the National Society of Disabled People in Romania. That journey was a great experience. I will never forget those days spent in Strasbourg. I made some friends." Carmelia.

"The Government’s way of solving the economic crisis is to put lots of people out of employment, starting with disabled people. I am one of them and there is no organisation or law to protect me. This is the case for all disabled people in Portugal . . . If I lose my job, I will receive only half my current salary - which means l won’t be able to afford my house and will have to move to an institution. I would rather die than let that happen. " Portuguese disabled woman.

"My friends don’t go to theatres, cinemas and shops if they aren’t accessible. They protect my rights but my government doesn’t. We must end the apartheid we are living with." Sharon.

"Inclusion will not happen unless all disabled people, including disabled women, have equality." Rita.

We need to have the facts and figures to support our demands for equal opportunities. These facts and figures must be accurate and based on our own experience.

Action for Change

There are thousands of successful projects which have made a profound difference to disabled women. We have focused on the activities or characteristics of a few of those known to us. Each of the solutions given here affect disabled women at a local level. They are appropriate, cost-effective and empowering.

Income Generation
Income generation is the solution to poverty for disabled women. Through projects that generate a livelihood for individuals, disabled women are able to contribute to the economy of the community. Income generation projects bring improvements to all aspects of disabled women’s lives. They increase skills, allow social interaction and independence, give a new role and status to disabled women within family and community. They require funding to start and expand but returns are considerable, not just in financial terms.

Community-Based Services
Community based services are based on the idea of community development: when individuals are empowered to take action to improve their own lives, they become contributors rather than a drain on resources and the entire community benefits.

For example, a road that is improved to help villagers who use a wheelchair or scooter for mobility also helps people who ride bicycles, delivery people who use animals to carry heavy loads, and elderly people who have difficulty seeing and walking. An improved system of early detection of impairments ensure that children who might, through neglect, be more severely impaired are identified and treated as early as possible and to the fullest extent possible, thereby utilising fewer of the scarce community resources. The visibility of these children helps them to become "salespersons" of health services to parents who might not otherwise seek help.

Appropriate Technology
The basic idea of community-based services and independent living applies to appropriate technology: disabled people are involved at all levels in policy-making and service provision. Through technology programmes, they not only get appropriate appliances for their individual use but also employment - not "sheltered", poorly-paid employment but dignified, useful work in a supportive environment.

Naturally, all technology should be appropriate to individual use and to the environmental context. It should take into consideration the socio-economic, cultural and technical aspects of the whole community. There are now a huge range of organisations producing technological support for disabled people. This work is enormously important in liberating disabled women and in providing models for work worldwide.

Empowerment involves disabled women understanding their right to be citizens and being given the tools for equality and participation. It is achieved principally through disabled women coming together to share their experiences, to gain strength from one another and to provide positive role models. It means breaking away from an identity of grateful passivity and finding the will and the power to change one’s own circumstances. This is not an easy or comfortable process for disabled women or for the wider community. However, it is an essential component in the struggle for full participation and equality of opportunity.

Independent Living
Independent or self-determined living is the direct result of the self-advocacy of disabled people and is usually operated through local, non-residential centres of enablement. It is fundamentally important to stress that these centres are under the direct control of disabled people themselves, to provide the necessary support and services they require to lead fully independent lives, and to become fully participating members of an integrated community.

The role of centres of independent living is not to repeat existing services where these are satisfactory. Research, linked with practical experience, has shown that there needs to be a major re-direction of resources in terms of planning, design and service delivery for, and by, disabled people. Independent living can also become a focus for developing services with existing agencies. Empowering disabled people in this way leads to more efficient expenditure of resources and, at the same time, increases disabled people’s skills and enables them to lead an improved quality of life.

Education and Information
Accessible and relevant information on every subject is vital to disabled women. Similarly, accurate information about disability issues is vital to the community as a whole. The majority of disabled women do not receive an adequate education, due to access difficulties and prejudice, and this contributes considerably to their marginalisation and exclusion. These barriers can be overcome. Investment in disabled women’s education benefits the whole society.

The power of the media to shape attitudes and beliefs is difficult to judge. What we do know is that television, radio and newspapers are powerful ways to convey ideas and to break down prejudices between people living a continent apart - and those living on the same street.

The development and expansion of information technology, much of it financially inaccessible to disabled people at present, could nevertheless liberate millions. Communications systems allow a few of the most severely disabled people to interact with those around them and in some cases to work. Talking computers allow people with visual impairments to gain employment.

The Standard Rules set down measures for member states to work towards the integration of disabled people. Integration cannot operate by adapting disabled people to existing structures, the basis of so much of what is called "rehabilitation". Integration occurs when societies begin to celebrate, not isolate, differences between people. It is based on mutual support and understanding and a sharing of resources and facilities among the many not the few.

Disabled women must be considered in all mainstream policy decisions and programmes. They form a significant part of every other group in society - such as refugees, children, racial minority groups. At present, disabled women are totally ignored, sometimes even in special disability policies, where these exist at all. Until disabled women are seen as an integral part of their communities and societies, with adequate provision for their needs within a community setting, the vast majority of the world’s disabled women will remain isolated and destitute.

Most projects show some, if not all, of the elements described above.


AHRTAG, AIDS Action, published in English, French, Portuguese and Spanish. From AHRTAG, Farringdon Point, 29-35 Farringdon Road, London EC IM 3JB, United Kingdom. Fax: +44 171 242 0041. E-mail:

AHRTAG, CBR News. From AHRTAG, Farringdon Point, 29-35 Farringdon Road, London EC I M 3JB, United Kingdom. Fax: +44 171 242 0041. E-mail:

AHRTAG,Women and HIVMIDS: an international resource book, 1993. From IT Publications Ltd.,103-105 Southampton Row, London WC I B 4HH, United Kingdom.Tel: +44 171 436 9761. Fax: +44 171 436 2013. E-mail:

AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL, It’s About Time! Human Rights are Women’s Rights, 1995. 152 pages. ISBN 0-939994-98-4. US$8.95. English only.

BOYLAN, Esther, Women and Disability, Zed Books, London, 1991. English only.

CENTER FOR REPRODUCTIVE LAW AND POLICY,Women of the World: Formal Laws and Policies Affecting their Reproductive Lives, 1995. 40 pages. US$5. English only.

CENTRE FOR THE REHABILITATION OF THE PARALYSED, BANGLADESH, ’Low Trolley, High Spirits’, a video about disabled women in Bangladesh. From Wendy Best, CRP Development Officer, ’Monksmead’, 27 East Street, llminster, Somerset, TA 19 OAN, United Kingdom.Tel: +44 1460 53247. Fax: +44 1460 52436. UK£5 for hire.

COLERIDGE, Peter, Disability, Liberation and Development, Oxfam Publications, Oxford, United Kingdom, 1993. English only.

DEGENER,Theresia, and KOSTER-DREESE,Yolan, Human Rights and Disabled Persons, Martinus Nijhoff, Dordrecht, Netherlands, 1995.

DESPUOY, Leandro, Human Rights and Disability, 1994. Unired Nations. Available in all the United Nations languages.

DISABLED PEOPLES’ INTERNATIONAL, DPI Women’s Kit. English only. From DPI Headquarters, 101-7 Evergreen Place,Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada R3L 2T3.

DORKENOO, Efua, Cutting the Rose: Female Genital Mutilation, The Practice and its Prevention, 1994. Minority Rights Group, 379 Brixton Road, London SW9 7DE, United Kingdom. ISBN I 873194 60 9. UK price £ 15.95. English only.

ESCAP (Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific),Asian and Pacipc Decade of Disabled Persons, 1993-2002:The Starting Point, United Nations, NewYork, USA, 1993.

FLETCHER,Agnes and HURST, Rachel, Overcoming Obstacles to the Integration of Disabled People, a UNESCO sponsored report, 1995.Disability Awareness in Action, l l Belgrave Road,London SWIV I RB, United Kingdom. lSBN I 898037 15 9. English only.

MEDLEY, Rodney and DORKENOO, Efua, Child Protection and Female Genital Mutilation, 1992. FORWARD Ltd., 38 King Street, London WC2E 8JT, United Kingdom. ISBN 0 9519246 0 5. £3.85. English only.

HESSISCHES KOORDINATIONSBURO FUR BEHINDERTE FRAUEN, Literatur von, für, über Frauen mit Behinderung: Eine Bibliographie, a list of relevant German publications. From: Hessisches Koordinationsbüro für behinderte Frauen, JordanstraBe 5, D-34117 Kassel, Germany.Tel: +49 5 61 72 88 522. Fax: +49 5 61 72 88 529. German only.

HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH, The Human Rights Watch Global Report on Women’s Rights, 1995. 458 pages. ISBN 0-300-06546-9. US$ 15. English only.

L’INSTITUT ROEHER INSTITUTE,Violence and People with Disabilities:A Review of the Literature, 1994. National Clearinghouse on Family Violence, Family Violence Prevention Division, Health Programs and Services, Health Canada, Ottawa, Ontario, K I A I B4, Canada. ISBN 0 662 22712-3. English and French.

INTERNATIONAL WOMEN’S TRIBUNE CENTRE, Rights of Women: An Action Guide to the UN Conventions of Special Relevance to Women,1996.120 pages. US$ 15.95. English only.

MORRIS, Jenny, Pride Against Prejudice, l991.The Women’s Press, London, United Kingdom. English only.

MORRIS,Jenny, Encounters with Strangers: Feminism and Disability, 1996.The Women’s Press, 34 Great Sutton Street, London EC I V ODX, United Kingdom. ISBN 0 7043 4400 9. UK price £8.99. English only.

RAINBO, Female Genital Mutilation (2nd Edition),1995.48 pages. UK£9.95. English and French.

SAXTON, Marsha and HOWE, Florence, editors,With Wings: An Anthology of Literature by and about Women with Disabilities, 1987. The Feminist Press, New York, USA. English only.

SECRETARIAT OF THE EUROPEAN DAY OF DISABLED PERSONS, Towards equalisation of opportunities for disabled people: into the mainstream?, l996. From Secretariat of the European Day of Disabled Persons, address above. English and French.

UNIFEM/UNICEF, Advocacy Kit on the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, 1995. 45 pages. US$5.95. English, French, Spanish.

UN PUBLICATIONS, The World’s Women:Trends and Statistics, 1995.188 pages. ISBN 92-1-161372-8. US$15.95. English, French, Spanish.

UN PUBLICATIONS,WISTAT: Women’s Indicators and Statistics Database, 1995.Version 3, CD- ROM. ISBN 92-1-161375-2. US$149. English only.

WESTCOTT, Helen L., Abuse of Children and Adults with Disabilities, 1993. National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, 67 Saffron Hill, London EC I N 8RS, United Kingdom. UK price £6.99. ISBN 0 902498 40 1. English only.

WORLD PRIORITIES,Women:A World Survey,1995.48 pages. ISBN 0-918281-10-5. US$7.50. English only.

ZEMP, Aiha and PIRCHER, Erika, Weil das alles weh tut mit Gewalt - Sexuelle Ausbeutung von Mädchen und Frauen mit Behinderung. From Medieninhaberin: Bundesministerium fur Frauenangelegenheiten, Balihausplatz I, 1014 Vienna, Austria. German only.


Disabled Peoples’ International Women’s Committee, Justine Kiwanuka, 101 - 107 Evergreen Place,Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada R3L 2T3.Tel: + 1 204 287 8010. Fax: + 1 204 453 1367. E-mail: Or Anneli Joneken, Kistavagen 7, S-192 67 Sollentuna, Sweden. Tel: +46 8 7546420. Fax: +46 8 6268567, e-mail: or PO Box 22114, S-104 22 Stockholm, Sweden.Tel: +46 8 652 0720. Fax: +46 8 651 8905.

Division for the Advancement of Women, Centre for Social Development and Humanitarian Affairs, United Nations Office at Vienna,Vienna International Centre, PO Box 500,A-1400Vienna, Austria.Tel:+43 1 21131 4248.Fax:+43 1 232 156.

DISWEB, the European Network of Women with Disabilities, Elisa Pelkonen, Chair, Mariankaro 24 E 40, FIN-001 70, Helsinki, Finland. Tel: +358 9 1357925. Fax: +358 9 68501199, or Dolores Schembri, Secretary, 4 Busewdien RD,Wardija St., Paul’s Bay, Malta.

IMPACT, the international initiative against avoidable disablement. C/o WHO, 20 Appia Avenue, CH- 1211, Geneva 27, Switzerland. Tel: +41 22 791 3732/3. Fax: +41 22 791 0746.

Inclusion International, Galeries de la Toison d’Or, 29 Chaussée d’lxelles, #393/32, B-1050 Brussels, Belgium.Tel: +32 2 502 77 34. Fax: +32 2 502 28 46.

INSTRAW, International Research and Training Institute for the Advancement of Women, PO Box 21747, Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic.

Mobility International USA, PO Box 10767, Eugene, Oregon 97440, USA.Tel: + 1 503 343 1284. Fax: + 1 503 343 6812. E-mail:

NOSEVI, the Network of Disabled Feminists Against Sexual Violence, Dinah Radtke, Zentrum für Selbstbestimmtes Leben Behinderter e.V. Erlangen, Marquardsenstr.21, 91052 Erlangen, Germany. Tel: + 49 91 31 205022.

UNIFEM, United Nations Development Fund for Women, 304 East 45th Street, 6th Floor, New York, NY 10017, USA.

United Nations Children’s Fund, 3 UN Plaza, NewYork, NY 10017, USA.

UN Working Group on Traditional Practices, UN Human Rights Center, Palais des Nations, CH- 1202, Geneva, Switzerland.Working group on female genital mutilation at international level.

Women’s Committee, Asian Blind Union, Mrs Anurdha Mohit,The National Association for the Blind, Sector 5, R.K. Puram, New Delhi - 110 022, India.

World Blind Union, c/o CBC ONCE, La Coruna 18,28020 Madrid, Spain.Tel: +34 1 571 36 85. Fax: +34 1 571 57 77. Women’s issues: Kristina "Kick" Nordstrom, Swedish Association of the Visually Impaired, 12288 Enskede, Sweden.Tel: +46 8 39 90 00. Fax: +46 8 39 91 77.

World Federation of the Deaf, 13D, Chemin du Levant, F-01210, Ferney-Voltaire, France. Fax: +33 4 50 40 01 07.Women’s issues:Anne MarieWikstrom, Granvagen 9, S-793 33 Leksand, Sweden. Textphone: +46 247 12186 or +46 247 64112. Fax: +46 247 14165.

World Federation of Psychiatric Users, PO Box 46018, Herne Bay,Auckland, New Zealand. Tel: +64 9 378 7477. Fax: +64 9 360 2180.

We came here because we are women.
We came here to expose our abilities.
We came here to share our experiences.
We came here to strengthen networking among women with disabilities and other women.
We came here to make ourselves visible.

Now we are leaving with our expectations partly met:
We have made some impact.
We have made people aware of us.
We have socialised and gained contacts all over the world.

But we are aware that there is a lot more work to be done
before we achieve our basic goal
of equality with women in general in our respective countries.

Watch out!
Women with disabilities are on the move!

from Women Walk on Water, published by the delegates of the Swedish Handicapped InternationalAid Foundation (SHIA) to the 4th World Congress on Women, Beijing, China, September 1995.

"Half a billion voices raised in unison
for emancipation will not be denied"
Justin Dart

Disabled Peoples’ International
Inclusion International
World Federation of the Deaf

Chair: Joshua Malinga
Vice Chair: Murray Holmes
Treasurer: John Chillag
Jane Campbell
Mary Holland
Sir John Wilson

Rachel Hurst

11 Belgrave Road
United Kingdom
Tel: +44 171 834 0477 (voice)
Tel: +44 171 821 9812 (text)
Fax: +44 171 821 9539

All DAA material is available
in English, French and Spanish,
in large print, on audio-cassette,
in ASCII on computer disk and in English braille

Contents Disabled Women