Thursday, October 23, 2008

NYC Women's Community Meeting

Thanks to the hard work of Julie Maury, Nadina LaSpina and others, women with disabilities in New York City had a gathering to discuss women's disability rights and Deaf issues on October 21. Both veterans and newcomers kindly let me quiz them about issues in the community, while also offering LOTS of feedback.

We held the meeting in a community room at Nadina's complex (Nadina, even though you were unable to attend, we were thinking about you!). About 15 women overall attended, with several photographed below:

Women with disabilitied gather in community room in New York City

See more pictures of the New York leg of the trip at

Several of the women are active with Disabled in Action (DIA), which was one of the first direct action disability response groups anywhere, founded in 1970. Also, Jade, a Deaf filmmaker and woman of many talents, was present for part of the discussion.

So we kicked things off with the standard introductions stuff, and I explained my project and asked for the women present to provide a perspective on where they thought women's disability rights or Deaf advocacy might be. Initially, the first response was that while there wasn't any particular focus in NYC on women's disability rights, women do a lot of the advocacy here. In this group's perception in general, more women than men seem to get involved.

Women present also felt that the feminist movement did not want to be connected to disability issues. Some expressed that the feminist movement is more like "what's left of the feminist movement." They felt that even as more Baby Boomers become disabled, feminists feel disability rights activists are beating a dead horse. Really, the biggest progress for women with disabilities regarding feminism is some improved access to feminist group activities and programs, but there remains a lack of a deep understanding of disability (and Deaf) issues.

For issues: those present agreed health care is a mess. People told terrible stories of lack of access to accessible exam equipment, and problems with architectural access at hospitals. There is a huge problem regarding educating medical professionals at hospitals. Lower income women tend to get served more by interns, who tend to have the least experience dealing with people with disabilities.

There is one program in NYC that recently got a grant to improve access to mammograms for women with disabilities, and they are using a curriculum.

Others talked about employment. Some good programs to get women employed were set up in th 1970s, but were then cut because of the Reagan administration.

Younger women present brought up the issue of being concerned about teenagers with disabilities. Some veteran activists ssaid they felt that young people were not motivated enough to fight in the way that they had in the past. Someone mentioned that the issue is that younger women need more methods of empowerment.

Jade mentioned that right now, the Deaf community is much more focused on issues of technological access, not on issues of women's concern.

Folks discussed the role of transition programs and the need for better role modeling. Someone brought up the issue of SSI and the perception that SSI is a sign of dependence or laziness.

On parenting, one woman pointed out that in less developed countries, people with disabilities have more kids than in more developed countries. She felt this was because the more developed countries have a stronger bias against women with disabilities having children. This is also partly due to doctors' attitudes as well.

Lack of imagination was cited as a barrier for women getting what they need. In fact, lack of imagination, money and role models were cited as the top needs of women with disabilities, in one participant's opinion.

Finally, sexual abuse was touched upon as an issue of concern to those in the group.

At this point, I asked the group to go around and name the single most important issue they felt was important to women with disabilities/Deaf women. They said:

Health care
Economic empowerment
Not being taken seriously
Self respect and body image
Lack of opportunities (including opportunities to have a nice sexual experience!)
Issues about parents (overprotection etc)

The group also talked about political activism and having more women with disabilities run for office. In New York, there are organizations devoted to empowering women to run for office. The group thought it was especially important that women with disabilities who are veterans run for office (like Illinois' Tammy Duckworth).

At this point we ran out of time, but several of us stuck around for a while to chat, and a further issue raised was the terrible lack of housing affecting people with disabilities in the New York City area. Julie herself had to wait three years for a place to live, but the average is five. Julie collected names and numbers to have a follow up discussion hopefully soon to continue these talks and see if folks can ORGANIZE!


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