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This episode of Grow Bold with Disability is ‘Growing Bold and Overcoming Discrimination’ and our guest is Sue Salthouse.

Sue has been working in the area of social justice and human rights for over 20 years. Sue was named 2020 ACT Senior Australian of the Year. At the age of 45 a horse-riding accident saw Sue’s life change dramatically and she quickly discovered the inequality facing people with disabilities in Australia. This is her story.

We were saddened to hear of the passing of Sue Salthouse on 20 July 2020. She was a wonderful woman who did so much for the disability community. We send our sincerest condolences to Sue’s family and friends.

Podcast Duration: 21 minutes

Podcast Release Date: May 6, 2020

Produced by: Black Me Out Productions

Additional reading

Sue Salthouse Biography

Ms Sue Salthouse has worked in the area of social justice and human rights since 1996. She is particularly concerned about how the intersecting issues of gender and disability discrimination affect women with disability. Sue is Chair of Women with Disabilities ACT, a systemic advocacy organisation which bases activities on principles delineated in the Human Rights conventions ratified by Australia.

Ms Salthouse is a Director of Women in Adult and Vocational Education (WAVE) and Rights & Inclusion Australia and a past-chair of Advance Personnel (Disability Employment Service). In 2015-16 she was the ACT representative on the COAG Advisory Panel on reducing violence against women and their children. She is a member of the governing Council of the University of Canberra and immediate past Chair of the ACT Disability Reference Group.

Ms Salthouse was announced as the ACT Senior Woman of the Year 2014, a finalist in Australian of the year in 2015, and was the 2015-16 ACT Citizen of the Year.

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Growing Bold and Gender & Disability Discrimination

Pete: Welcome to the Grow Bold with Disability podcast, brought to you by Feros Care. A podcast dedicated to smashing stereotypes and talking about the things people with disability care about most, to help us live bolder, healthier, better connected lives. I’m journalist, Pete Timbs.

Tristram: And I’m Tristram Peters. I work for Disability Service Directory, Clickability and am a wheelchair user living with spinal muscular atrophy.

Pete: Today’s episode of Grow Bold with Disability is growing bold and overcoming discrimination. Our guest is Sue Salthouse, a paraplegic who has been working in the area of social justice and human rights for over 20 years and was named the 2020 ACT Senior Australian of the Year.

In this episode we’ll hear how a horse-riding accident at the age of 45 saw Sue’s life change dramatically, and how she quickly discovered the inequality facing people with disabilities here in Australia. Sue Salthouse, welcome to Grow Bold with Disability.

Sue: Thank you very much, it’s really good to be here.

Tristram: Sue, as Pete mentioned, 25 years ago you had an accident that changed your life. Can you describe what happened?

Sue: Well, I don’t really dwell on it that much, but it was a simple horse-riding accident on a trail ride. What it says to me is that acquiring a disability is just a split second away, and certainly that was my experience, that one moment you’re a non-disabled person, and then the next moment you are.

There are a lot of us in the disability sector who have arrived by accident, but of course there’s an even greater number of people in the disability sector who were born with their disabilities, and so we make up the patchwork of the whole of the disability community.

Tristram: Sue, the accident left you in a wheelchair and you started viewing life completely different, from a different perspective, basically. What did you discover, looking at it from a person using a wheelchair’s perspective?

Sue: Well I discovered, first of all, that when I greet people I’m at the height of their navels, and this certainly gives you a different perspective on life. From being a tall person to suddenly being quite short.

Yes, certainly, when you acquire a disability there are very many physical adjustments to be made and, inevitably, there are mental and emotional adjustments to be made. But with the right support it is possible to then reshape your life in a new environment and that’s, I guess, what I’ve done.

Tristram: In many ways, I suppose it’s a strange way to put it, but you were lucky in a way in the fact that at the time of your accident you had a teaching career, an independent means of living. But you found that that’s not the case for everyone with a disability?

Sue: I think that’s what you do find, very much so, is that disadvantage and otherness makes it very difficult for people to compete on the same economic footing. It’s very important for all of us, for our mental wellbeing, to be able to have sufficient funds to pay for our activities of daily living and to give us a reasonable quality of life.

I certainly was fortunate in that I was economically stable, I guess, when I had my accident. I did find very soon that many people in the sector do not have economic security, and that this plays a great part in affecting their mental health. Yes, so that’s something you do realise in the disability sector, how disadvantaged many, many of us are.

Tristram: What do you put that down to, Sue?

Sue: I put it down to that it’s really hard to get a job. For many of us, even though we’re super qualified, the employers haven’t yet understood how to make reasonable adjustments and how to encompass a diversity in their workforces. We still find it very difficult for people with disabilities to get into the workforce. Then of course there are other constraints, is sometimes because of our disabilities we can’t work the hours or at the pace that non-disabled people do.

But I think that it’s really important, when we can’t get the jobs, that there is some sort of welfare supplement that enables us still to be able to live reasonable lives. And I really don’t like the term of a welfare supplement, because we in the disability sector would like to be in the workforce, would like to be taxpaying contributors to Australian society. And so the Disability Support Pension or other payments are really just to try and even the playing field, so that we can live lives which are valuable, and valued.

Tristram: Absolutely. In terms of the barriers that you face, obviously, as you said, the employers not understanding that we might need to work different hours and what not, what sort of access barriers do people encounter?

Sue: Certainly for someone in a wheelchair I think everybody understands that wheelchairs don’t easily do steps. And, in fact, unless we’re super fit we can’t pull ourselves up through doorways. So, yes, for people in wheelchairs and with mobility impairment we do need an environment which is barrier free with no steps and decent ramps etc. But for every sort of disability, for every way in which our impairment manifests itself, we do need adjustments that enable us to participate equitably.

We certainly need things in screen reader format that someone who is blind can use. We need things in easy English for someone with cognitive impairment. We need to have far more teaching of Auslan in schools and far more ability of the general population to say a few words in Auslan, and we certainly need Auslan interpreters in schools and in universities and in workplaces. So there are all those things where we can minimise the barriers to participation.

Honestly, these days with assistive technologies that is becoming easier and easier, and it should be that employers, in particular, can address those adjustments that need to be made. Then we find in workplaces where there is a diversity in the workplace, in the workforce itself that we get much better outcomes. So diversity in workforces is really something that would be beneficial to aim for.

Tristram: Sue, do you find that disabled women are discriminated against more than the men?

Sue: In Australian society I think we need to recognise that we are a gender imbalanced society. And so when there’s gender inequities that means that women find it more difficult to get into the workforce, to get equal pay, those sorts of things. Then when you add into it the barriers to someone with disability you get an escalating of that discrimination, if you like, that means that it’s much harder for women with disabilities to get into the workforce, than it is for men with disabilities.

That immediately means that there is an income disparity and that economically we’re usually not as well off as men with disabilities. But I think that’s a reflection of the general Australian situation in employment. We find with women with disabilities that we are also carers and was quite a surprise to me to find that 37% of all primary carers are people with disabilities. So they’re the people who are doing the main amount of caring for, say, the older generation or children, children both with and without disabilities or perhaps a partner with disabilities.

Many people with disabilities are also coping with their own disability and also being the primary carer for somebody else who needs support in some way. I think it’s really important for us to realise that people with disabilities make up the whole complexity of our society, and that we are contributors in keeping families together as well.

Tristram: For sure. On that, you hold a number of positions on boards including the Chair of Women with Disability ACT, advocating for change and what not. How do you hope to achieve these changes? How do you hope to change the way in which society relates to disability in women and so on?

Sue: I think that it’s very important for all people with disabilities to be both part of the legislature, to have input to policy and programmes that come out of government. Because we really need disability impact statements to be part of policy analysis. Then, from my point of view, I want a gender impact statement about policy, so that we can see that there’s no unintended consequences of policies that are made.

For women with disabilities, we hope to always be that seat at the table that reminds organisations and government that we need to scrutinise our policies and programmes and activities, to make sure that we’re not excluding anybody disproportionately. That’s really the role of Women with Disabilities.

As an organisation Women with Disabilities ACT, and we’re part of a national and international movement that has recognised that women with disabilities are disproportionately worse off than their male counterparts, and disproportionately worse off than non disabled women. That’s not something that we’ve made up in Australia. It’s something that the United Nations recognised.

When you look at the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, we can see that there’s a specific article that deals with the discrimination felt by women with disabilities. When the United Nations and all the people from all corners of the earth that wrote that convention, when they recognise that women are disproportionately locked out of many of the services that the world offers, then you can see that there is still a need for proactive organisations that look for a little bit of positive discrimination that will make it more of a level playing field.

Tristram: You’re talking about the UN Convention on Rights for Persons with Disabilities. That goes back to 2008. What actually brought that about in 2008? Why did it happen in 1998 or 1988? Why did it take so long? And then also, just on that, what changes did we see since 2008?

Sue: I guess there has been a focus on human rights and we’ve had this United Nations body since the second world war. We gradually have had a focus on what the actual basic rights of people have been, and that there has been rights that focus on racial discrimination and then again about discrimination against women. And it’s just taken some time for international focus to look at the discrimination experienced by people with disabilities. That’s a reflection of how marginalised the disability population has been.

But really the rights movement ran in parallel with the race rights movement, so people with disabilities have been campaigning for equitable treatment since the late 60s and 70s, and it just took that long. Or, in fact, if we look at it, the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities was being written for about a decade. Australians had a very important part in the writing of that Convention.

Once you have a human rights convention that is signed by a nation, they’re called then a states party, Australia ratified that Convention. And we only did that after looking at our laws and making sure that there were no laws in Australia that contravened the Convention. In fact, Australia did that and we ratified the Convention in 2008, and we actually asked for two exemptions in the Convention. I won’t go into those now, but it meant that there were some parts of the Convention that we were not going to follow, so we have those exceptions to how we implement the Convention.

I guess that one of the things that comes out of the Convention is the National Disability Insurance Scheme, because that is a way that we are trying to level the playing field for people with disabilities. But in fact, more importantly, is that from the Convention we developed a National Disability Strategy, which is the overarching strategy which tries to eliminate discrimination and minimise the barriers across Australia.

The NDIS is only a small subset of that National Disability Strategy. What we found was that the National Disability Strategy, although it has had very high level aims to minimise barriers and looking at those interfaces between health and education and employment and minimising barriers everywhere, unless these things are funded appropriately we won’t actually make progress. That’s been one of the big shortfalls of the National Disability that’s currently in operation.

At the moment we know that the Attorney General’s Department is formulating the next National Disability Strategy. And in consultations they have specifically talked to particular disability groups and they’ve specifically talked to women with disabilities. Because we need the National Disability Strategy to take gender into account so that when we get or work towards more equality, that we’re making sure that we’re not disproportionately locking women with disabilities out.

Tristram: In terms of that next National Disability Strategy, practically what can be done to ensure that we don’t lock those people out? What policies can we put in place to ensure that everyone is included in Australia, going forward?

Sue: I am not privy to what the actual content of the draft is at the moment. But I think, as in everything, that we need to make sure that there is adequate funding that will enable employers or education services to actually put in place the supports that are needed for people with disabilities, to participate equitably.

Tristram: Now Sue, we like to wrap up each episode with one question, and that is what does living a bold life mean to you?

Sue: A bold life to me means to be getting out in the community and participating to the greatest degree that I am able. And that I can have a friendship circle that includes both people with disabilities and the non-disabled, and that I have sufficient funds to be able to buy the assistive technology that I need to be able to get around on a daily basis.

Tristram: Sue, thanks so much for joining us today on Grow Bold with Disability podcast, brought to you by Feros Care. Listeners can find out more about Sue’s amazing work in the links provided in today’s episode show note. Sue, thanks very much for joining us.

Pete: Thank you, Sue.

Sue: Thank you very much for having me, it’s been great, thank you.

Pete: Thank you for listening and if you have enjoyed today’s episode, then make sure you subscribe to the podcast, Grow Bold with Disability. And if you like what you heard, then please take a few moments to pop over to iTunes and give our podcast a quick rating, so we can continue these conversations and encourage people to grow bold.

This podcast is brought to you by Feros Care, an NDIS partner delivering local area coordination services in Queensland, South Australia and the Australian Capital Territory. Feros Care is a people care organisation committed to helping people live bolder lives. We call it Growing Bold and for over 25 years Feros has been making it real for both older Australians and those living with disability. To find out more, head to Feroscare.com.au.

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The content and views discussed in this podcast series are those of the individuals involved. They are not necessarily condoned by, or, are the views of Feros Care or its employees.

Our Guest


Chair of Women with Disabilities ACT, 2020 ACT Senior Australian of the Year

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