Almost a quarter of the women who attended were able to pay registration fees
which helped to support the participation of women who could not afford to pay.
This was an important part of the sharing and peer support that was designed to
be part of the event. The event allowed women to connect with others, develop
skills, gain confidence and to leave knowing that there are other women with
shared interests who can be contacted for support. With the generous technical
and personal support of the World Institute on Disability we were also able to
have computers connected to the internet to share the conference results with
list serve members and hold a chat room on the world wide web. It also
gave participants the opportunity to see and try some of the new technology
available for people with disabilities.
On the day of the event women were handed a 150-page resource guide including the topics of Peer Support and Mentoring, Mothering and Sexuality, Employment and Grant Seeking, Technology and Networking, and Leadership. The materials were also available in large print, on audiotape and on computer diskette. At the same time as the event, the entire resource guide was made public and accessible to everyone on the world wide web site hosted by the Disability History Project. (See URL on the footer of facing pages)
While there were problems with air quality and getting from one room to another in such a short time without breaks between sessions, the overall planning of the conference aimed to be a model of accessibility and inclusion. Outreach was conducted to include women with developmental disabilities, women of color, student women and women who were "new" to the disability movement. Critical to the success of this outreach and the event was the networking done by more experienced members of the disability rights movement.
The experienced women and "new" women were able to meet each other, discuss both successes and struggles, and come up with concrete steps for action to address their personal and professional goals. Changing Borders helped women to collectively and personally set their objectives beyond the artificial lines.
Tanis Doe, Ph.D., Corbett O’Toole and Laura Hershey
"each woman has the responsibility to help make sure that no girl or women ever feels that her life does not matter. That no one should consider suicide because they feel so worthless".
"In this particular society it's not cool to be a person with a disability, it's not cool to be female, and it's definitely not cool to be Black, and to have all three of them? You're pretty much in a tough position. And then being born and raised in the south. It was a very tough time growing up, pretty much no matter where I went they didn't know what to do with me."
"You're with your "own kind" with being African-American, and you still wonder why there are no people with disabilities around. Or your own family members may say that you have a mark of the devil by having a disability, so you don't fit in there. Then you have school where they cannot stand differences, and they try to beat you up all the time. Some of them succeeded, with me, and some of them didn't because I learned very early you need to fight. Which is awful, but, hey, you gotta do whatever you gotta do to survive."
And then you have a whole new area when you're a woman, or a girl, and you ask yourself "what can I offer this world?"
"And so all of these competing images and messages,
people beating you up, and people spitting on you, people talking about you...
There were a couple of times where I wanted to say, just check out.
I'm ready to go. I don't want to be here. Might as well
go ahead and end it all, what's the use.
A couple of times I thought about suicide, particularly after being molested by a cousin of mine, and I said, "why should I be here. There's nothing here in this world for me, and I have obviously nothing to offer this world.'"
"I didn't have any mentors, and nobody reached out
to me. I didn't know that there was such a thing as a black person
with a disability that actually "made it" in this country. The
only thing I had was an escape mechanism, and that was to read, to do well at
school, because that's all I had. I didn't have that
many friends, I didn't have much of anything. The only thing
that I could control was my studies. And I didn't know where it was
going to take me at the time, I just knew it was an escape. I ended up
getting accepted to Yale, and that was the beginning of the success story that
you hear. The success story is really centered around mentoring.
Because they fell in my lap, these mentors, and they also crossed the borders
that you're talking about.
I had one mentor who was African-American. She wasn't a person with a disability. She said, "you have something to offer." So she was my cheerleader, she actually got me going, she talked with me, she kept pumping me up and saying that "you do have something to offer, stick with it. they won't like it, but they don't like anybody that has differences. So stay there."
All of a sudden in one summer, 22 years it took, but it finally
happened, I had four mentors. They were different. Two of them were
not disabled, two were. Two were African American, two
weren't. And they were just all mixed together, and they were all
offering me this perspective that I never had. Which was from all those
four different types of people, they all were telling me the same message, which
was, that we
"want you to live, that you have something to offer. So hang in there, and I will be there with you."
And they were there with me.
Every time I would go back to school, I would get this phone call, "hey, do you want to be on the ADA Training and Implementation Network." "Hey, do you want to come to D.C. and participate in this conference?" "Hey, do you want to speak at this conference?" And "hey, why don't you go ahead and do this?" And comments like, "why don't you get your degree in this area? Hey, why don't you write this article?" And it was like, "Oh. so this is what I had to do!" And it was like, they were pushing me along this road, and I said to myself, okay, I'm going to go. I don't know where I'm going, but I'll go. One day I woke up and it was like, wow, this is what it's like to be on the other side. And the other side was a person with influences, but it was a person who knew who she was. It bothers me that women have to fight so hard to know who they are and feel good about themselves.
"I don't want any other girl to think about killing herself just because no one is being vocal about her issues."
It is so important during adolescence, it is so important during young adulthood that someone says that you matter.
Please help women who don't have the skills. They need us. The first step in knowing is to know that you don't know; and then, help them to hook up with somebody who can help them. Meaning, if you're looking for a way to start your own project or if you need help in grants or whatever, send them my way. Or send them somebody else's way who has been successful in this. It's not very often that we are able to be in a room with people who are so similar to ourselves. I love being around people where I don't have to prove anything. I can just be at home, and it's so wonderful. And of course, if I said anything stupid like, "what's the use, I'm going to kill myself," or whatever, I think I'd have the whole room here descending on me and saying, "no, no, don't you do that." and that's what I want other girls to be able to say, "It doesn't' matter that I'm here", and then we all say with a loud, unifying voice, "yes it does matter, and we're going to help you, and this is the way we can help you." And we just don't know what the next generation is going to bring us.
But I am just challenging you right now: network, mentor, network, mentor.
Cheryl works at the Meadows Foundation in Texas and is pursuing
her PhD in psychology while working on community issues around minorities and
people with disabilities. Email: cgreen@MFI.org
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"Remember, our heritage
is our power. We can know ourselves and our capacities by seeing that other
women have been strong."
They say children live what they learn, and that you get out what you put in. I think it is true so we need to learn more, give more and get more. I know I have learned from meeting, watching or reading about women and I hope you will too.We can learn from family members. My grandfather taught me a lot.
"Perhaps most importantly he taught me I was not alone. That I did not have to cope all by myself."
I have a 16 year old daughter, but when she was 12 years old.
"she explained to me that "it didn't matter what the truth was, it matters what other people think'. To young people, perception is reality."
Working with youth with disabilities for last two years I have learned that disability is still "not cool" and a lot of energy goes into passing. It must stop being shameful to be different. We need to be empowered and proud of who we are, in all our diversity and in all our identities. When we think about giving up, when we are afraid of consequences or of what ifs, and maybes. It is those times we need to look to other women, and to our inner strength.
"When I dare to be powerful- to use my strength in the service of my vision, then it becomes less and less important whether I am afraid." Audre Lorde
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The open forum "multi-issue" networking session included women who didn't fit into the boxes of the other categories. It was really important to them to just talk to other women, and network. Some women felt that they needed to do work in the larger women's community as well as in the disability community so that disabled women's issues were more visible. Not only are disability issues often ignored by the women's community but women's issues are often neglected by disability organizations. Women also felt there was not enough opportunity to gather together with other women with disabilities. Often women are isolated and unable to connect with peers. Some women in the group mentioned day programs and independent living centers as options for connecting with other women with disabilities.
Mentoring and working with younger women was seen as a priority as well as providing peer support to women of all ages and all types of disabilities. This was a theme that was echoed throughout the event.
Women in the arts and culture group shared their creative projects and ideas with each other. They were able to gain some insight into making money as an artist, or at least getting paid for creative work. Women were often able to use art as an outlet when disabilities made it difficult to work, and/or difficult to express themselves. Women found it hard to have the self-esteem for selling their work. Networking took place so that women could exchange names and learn about events, conferences, call for art work and other opportunities to develop their talents. Several writers and authors were at the event and shared recently published materials with the group. Some women also encouraged other women to participate in dramatic and musical arts.
Grant writing and self-employment options were discussed in the small groups. Women talked about using the internet as well as setting up cooperatives and group based employment projects. Women talked about needing to know the "rules" before being able to successfully apply for grants and having to have mentoring or one to one support to learn the game. Some women were afraid that they could not re-enter the labor market after being out of it for so long.
Women in the media and technology group talked about using technology for
community education and learning about computers. Some women were using adaptive
technology to communicate, others were using multimedia as a way to make money.
One woman suggested using the internet as a kind of clearinghouse for disability
information at the federal level so that everyone would have access to the same
information. Many women wanted better access to community based instruction on
how to use the internet and computers in general but were concerned about
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Funding and Following Your Dream:
Women were able to talk about grant applications, writing a proposal, starting up a new business or just asking for payment for services. Grant writing suggestions were offered and women were advised to formulate concrete ideas as well as work on the budget requirements before applying for funding. Some women talked about how hard it was to have the confidence to charge money for their skills or to launch a new business. Women were able to share stories and encourage each other to do what they love. Women need to support each other to keep the dream alive. Women also shared concerns about the risks of losing social security or disability insurance if they tried to work. Economic security was a major priority for these women struggling to survive. Laura Hershey, a writer, activist and one of the co-organizers of the event, was the moderator for this panel with Lianne Yasamoto (art activist and performer) and Cheryl Green (foundation staff and writer).
Mentoring and Peer Support :
This workshop offered ideas for women interested at all levels of peer support. Some women suggested having short term support groups, while others preferred longer term ones. Women also spoke about specific support for issues such as parenting, being a therapist, or being a student. Women suggested that mentoring did not always need to be about age. It was also about learning from other women, whether or not they had the same disability.
Women were not always able to connect with other women with disabilities because of where they lived, the type of disability they had or simple lack of awareness of how to find other women. Mainstreaming in schools, the media and peer pressure make it "undesirable" to be seek out other people with disabilities. This further isolates women, and in particular makes peer support and mentoring even more difficult. Because the theme of mentoring and peer support was repeated throughout the day, this workshop was not the only opportunity to discuss mentoring. However, concrete ways of setting up mentoring and peer support are needed to put the ideas into action. Kathy Martinez, Director of the International Division at the World Institute on Disability agreed to moderate the panel with Juliana Recio (activist with Latina women currently working at Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund).
Sexuality and Relationships:
This was a popular workshop which dealt with not only sexual identity but the practical aspects of having sex. Some of the issues included not knowing a lot about sex and not having access to sexuality education. Other women talked about living with families and not being able to be sexually active or not knowing it was even possible. Women also spoke about having multiple identities as women- women of color, lesbians, mothers and other identities and how these intersect with their family and sexual relationships. Sexual abuse and negative experiences in relationships were also part of women's experience and these influenced their ability to participate in relationships. There was a lot of energy that went into negotiating a sexual identity which was positive in the face of negative media messages. Women wanted to have more positive images and information. Corbett O'Toole, one of the co-organizers and well known authority on sexuality issues, moderated the panel of Linda Mona, PhD (expert in sexuality and disability) and Traci Powell (doctoral candidate at Stanford University).
Using Technology for Information and Networking:
Tanis Doe moderated the panel of Suzanne Levine, Wide Vision Productions (the
woman behind CAL-WILD list serve) and Thuy Do from the California Foundation of
Independent Living Centers.
This session demonstrated Text Assist (a text reader that was bundled with SoundBlaster) which has been replaced by Monologue or other such software at very affordable costs.
Suzanne also showed how a track ball helped her and how to adjust the size of the font on the screen. She discussed CAL-WILD list serve (email@example.com) and how the members of the list serve are protected from unnecessary or hurtful email. She also talked about how women have used the list to connect all over the world.
Thuy talked about the use of video conferencing and telephone conferencing to connect 24 ILC Empowerment Teams in California. The disadvantages and advantages were discussed, as well as how to deal with the cost of equipment and access to the technology. Suggestions of recycled equipment, libraries, foundations and other ideas were circulated. Several women wanted to take training for computers and internet use that is geared to women with disabilities, and some referrals were made by other group members.
Tanis demonstrated PowerPoint and MacroMedia Director Multi Media as well as
discussing how to use the technology for networking and decreasing
isolation. Many women identified the need for more accessible, affordable
training. All women felt it was important to learn the technologies as they
emerge to stay competitive as well as to improve communication and interpersonal
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Suggestions from the floor for actions included:
Outreach to less visible women with disabilities,
giving a voice to the voiceless sisters,
finding out more information about funding, setting up a business,
writing books, articles or creating art work ourselves,
reading books written by women with disabilities,
using audiotapes for books and making books available on audio tape,
providing a living web site and a 1 800 number,
doing mentoring with girls and/or women,
studying towards a degree,
doing research among women about their issues,
establishing a national or local organization for women with disabilities,
setting up support groups,
joining a listserve about disability issues, women's issues, interest areas,
learning more about computers, adaptive technology and the internet
teaching someone how to use the internet, sharing skills with girls,
joining an arts organization or taking a workshop, and
network, network, network, mentor, mentor, mentor.
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Self-esteem and personal development
From the keynote presentations to the individual comments on evaluations, there was a consensus that women with disabilities need support to develop positive self-esteem. That girls and adult women with disabilities need to be told that they are valued, need to see images of themselves in the media and in schools, and that they need to be able to improve their skills. Feeling better about who we are as women with disabilities is central to empowerment and independent living as well as accessing services.
Violence and suicide prevention
Abuse of many types is a serious threat to the well-being of women with disabilities. Sexual abuse, physical abuse, psychological and financial abuse, by caregivers, family members and professionals is a major problem leading to mental health problems and for some women, suicide. Suicide issues for girls and women with disabilities need to be addressed nationwide- particularly where phone lines and crisis intervention are not currently accessible or do not accommodate people with disabilities. Shelters for battered women, respite programs and violence prevention programs should also all be accessible.
Women with disabilities also identified the need for improved and increased training for a range of skills. Women wanted the skills to participate in the workforce, in their communities and in the arts. Many of the women wanted computer and internet training that suited their needs and their disabilities. Other women were interested in self-employment but needed training on how to manage a small business, how to apply for loans and how to make the transition to the workplace. Many of the women had exciting and creative ideas for marketing their products or services but limited knowledge about how to proceed. Other women wanted training around self-defense, interpersonal communication, parenting or family relationships. When providing training to women with disabilities it is important that instructional methods take into account various types of disabilities, including learning disabilities. Accessible, appropriate training is needed and information should be disseminated about programs which are currently available.
Peer Support and Mentoring
Women with disabilities need to have contact with other women with disabilities who share experiences and issues. To put women together in a society which isolates us can be difficult. Women who are "voiceless", underserved and marginalized are a particular priority. A focused effort is needed to ensure that women and girls are able to be part of peer support and mentoring programs suited to their needs. These may be at independent living centers, women's centers, through college campuses or connected to specific issues, ethnic identities or disability types. Reducing isolation can reduce problems with self-esteem, mental health difficulties, employment problems and improve overall well-being. Mentoring can also help disseminate information and skills among the community which increases access to the available resources.
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"Actual training and skills development" was an objective of the day also. Based on needs identified in past events the organizers tried to provide some direct training but the timing of workshops made it harder than expected to actually do hands on training. More time is needed to give real skills to women. Instead most topics were simply "introduced" and women networked among each other. The average was 3.23 which is one of the lowest averages for any topic, but is still satisfactory.
Another goal was to provide accessible resource material. "Accessible resource material" was also positively rated with only a few women finding the written material not accessible to them. Despite our efforts to make audio tapes and computer versions some women found the large amount of reading to be difficult. The average was 4.02 with 41 women responding.
"Connecting women who share interests" was also positively rated as many opportunities during the day brought women together to discuss mutual interests. The average was 4.06 with 42 women responding. Overall, the women feel that the objectives have been achieved to a satisfactory level.
Fifty women (out of the 120 registered) handed in completed evaluation forms. Many women did not complete the overall goal rating possibly due to unclear instructions. The goal of meeting expectations averaged a 4.11 on the scale from 1-5 for the 27 women who rated it. Most women had their expectations met. Some did not and some had their expectations exceeded. None were totally disappointed.
(four discussion groups were held concurrently in the morning)
• Disability Arts discussion group had an average rating of 4.43 out of 5 with 14 women responding.
• Media, Technology and Computers rated a 4.09 average with 11 women responding.
• Networking and Multi-Issues averaged 3.67/5 with 9 women responding.
• Academia discussion averaged a 3.54 with 13 women responding.
Mentoring time (one to one) was rated 4.17 with 6 women responding to the question. There were very few women who actually spent one to one time with a designated mentor. However, many women felt they touched base with women whom would later serve as mentors although they did not have time during the conference.
Only one Technology workshop was held due to restraints on the access to the
internet and the hotel needing the room earlier than expected. Although two
separate workshops were held for three of the topics, not enough women indicated
which session they attended to merit analysis. So all workshops have
been tabulated with aggregate totals.
• Funding and Following your Dream was rated an average of 3.86 with 22 women responding.
• Peer support and Mentoring received an average of 3.71 with 17 women responding.
• Sexuality and Relationships had an average of 3.96 with 27 women responding
• Technology and Networking had an average of 4.11 with 9 people responding.
It should be noted that workshops with a larger number of respondents may have in fact been well received but had a few dissatisfied women which brought average scores down. Similarly, the workshop with only 9 responses might have had many dissatisfied women who did not respond to the evaluation.
Plenaries and Logistics
Opening plenary was a highlight of the day for many women. The average ratings were almost 5/5 at 4 .69. This was a very positive result and many women found Cheryl Green's key note particularly inspiring.
Closing Plenary averaged at exactly 4 with most of the responses being 4 or 5 and a few women answered 3.
Lunch time networking, which was designed around interest topics, averaged 4.45. One woman commented that she preferred to eat, another wanted more time to eat and network. Several women commented that sitting around with women who shared their interest while eating was a wonderful experience that should have lasted longer.
Several questions were asked about the organization of the conference to help organizers improve how the event was planned and operated. Many women completed this portion of the form and most were more than satisfied. Only a few had specific problems.
Registration on internet averaged 4.59 with 27 women answering. One woman
noticed how easy it was but felt some information had gone missing as result of
the computerized system.
Registration on the phone averaged 4.3 with only 10 women using this service.
Registration in person averaged a rating of 4.48 with 23 women who all seemed quite satisfied.
Accessibility was generally quite good.
Communication accessibility averaged a high score of 4.62 for the 29 women who replied.
The participants were mostly "very satisfied" with financial accessibility with a few finding the transportation costs expensive or the fact that hotels cost money despite the scholarship received for registration fees. The average was 4.53 for 40 people.
Physical accessibility was highly rated at 4.46 although some women did show concern for air circulation and lack of appropriate signage at stairs. (42 respondents)
Lunch averaged 4.40, and while most people enjoyed the meal some people wanted more time for eating lunch so they would not be rushed.
Schedule and pacing of the day averaged 4.10. Comments included not enough breaks between meetings for transitions.
Although the original schedule did accommodate 15 minutes between events,
being late or running over time resulted in very little time to move between
sessions. An effort should be
made in future to really follow the proposed schedule even if it means reducing length of workshops to increase breaks.
Support services received almost all 5's with an average of 4.52 given a few lower ratings.
The BEST and the WORST of the Day
The best part of the day:
An overwhelming majority found the NETWORKING the best. Ten
percent named the opening plenary the best and 7% named the
sexuality workshop the best. The other topics were between 4 and
2 % representing two women or individual comments.
The worst part of the day:
Thirty-seven percent needed more time (either for the whole day or for parts of it). Fifteen percent explicitly stated that there was "no worst part". Some women found the afternoon disjointed, some women commented about the need for more time in discussions and breaks between activities, and the name tags that identified city or affiliation. There was also a suggestion that more advanced workshops were needed and one woman suggested that organizers should not also facilitate workshops.
The following demographics only represent the information provided voluntarily by those responding to evaluations. There were more than
120 women at the event and only 50 evaluations were coded with less than 40 responding to these specific demographic questions. This
means that the demographic break down represents only a third of the total population attending the event and may not be representative.
For 66% of the women responding, this was their first event of women
with disabilities. Another 29% had been to 2-4 other events and only
5% had been to 5 or more. The age range and ethnic/racial identities
of the women were quite diverse. European-American women were 48% percent of the women who answered the evaluation questions. Twenty-two percent left the question blank. African-American women, Latina, and Asian-Pacific and Jewish women were each 6%. Four percent self-identified as being of mixed race.
Women between 25 and 46 were in the majority with only a few older and younger women attending who self-identified.
(Noting again that less than half of the attending women answered the evaluation form questions).
Only seven of the women responding were members of Cal-Wild list serve although 39 had access to the internet. Four had no access and 9 had access at both home and work/school. It is important to note that a great deal of the outreach for this conference was done on the internet so we may have self-selected a sample of women more likely to have internet connections.
However, 66% of the women responding had never attended an event for women with disabilities so we did reach women who are not experienced and may have been excluded from previous outreach. It is clear that future events must make special efforts to involve women who are not using the internet, but also to make use of the power of networking that the internet provides. More women may be able to connect using Cal-Wild and the web-site established for this conference.
It is particularly difficult to reach women who have difficulty participating
in large events. Special efforts were made to ensure that women would be
financially assisted with registration, would have accessible materials,
personal supports and accessible environments. Women with developmental
disabilities, environmental illness and women of color were also specifically
sought out and supported. This event included a very diverse group of
women. The diversity made it difficult for some women to get their needs met,
and the diversity made it possible for other women to see what is
possible. The exposure to a wide range of women's experiences and
interests enriched the event and made it an important influence in the lives of
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For information about Changing Borders or Women Disabilities' conferences in
1999 email Tanis_Doe@bc.sympatico.ca.