Listening to migrant women who live with disabilities

As many of us now know, the way to truly understand and work toward addressing a particular issue is to listen to and centre the voices of those with lived experience; they are the ones who are most impacted. When it comes to removing barriers to access for migrant and refugee women with disability, we must listen to migrant women’s own accounts, hopes and experiences. For example, Aileen’s experience shows us that migrant women with disability may encounter serious hurdles and barriers to employment.

We certainly have a long way to go to achieve an inclusive and non-discriminatory society for migrant women with disability. There are many changes that need to happen, at both the community and systemic level. At the community level, we need to challenge people’s understanding of disability, including the stigma and shame that surrounds it. As the brilliant disability activist, Mia Mingus reminds us, shifting attitudes, embracing difference, and questioning what is considered ‘normal’, is a large part of the advocacy work. She writes, “People usually think of disability as an individual flaw or problem, rather than something partly created by the world we live in. It is rare that people think about disability as a political experience or as encompassing a community full of rich histories, cultures and legacies.”

At the systemic level, we need to address structural barriers that prevent access to safe, accessible, culturally appropriate and affordable healthcare for migrant women with a disability, as well as access to transport, housing, employment and other services. Addressing these structural barriers means challenging ableism, racism and other forms of discrimination, including gender inequality and gender-based violence. It also means advocating for migrants and refugees by drawing attention to government migration policies that deny migrants with disability equal rights. For example, the Disability Discrimination Act from 1992 does not apply to the Migration Act, which means that people with disability can be unfairly discriminated against.

Disability justice activists teach us that in order to create inclusive and safe spaces for women with disability, we need to work collectively and listen to the experiences of women with disability, who are the experts. These 'Experts In Our Health' resources that were recently launched by Women with Disabilities Victoria are a great place to start.

First published in edition #112 of The WRAP on 31 August 2022.