There is something special about being ignored. About being looked past, or over. A pang, that almost tastes like shame, for apologetically asking for a crumb. A seat at the table.
On March 8, there is an event on in Sydney. It’s being widely publicised on radio and tickets are nearly sold out. All About Women sells itself as a space to discuss a range of topics among some impressive women. Lots of people I know are going. I’m not.
In January, I asked the organisers about the accessibility of the venue and the event, if there were any panels discussing disability or if any of the presenters were women with a disability. In response, I was told that the curators would email me, and that they hadn’t asked any of the panellists to disclose whether they had a disability or not.
Hmm, I wonder what this means? Is it that disability is something shameful that women are meant to hide? What does that mean for disabled women who have a visible disability? Surely I am meant to be all women-power positive about my body, even this broken one?
I wondered how they could dismiss the one in five women who have a disability. I wondered if they knew any of the kick-arse disabled women I knew, and start collecting a list, just to be helpful. Women who work in advocacy, women with experiences of living in institutions, women who use wheelchairs or sign language, women who write, women who dream, women who love. Surely I was mistaken, and I would hear from the curators before too long.
I was told I needed to ask about accessibility in private, out of the public eye. Perhaps I am not part of the public? A disabled woman couldn’t possibly be made welcome by publicising how easy it would be for her to take part. That was quickly fixed, but I wondered why it had taken some minor Facebook agitation to make it happen.
I emailed again, just in case they hadn’t received my first email. I thought of the amazing contributions disabled women would make to a panel session or two. They might raise all the tricky bits of the abortion conversation that we don’t have very often, or the high numbers of disabled women impacted by domestic violence. They might speak about what it’s like to be sterilised against their will or to have their children removed because they have a disability.
They might talk about the 90% of women with intellectual disabilities who have been abused and a justice system that won’t even prosecute cases, despite the evidence. They could talk about poverty and employment and life in institutions.
They could talk about the art they make, the music they are part of or the theatre and films they create. They would make you laugh and cry and never say ‘you’re so inspiring’ ever again.
So I waited for my email from the curators, because surely this was an oversight and I was mistaken in thinking they didn’t care. Surely this was not another door closing, instead of opening. But I guess I was wrong. The email never arrived.
Disabled women are not a fringe group, or an afterthought – with up to 20% of us having a disability, not putting our issues on the agenda says clearly that you don’t think they are important.
We are not an afterthought. We have a right to be at the table with everyone else. All About Women has proven that this is not a table I care to sit at.