Power in the Country
Judith's experiences of advocating for women with disability in rural Queensland.
Judith is a Multiple Sclerosis (MS) disability advocate with 27 years voluntary service to the disability sector in south-west Queensland.
In country areas, women with disabilities often face both a lack of support created by isolation and distance, and the hardship of drought. In many places there is no NBN and no mobile coverage. People have to rely on landline and post for communication.
I was diagnosed with a rare form of Multiple Sclerosis (MS) in 1992 while living on a country property, caring for family and running my own textile design business. I found there was little or no knowledge available for those with MS and other neurological disorders in this whole area of South-West Queensland. I had to move to Toowoomba into an all-disabled access house and found a few other people with MS who were in the same distress.
This inspired me and 13 others to form the first MS Support Group in Queensland, allied with MS QLD. I served on every Committee position over twenty years, including editing the newsletter that went out to all country areas to those who desperately needed help. I also have provided bed and breakfast in my home for those with disabilities coming in to the city for medical reasons who have been unable to find suitable accessible accommodation. This includes many women from the country as well as whole families with nowhere else to go and places have been found to give them access to the proper services.
As a contact person and trained counsellor, working at the coalface of the disabled community, I have taken many hundreds of calls from all round our huge country area from women, especially in remote areas, and having MS myself found it good to be able to communicate with newly diagnosed people who were lost in the minefield of neurological issues. Women who have been diagnosed are sent back to face life in the bush, often many kilometres from the nearest doctor or centre have to learn to cope with their disability as well as a range of other things like schooling children and coping with harsh life in the bush.
My background in politics in Queensland gave me an insight into how to get services and help for those cannot do it themselves or had the knowledge or voice to do so. My reasoning has always been that it is best to start at the top and not to cease the battle until a good outcome is achieved. I also joined a number of disability organisations across Australia, including Women with Disabilities Australia (WWDA), which enabled me to have more information to help others.
I have also been instrumental in halting both State and Federal governments in former years from taking away services people with disabilities have had to strive so long for in both the Toowoomba area and across Australia. I have been involved in many Government Submissions to better the lives of young people with neurological disorders placed in Aged Care facilities. I was also involved in getting the first Beta-Feron available in Australia on the PBS list in 1996. Before this, people had been selling their homes just to get the treatment, which, while not curing MS, slows down the effects of the disease so that people can maintain a better quality of life.
When Prime Minister Tony Abbott's proposed Budget in 2013 put the NDIS in serious trouble, I started a huge roll out of lobbying with all concerned Senators and Independents across Australia as well as getting the media involved, with media advocates, John Laws and Allan Jones both wonderfully onside. The effort was successful when the Senate quashed the Bill and told Abbott that his Treasurer's Bill would not pass in that model. Thus, the NDIS survived.
There have also been many other victories during the years when there was much lobbying done to provide better information, accessible transport options and effective services for people with disabilities. One of the big victories was the roll out of the “Heating and cooling subsidy” for those with MS in Queensland, a great boon for women in the bush that may experience heat up to 50C in mid-summer.
I have also been involved in community efforts to take on the Queensland Government twice over the past 10 years about their closing of Toowoomba's magnificent Baillie Hospital indoor therapy pool. This pool is the only one of its kind in south-west Queensland and has helped many people with disabilities from across Queensland. With media help as well as intense political lobbying, the pool will now be reopened on July 1st, 2019.
Our women from the country are already cheering!