Award Has Helped to Give Voice to Disabled

Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales), May 24, 2006 | Go to article overview

Award Has Helped to Give Voice to Disabled


Byline: By SION BARRY Western Mail

The search to find the Western Mail's Welsh Woman of the Year, 2006, was launched last week. Here last year's winner, Karen Robson, assesses what the title has meant to her and her work in fighting discrimination faced by disabled people YOU may ask why women need to have a specific award - maybe I asked that question myself, 30 years on from the introduction of the Sex Discrimination Act.

That brought equality and recognition of ability and contribution didn't it?

The Equal Opportunities Commission recently reported that fewer than one in five of the top jobs in Wales are held by women. The latest Sex and Power index provides some startling facts about women's representation in senior positions across the public and private sector.

These together tell us that despite significant progress, women still face enormous challenges and that their contribution is not always appropriately recognised.

The Welsh Woman Awards were developed to acknowledge the efforts and distinct contribution of women to Welsh life.

The individual category titles span the breadth of activity; from business to the arts, from science and technology to the community and, of course, my category - that of education.

They recognise that women in Wales today are making a key contribution to all aspects of Welsh life.

Frequently these women do so quietly and modestly, demonstrating that actions speak louder than words, whether it be in providing a hospice facility, or running a successful business employing others.

For the past 10 years I have worked in higher education, at Uwic, with disabled students.

In that time we have witnessed the higher-education landscape change dramatically and widening access has become a key strategic aim.

Uwic has successfully responded to this in a variety of ways - but more specifically my role within this agenda is in the field of disability, supporting disabled students and creating an accessible learning environment.

I am committed to ensuring that disabled people have access to opportunities that I essentially took for granted when I went to university; but for many disabled people numerous barriers still exist.

The UK was late in bringing anti-discriminatory legislation for disabled people to the statute book.

The Disability Discrimination Act didn't become law until 1995 and even then was narrow in its application, essentially covering employment and goods and services.

In higher education we had to wait until 2001 for a legal framework and further amendments will be introduced at the end of this year.

Legislation is clearly vitally important in driving the agenda, but as an American colleague observed, 'A law cannot guarantee what a culture will not give'. …

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