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Who I am as an individual, makes me who I am as a woman. I’m pretty proud of who I am.

“What does it mean to you to be a woman?” is an interesting question because initially I thought well, it’s the obvious stereotypes, I’m a daughter, I’m a sister, I’m a partner, and I’m a mum. But I think for me it’s also in my disability—it’s part of my personality. I do like to express my individuality and I like to help people, and I think that is something that’s feminine. It’s having that feeling for and understanding of people that makes me all those things: mother, daughter, sister, and wife.

I was born and raised in a little country town called Armadale. I fell in love with and married my high-school sweetheart. We couldn’t find work teaching in Armadale and so we started looking elsewhere. We put in applications all over Australia and got an application approved here in Canberra. We packed up in 1991 and moved to Canberra, which was a bit of a shock to the system because it was a little bit bigger than I was used to! But in the same sense, Canberra’s a really a big country town with all the nice parts of a city.

We ended up staying because we sort of got stuck here. We decided that we’d only stay for a few years before heading back to my hometown, but my disability had progressed in that time, and my hometown isn’t accessible. The town is basically built on two hills with a valley in the middle where the shops are. As a kid I used to walk down that big hill to the shops and back home again, but now I can’t get into many of the shops let alone up the hill. By contrast, Canberra has got wonderful access to shopping and facilities.

The best thing about being a woman in Canberra is the access we have to the ACT Government. If I’d stayed in Armadale this would not have been impossible. Being in Canberra has enabled me to take on a whole different career path. I’d always dreamt of being an advocate and voice for people with disabilities, but when I first came to Canberra I was so far from that path. It was through meeting Sue Salthouse and getting involved with organisations like Women With Disabilities ACT, the Women’s Centre for Health Matters (WCHM), and Health Care Consumers Association of the ACT (HCCA) that I diversified. To be able to network with such wonderful non-government and support organisations has made my experience here great. I’ve learnt so much about issues affecting women and their health. Improving women’s access to health services, whether they have a disability or not, is a key focus for me now.

I’ve always been very proactive about my health—it’s one of the reasons I got involved with WCHM and HCCA. There are a lot of very good health services in Canberra that help women. Sexual Health and Family Planning ACT, for example, do a lot of great work with young women with disabilities. ACT Health have always been very willing to listen to what the needs are for women with disabilities—they’ve worked with us to try to improve access to women’s health services, such as breast and cervical screening.

I’ve had very positive experiences when accessing health services in Canberra. I know that’s not always the case for health care consumers, but for me it’s basically been a good journey. I think it’s because of the skills I have learnt through HCCA in knowing and defending my rights, asking questions and providing feedback to services when things aren’t working well.

The difficulty in maintaining your health and wellbeing in Canberra is that you need to have private health cover. I’ve just had eye surgery and if I’d had to do that through the public system, I’d still be on a waiting list. If you’re not in a situation where you can afford private health cover, that’s quite difficult. I’m only in the situation I’m in because my partner is in a job where we can afford that.

The hardest thing about being a woman in Canberra is that you can still become socially isolated when you’re living in the suburbs. We live down south, and the transport connections aren’t as good as they should be, especially for people with disabilities. On saying that, there are people out there that help. I couldn’t even get to my local bus stop because of a silly planning decision in our suburb. I spoke to NICAN’s Access City Hotline and they actually worked to have the problem fixed, so I can now get to the bus stop and local shops by myself.

I have this knack of getting work on the far side of Canberra from where I live, and in that case buses aren’t an option because it would take several buses to get to my place of employment. And with taxis, even though I get a taxi subsidy, the extra cost is still prohibitive. We need a cheaper form of transport for people in the minority groups, and for women who are struggling.

I would also never go into the city late at night. I know young people do, but I would find that quite daunting because I know there can sometimes be aggressive and drunken behavior at nighttime. I would find that quite scary. I don’t think I go out as much at night time on my own as I would if I was living in my country town.

At the moment though I’m really excited that it’s spring because I’ve had a really bad winter. I succumbed to the Black Dog of depression. It often happens seasonally, but for some reason the middle of the year has a lot of sad anniversaries. I’ve tried to regenerate myself and I’m doing a personal spring clean in that I’m seeing a physio and I’ve made an appointment to see a nutritionist to get myself sorted out. I’m looking forward to trying to do as many positive things as I can. And I’m looking forward to summer.

My perfect day in Canberra is going to one of our many favourite restaurants with friends and family. Canberra has got so many lovely places to eat. I have a fussy family, in that I’ve got one definite Coeliac and one possible Coeliac, but we’re always able to find great places to eat.

There’s all sorts of exciting things to do in Canberra. There’s wonderful markets to buy fresh produce. When we get visitors from interstate we take them to the national landmarks, because they are a wonderful highlight of Canberra. We went to see one of the new exhibitions at the Australian War Memorial a couple of weeks ago with my visiting brother and his family, and that was just fabulous.

I’m going to be a bit naughty and cram in four favorite things: family, friends, music and being able to experience and learn about as many different things as possible.

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Image created by Josey Carnovale