ACT News

Disability advocate Sue Salthouse named 2015 Canberra Citizen of the Year

Disability advocate Sue Salthouse hopes her Canberra Citizen of the Year award will keep a spotlight on the challenges facing people with a disability in the ACT.

Ms Salthouse, whose advocacy has included leading roles with Women with Disabilities ACT and Australia and the ACT Disability Expert Panel, was "astonished" to receive the 39th honour on Thursday alongside a swath of Canberra Gold Award recipients.

New Canberra Citizen of the Year Sue Salthouse said she was 'astonished' to receive the award.
New Canberra Citizen of the Year Sue Salthouse said she was 'astonished' to receive the award. Photo: Jamila Toderas

The award was introduced in 1989, continuing a tradition began by The Canberra Times before self government to recognise individuals for their outstanding achievements and contributions to the Canberra community.

"I hope it's an award that gives me an opportunity to go to places where I can talk about the things that I'm passionate about, that this city is trying to get right; issues about disability and people with disabilities having an opportunity to really participate in the community and to be recognised as just part of the fabric of our society rather than segregated in any way," Ms Salthouse said.

It's a busy year ahead for Ms Salthouse, who moved to Canberra in 1976, as the National Disability Insurance Scheme trial continues to roll out in the territory.

In the wake of the alleged murder of Calwell's Tara Costigan, violence against women, is also at the front of her mind.

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Ms Salthouse said change needed to stem from the root of the problem: gendered society more broadly.

"We have to address things from the fact that there is a gender pay gap, we have to address the fact that Australian society is still gendered, there are still not enough women in leadership positions," she said.

"Part of it is that women have nowhere to go. We say one woman a week in Australia is killed so we've got a long way to go. We need everybody being able to speak up when they see something happening. We can't be silent any more."

Ms Salthouse said change also began within, referring to the ingrained sexism in everyday phrases used by women and men, such as "suck it up princess".

"We've got to be internally vigilant, that we as women don't let behaviours go past us, when we're condoning what is really a put down," she said.

She will maintain a busy schedule over the next 12 months, through the continued rollout of the NDIS and her role as an official visitor of shared accommodation for people with a disability.

"Sometimes what starts off as really vigilant or excellent care just gets a little bit less and a little bit less and a little bit less until you think the people in the household aren't getting the opportunities they could have," Ms Salthouse said.

"The NDIS has given everyone hope. People have been disenfranchised and now they're being given their control back. One of the biggest changes about the NDIS is we want to get people with disabilities included in the community more. That means everybody will develop skills for interacting positively with people who might need greater support, and just taking it in your stride."

More than 200 individuals and groups received Canberra Gold Awards for significant contributions over more than 50 years in the ACT.