A registered entity since 2013 Cook Islands Women and Girls with Disabilities Organisation (CIWGDO) supports females with any disability, aiding the individuals in “leading a meaningful and fulfilling life, that is deeply embedded within, and positively valued by, their community”.
At their warm, and welcoming centre in Nikao, next to Weathermaster, CIWGDO provides a comfortable environment that supports and empowers all women and girls with disabilities, in their relationships and through recreational, educational, social, spiritual, health, safety and wellness opportunities.
The necessity for women and girls to feel comfortable, was one of the establishing factors behind the organisation.
Cook Island National Disability Council treasurer Iva Eitiara, recognised there were other organisations and groups that catered to women and men, girls and boys with disability, but stressed that often the women and girls felt more comfortable learning and being in an environment that accommodates females.
At the time it was also acknowledged that disabled women and girls are lumped with two minority identities - being a woman, and being disabled.
It was seen that they are often subjected to further discrimination and stereotyping, with more barriers confronted when trying to achieve their life goals.
With this background in mind, CIWGDO hopes that along with supporting and empowering women and girls, they may also help alter public and discriminatory mindsets.
“I became aware of the fact that women with disabilities suffer from the double burden of being a woman in our somewhat sexist society and being labelled as disabled in our sometimes persistently disability phobic communities, “ said CIWGDO president, Mama Tuki Wright.
“The women and girls who come to CIWGDO are hoping to establish a pathway towards independent living and financial autonomy. This can be through training programmes, employment or setting themselves up as entrepreneurs.
“We believe that when women and girls with disabilities have an equal opportunity to learn, grow and connect with others, they will be able to realise their fullest economic potential,” says Eitiara.
Teacher and entrepreneur Veronica George is able to independently run her own businesses, with the help of CIWGDO.
The multi-talented George, who is also hearing impaired, has found her vast knowledge of New Zealand Maori sign language beneficial in teaching the community on Rarotonga both sign language, and the culture that often encompasses those who are hearing impaired.
George recognised that the deaf community on Rarotonga, and more widely, in the Cook Islands is relatively small; with around seven known hearing impaired individuals on Rarotonga, and less than 10 scattered through the outer islands,
George says for these people, communicating on Rarotonga can be challenging.
So now she is offering sign language classes to the wider community in a hope that a general understanding of sign language and the culture surrounding communicating with the hearing-impaired will spread and become well established.
George offers two-hour sign language classes to businesses on Rarotonga.
It is believed by George, that a general understanding of sign language is helpful, especially when customer service is involved.
“learning sign language creates an accessible workplace for people who are deaf, improves customer service levels, and allows your business to reach new markets,” George says.
George is able to cater her workshops to fit the needs of a large workplace, or even teach children, offering sign language lessons to children under 15 years of age for just $5.
For more information regarding the classes, text message George on 76590 or call 20199.
For information regarding the small businesses that are being helped by CIWGDO, the Cook Island Women and Girls Disability organisation has a Facebook page or you can contact them on 20199.
In a friendly word of advice to the community regarding interrelating with impaired persons, Mama Wright says it is important to focus on the ability of the individual, not the disability.
“Too often women with disabilities are left by society to inhabit the space vacated by women making progress.
“We (women and girls with disabilities) are not placeholders. It is time for our women with disabilities to prove this.”