Sue Salthouse, the ACT’s Senior Citizen of the Year, has died after her wheelchair-accessible motorcycle was involved in an accident on Commonwealth Avenue bridge yesterday.
Sue was a force of nature, a vigorous, vital and passionate advocate for the vulnerable in our community. For her, nothing was insurmountable in the quest for compassionate equality for people with a disability.
At 45, Sue broke her back in a horse-riding accident in the Snowy Mountains. That was in 1995 and as a result of the injuries sustained she was confined to a wheelchair. But Sue always saw that dividing point in her life as the start of a new phase of activism rather than the end.
She experienced first hand the day-to-day battles faced by people with a disability, particularly women, and became an advocate to improve the systemic inequality faced by women with a disability, especially around employment opportunities and financial security.
Her profile across the Canberra community was wide-ranging: she was an outspoken champion of women’s rights and a forceful campaigner against inequality in every sphere.
After her accident she founded a consultancy – Didactic – focussing on human rights and social justice advocacy for disadvantaged women and people with disability, and also chaired the Australian Communications Consumer Action Network (ACCAN) for 11 years.
For those of us in public life in the ACT, Sue was a familiar figure: forthright, funny and clearheaded about the nature of inequality. She was an active listener who devoted her full attention to the person in front of her and always gave back.
Sue was a valued member of the University of Canberra community and she sat on the UC Council for some years.
When she was announced as the ACT’s Senior Citizen of the Year, she described feeling humbled by the award and that there were others more worthy, but she hoped to use the award as a platform to advocate for improved services for the disadvantaged, not just those with a disability.
“When people are discriminated against it creates a power vacuum where they are easily exploited,” she said at the time.
Sue was a proud Canberran, who believed our community should be distinguished by its social justice values, and that we should play a leading role in the national discourse.
“You need a change in leadership for the good but sometimes we get a change that doesn’t help our country evolve,” she said.
“In the ACT we have many positives happening but we need to look at where the gaps are, the intersectional effects that stop people getting services and jobs.”
On a national scale, Sue waged a constant battle against the perception that welfare is a burden, rather than a right for all citizens in need.
“We need to look at universal basic incomes and a wellbeing index that is not profit-driven. I think we need to shift our whole focus in this society, whether it’s towards issues like climate change protests advocating for our future, to creating greater respect for this country and to how we treat each other in our daily lives,” she said.