After three decades as one of the most prominent voices in disability advocacy, Sue Salthouse has been remembered as a “great Canberra leader”, after she died on Monday night.
Ms Salthouse was prominent in the Canberra community as a passionate advocate for women with disabilities and was the 2020 ACT Senior Australian of the Year.
Friends and colleagues have remembered her service to the community for almost three decades as tireless and multi-faceted.
Ms Salthouse, a former teacher, most recently worked for Lifeline and ran her own consultancy company specialising in disability.
She was the board chair for Women with Disabilities ACT and advocated for the prevention of violence against women as an ambassador of Our Watch.
The impact of Ms Salthouse’s compassion and advocacy extended far beyond her resume, Indigenous advocate and ACT Australian of the Year Katrina Fanning said.
“She was one of the first people who worked in another diversity group who really made it clear we cut across each other’s space and we can help each other out and do things together,” she said.
“The way she went about things meant it was quite a gentle way to learn without having to feel challenged or like you had done something wrong.”
Ms Fanning worked with Ms Salthouse for almost 30 years and, recently, both women were recognised in the 2020 Australian of the Year awards.
“There’s lots of people who will never know her but are better off because of her,” she said.
“She leaves a wonderful legacy of change, not just in our community but nationally.”
She recalled Ms Salthouse’s welcoming presence and constant efforts to educate and grow.
“You always felt like what you had to say, what you were trying to do was valuable.”
Women with Disabilities ACT was deeply saddened yesterday to hear of the passing of our Board Chair, Sue Salthouse. We will miss her very much. Vale Sue.
We send our sincerest condolences to her family and friends and ask that their privacy is respected during this time. pic.twitter.com/7XaVZiaahT
— WWDACT (@WWDACT) July 20, 2020
ACT police Superintendent Corey Heldon said a male driver who was behind the wheel of a ute at the time of the collision on Monday was assisting police in their investigations.
“It appears the person in the vehicle hit the rear of the wheelchair-accessible motorbike and caused the collision which resulted in her death,” Superintendent Heldon said.
“We’re looking at a range of factors at the moment.”
The driver was the only person inside the car at the time of the collision.
Police said the incident happened in the southbound lanes of the Commonwealth Avenue bridge just before 3pm.
Superintendent Heldon said it was too early in the investigation to determine if any charges would be laid.
After a horse-riding accident at 45, Ms Salthouse experienced the inequalities faced by people with disabilities and became one of the most notable voices in the sector.
Fellow disability advocate and ACTCOSS policy manager Craig Wallace sat on the disability reform group, chaired by Ms Salthouse, which led the transition to the NDIS in the ACT.
“She was really able to bridge all sides of the room and both get into the detail of a topic and keep on top of the big macro stuff,” he said.
“[She] was willing to sit down with government when it mattered and when it was hard.”
By bringing data and evidence into conversations around domestic violence and disability rights, Mr Wallace said Ms Salthouse pushed forward countless causes.
“Her influence and legacy includes the disability rights movement, but it also is the story of a great Canberra leader,” he said.
“Sue had an eye on what the next generation would look like, she had an eye to the sustainability of the organisations that she led and creating a class of people that would be able to carry on and continue the legacy.”
Sustainability advocate and 2020 ACT Young Australian of the Year Maddie Diamond was one of the many young people for whom Ms Salthouse was a mentor and role model.
“It’s not just the loss of a friend, it’s a loss to the community,” she said.
“She is a really important person to have around, her contribution to the community has been so significant.
“Often young activists feel like we’re on our own, to have those older people who are ready to support you without being patronising … to come at you with an open heart and generosity is really awesome.”
Disability Leadership Institute chief executive Christina Ryan said Ms Salthouse’s fight was far from over.
“We’re still struggling,” she said.
“Women with disabilities are still dying and we’ve had that again in the news today.
“It keeps us going, it means we have to keep this work going.
“We’re not anywhere close to equality and we’ve got a long way to go.”
Chief Minister Andrew Barr expressed his shock and dismay at the loss of Ms Salthouse whose life had been spent contributing to the community.
“She worked for greater recognition of the enormous contribution women with disability make to the workplace and in leadership roles,” he said.
“Sue was highly regarded in the community sector and across Government. As the co-chair of the ACT Expert Panel, Sue contributed to the historic and nation leading transition into the NDIS locally.”
The loss of Sue Salthouse is a loss for all of Canberra & the disability community across the nation. Sue’s passionate, intelligent advocacy, her wit & warmth changed so many lives for the better. My heart goes out to Sue’s family and friends and to the @WWDACT family. Vale Sue. https://t.co/2V6raaw896
— Rachel Stephen-Smith (@RachelSS_MLA) July 20, 2020
In a joint statement, federal Social Services Minister Anne Ruston and NDIS Minister Stuart Robert said Ms Salthouse’s death was immensely saddening.
“Beyond her [NDIS independent advisory] council role, Sue made significant contributions to the NDIS and played an integral role in establishing the ACT trial site,” the statement said.
“We are saddened by her loss and send out sincerest condolences to Sue’s family and friends.”
Activist and author Carly Findlay paid tribute to Ms Salthouse as someone she had admired for years.
“Sue was a true leader – one who changed the world with her work and wisdom, and who nurtured others,” she wrote.
“She will be so very missed. Sending my love and condolences to Sue’s family, friends and colleagues.”