I’m lucky! I have a great family, great friends, great employer and an intelligent loving wife. By all means I have nothing to complain about. I can get out of bed there is food on my table, fresh country air, my three lads are chatting away, the dogs are joyous to see me and, in fact, the world is my oyster. I went to the theatre on Monday. Sure a little bit under duress but I could easily fork out $200 bucks for tickets. After there was even enough dosh left over to sit down for a lovely meal among friends. Life’s good! But I am depressed.
Why? Maybe I can live in a cocoon. In my cocoon all these nice things are happening. It’s warm, it’s fuzzy and laughter abounds. But I can’t. You see this fortune that I have, modest that it is, is built on the suffering of others. I, you see, am a disability advocate. My job is to advocate so that other people with a disability can get the same opportunities that I can. The problem is I that I am failing miserably. The world that I am paid to make better is, in fact, going backwards.
In my work I have assisted young people. Many of them are struggling to come to terms with their disability. I tell them that they need not be depressed, that there is a society that is being built to meet their needs. Where years ago there were no opportunities, opportunities now abound. Technology, I say, has opened doors to the world. Government programs like JobAcces, I say, mean that they can now apply for work with confidence. Employers will ask who is gonna pay and they just say, “it will be covered by the government”, and mostly it will.
I teach them not to talk about help. I say to them to never say, “I need help to talk on the phone by ….” What they should say is, ”I have developed skills to use the phone through …..” Turn the negative to a positive I say. Show the world how you function. Inspire them with positiveness I say.
Parents talk to me about their fears for their disabled children. I try reassuring them. I tell them my own story. How I beat the system, got through University, got a job, brought up three smashing lads, remained happily married and I even drive a car. (Believe it or not I am still asked, “.. will my child be able to drive?” ) I tell them stories of other positive people. The Deaf Olympian, The Deaf Lawyer, the Deaf actor, The Deaf teacher, the blind man heading the Australian Human Rights Commission Disability section or the blind people that acted as belayers for other blind people during a rock climbing exhibition. I tell them about Kurt, the paralympian, who crawled on his hands and useless legs across Kokoda and I tell them about the woman I employed with deformed limbs to work with signing deaf people and how we overcame the problems. I remember her putting up her shortened limbs with missing fingers and asking,” How will I sign with these? “ …”We will work it out”, I said and we did. Hell she even played for my netball team, and she was good, not the best, but good.
And I have led them astray. I have lied to them. I have given them a false sense of positivity. Because it seems that for every one of those successful people there are ten that cannot get over the line. I have Deaf friends, with brilliant minds, fantastic skills and they are unemployed. Among them a Master of Business, a lawyer and a person with a PHD. I have other friends who have graduated, immensely qualified who cannot get work anywhere. Teachers, a Bachelor of Disability Studies, Social workers… All who have worked their butts off to get where they are and they cannot find work.
One cannot even get registered as a teacher! And if she does they’re gonna place restrictions on her. She won’t be able to teach in a class on her own. She will always have to teach with a hearing person present. Hell, she cannot even do yard duty because she is seen as a risk to the students. I worked with this person and even employed her as a mentor. Told her there was nothing that could stop her achieving her goals and now this. And it’s legal apparently because it is Departmental right to screen out who they consider risky. They can just make crap assumptions about things they know nothing about and it is ok because it is policy. Bugger the fact it is breach of the Commonwealth disability law, bugger the fact that it is a breach of the United Nations Convention of the Rights of People with a Disability of which Australia has signed up to. It is policy, it is ok!
Surely the law will protect my friends? Surely the law will prevent this gross breach of human rights? I called to find out and believe it or not no one knows. Possibly, maybe, maybe not, maybe the Department is within their rights. There is nothing concrete. It’s legal to make the disabled virtually unemployable and second class citizens because of some half arsed idea that they will be a danger to others. But complain they say because if you do not complain you will never know. Complain? Don’t make me laugh. What will happen then? The department will refuse to budge and it will end up in court. Some judge with no experience of disability will then make a decision which will confound everyone. That’s why no more than two people in wheelchairs can fly on plane at any one time. Because some judge decreed it was so.
And then you will approach some kind hearted non-disabled person, working from the goodness of their heart in the disability sector for support. “Just go along with what they want”, they say. ”It’s just the way it is.” Just accept being second class, it’s just the way it is. Know your place in the world. It’s way down their at the bottom. Thank you very much.
And what is our deaf sector doing? They cannot even agree on an approach to lobby for captioning for god sake. Hell why are we focusing on captioning when these gross breaches of human rights are going on. It’s easy. It is a great way to see easy progress. It’s a luxury lobby. What of these real issues? These people on the scrapheap because society has made an assumption that they are not good enough! What are we doing? I hereby declare not to write another word about captioning for I am as guilty as anyone on this matter.
Yes I am depressed. The world has gone backwards. I have spent a lifetime fighting for change. Indeed I have spent half my life as a disability advocate and the worlds gone backwards. I and others like me have failed. And for those I have misled I apologise profusely. It should not be this way but the fight must go on. What alternative is there?