It's Completely Mad!!

The world has gone mad, and not in a nice way. Last month I was horrified to read of an incident in the UK. Over in the UK the Conservative Political Party that is now in power is working frantically to get Britain’s budget back in the black. Part of that policy is to try and cut expenditure on disability. Of course it is always people with a disability that are targeted. You see there are people pretending to be disabled everywhere so that they can get Government benefits. It has become a bit of a disabled witch hunt. So much in fact that people in the street have begun to abuse the disabled.  Reports of taunts to people with a disability about “faking” their disability since the government has publicly targeted cuts to disability pensions have risen 41%. There was a horrific story where a man was dragged out of his wheelchair by louts who demanded that he, “Get up and walk you lazy bastard.” The worlds gone mad!

I comforted myself with the thought that this could not happen in in Australia and then I remembered Kurt Fearnly.  Fearnly is one of Australia’s elite Paralympians. He is made of stern stuff having crawled the Kokoda Trail. He was once made by Jetstar to pack his wheelchair in the luggage. They insisted that he had to be “pushed” onto the plane on one of the Jetstar wheelchairs. For a proud and self-resilient man like Fearnly this was an affront to his human dignity. Said Fearnly, “An able-bodied equivalent, a normal person’s equivalent, would be having your legs tied together, your pants pulled down and be carried or pushed through an airport.” Fearnly refused to be pushed and instead crawled through the airport on his hands and knees to his seat on the plane. This was in 2009. Jetstar later apologised and changed their policy. Surely things have got better since then? Nope! You see the world has gone stark raving mad.

One would have thought after being publicly embarrassed by Fearnly like this Jetstar would have been more empathetic towards the needs of people with a disability. Especially those in a wheelchair but NO! In 2008 a passenger in a wheelchair was stopped from boarding a flight because the airline had a policy of no more than 2 wheelchairs per flight. The passenger was made to catch another flight because there were already two people with a wheelchair on the flight. Not surprisingly the passenger was very angry at such discrimination and took Jetstar to court having been unable to reach agreement through the Australian Human Rights Commissions Disability Discrimination complaints process. One would have thought it was a clear-cut win for the person in the wheelchair but NO. Just very recently the judge ruled in favour of Jetstar. The judge ruled that a mega-rich and successful company like Jetstar would experience Unjustifiable Hardship if they transported more than two people in a wheelchair. Such logic befuddles the mind. To rub salt into the wound the person in the wheelchair was left $20 000 out of pocket for having the gumption to complain. It could have been worse you know, the person in a wheelchair was LUCKY that disability discrimination court cases are capped at $20 000. Thank the lord for small mercies! Jetstar is a sister company of Qantas and one wonders just how Qantas are going to transport the Paralympians in wheelchairs to the 2012 London Olympics. Two at a time one would imagine. It is just crazy!

But it doesn’t end there. In Victoria a mother of a child with cerebral palsy took the Victorian Education Department to court and ….. LOST. What did the mother want? She simply wanted her child be able to participate fully in her school activities. She wanted her to be able to participate in school camps and receive support that would enable her child to have an equitable education to her peers. The court, naturally, decided that it wasn’t the Education Department’s responsibility to provide such access because the child had cognitive and physical issues. So the court has basically ruled that if you learn differently or have different needs and you want a mainstream education that the Victorian Education Department does not have to provide the support the child needs. The other choice is to send them away to a “Special School” No disrespect to Special Schools but shouldn’t we all have an equal choice? Well apparently if you have a disability, NO. Said the mother, It’s a real indictment and parents of children with disabilities should be really concerned about their kids’ education and this government’s commitment to it,”

I had cause to think about this case and others on the weekend. Things in South Australia have really gone to pot. In one week my wife and I had contact from several deaf people over there asking for advice and support.  A deaf teacher graduate in South Australia has been told she will never be ale to teach unless she is fully supervised all the time. Two mothers contacted us expressing frustration at the fact that a South Australian school has allegedly seen fit to employ a profoundly Deaf person with limited signing skills as a “classroom Interpreter” for a profoundly Deaf signing child. I am all for employing deaf people in almost any role but this decision is insane. Sure employ her as a classroom support person but as AN INTERPRETER, come on! Deaf parents have become so disillusioned about education for deaf children in South Australia that they have been making enquiries to move their children to Melbourne based schools. They have just become so frustrated at the state of affairs in South Australia. Watching all this happen is completely demoralising, the world has gone completely mad.

It really is totally insane. You want to advise people to make a disability discrimination complaint. You know that it is is often the only way forward. Indeed Graeme Innes, the Commissioner for Disability at the Australian Human Rights Commission, keeps telling us all to COMPLAIN.  His logic is that the more complaints we make the more powerful the law will become. But why would we advice any person with a disability or any associate like a mother to make complaint when a judge will rule that no more than two wheelchairs can be allowed on a plane? Why would we encourage them to make a complaint when a mother who does so has the blame for her child’s lack of progress placed firmly on the child because of diminished cognitive and physical functioning? Why would we do so knowing that if a complaint is made and no resolution found that court is the only option? Especially when we know that If the case is lost the person making the complaint could be$20 000 out of pocket! It seems like people with a disability almost have no rights at all, and if we do these are restricted to what society tells us we can have. Our rights certainly are not equal. It is completely mad.

Please will someone see sense and restore some sanity!


Footnote: There is another scandal brewing that I have been unable to write about for fear of prejudicing any complaint that maybe lodged. It is not pretty!