Did you know that in Australia it is conservatively estimated that there are 4 million people with a disability? This is roughly 18% of the population. There are probably many others. For example people who have yet to disclose their disability and who choose to just get on with their lives. There are others not yet diagnosed who may have mental illness or learning disabilities. The real figure is any one’s guess. Probably it is over 20% of the population, we will never know.
Adrienne Francis talking on ABC radio claims that people with a disability in Australia are two and a half times more likely to experience poverty than other Australians. She claims that more than half of the estimated 4 million people who have a disability in Australia live in poverty. What is more shameful is that this rich country of ours, Australia, has a poverty rate for people with a disability that is TWICE that of other comparable countries in the Organisation of Cooperation and Development (OECD). YES; twice the rate. http://www.abc.net.au/pm/content/2011/s3382570.htm
Graeme Innes, the Disability Discrimination Commissioner, on the same program claims that only 40% of people with a disability in Australia are participating in employment which ranks Australia BOTTOM of the barrel among OECD countries. Let us repeat this simple fact; AUSTRALIA IS WEALTHY. What excuse does it have???? Let us also consider that of this miserly 40% of 4 million people who are part of the employment market how many of them are actually in well-paying jobs? How many are doing mundane repetitive work? How many are right up there on top of the corperate ladder? That 40%, bad that it is, does not tell us the real story.
In Australia disability policy is focused on reducing the cost of disability to the economy. Disability is seen as a burden to the public purse and the answer is to get Australians with a disability off “welfare” and into employment. The problem is that it doesn’t matter what employment, just as long as its employment. If it is low paying, no matter, it is a job isn’t it?
Even the much mooted National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) is about reducing the cost of disability to the Australian economy in general. Sure it’s an important policy and if designed properly it will mean better care and support for people with a disability. I won’t knock it; it is much needed. But the NDIS will be, essentially, a new tax. Like Medicare a percentage of the every Australians salary will be deducted to pay for the Scheme. Apart from allocating $10 million for set up costs, which will take seven years, there is no new money coming from the government coffers. Even this $10 million has come from cuts to other programs. The money for the NDIS will come from OUR pockets. The aim of the NDIS is to reduce the overall burden of funding disability support through a new TAX. I for one support this but don’t let the Government try and convince you that THEY are paying for it because make no mistake it is WE who will pay for it.
Now, perceivably, the NDIS will lead to greater participation of people with a disability in Australian society. It will enable them to participate more in the community. It will free up income of people with a disability that is used to cover cost of care, assistance and equipment and allow this money to be spent in other areas of life. Again this is a good thing but will this “freeing” up of income mean that people with a disability will get out of poverty? No it will not. This will only happen if people with a disability are given opportunities to increase their income in REAL terms.
This is why I was so very impressed with Kate Larsen, the outgoing CEO of Arts Access Australia. Ms Larsen printed a wonderful article on Ramp Up. In the article Ms Larsen described how, upon accepting the CEO role at Arts Access Australia, she also effectively handed in her resignation. You see Ms Larsen wanted to have a person with a disability heading Arts Access Australia within 12 months. http://www.abc.net.au/rampup/articles/2012/03/30/3467452.htm
True to her word Ms Larsen resigned. Apparently people around her and within her organisation tried to convince her to stay on. Apparently there is a section of the people who she worked with or in partnership with who felt that Arts Access Australia would not be able to find anyone to replace her. Ms Larsen, quite rightly, finds this attitude depressing and points out that, ”… there’s clearly not a lack of candidates out there. People with disability make up nearly 20% of the Australian population. And although education and job opportunities have not always been accessible, the majority of people aren’t born with their impairments, but acquire them over the course of their working lives. Which means there’s a wealth of qualified and experienced job applicants out there who perhaps just aren’t being given the opportunity to lead.”
What Ms Larsen is advocating is that Arts Access Australia proactively target people with a disability to apply and take up the role of CEO. It is quite simple; she believes people with a disability have a wealth of talent and should be leading an organisation that focuses on people with a disability. What is more she walked the talk, she resigned and has publicly come out and said Arts Access Australia MUST be led by a person with a disability. I know one thing; I want to buy Ms Larsen a beer. She is a breath of fresh air.
You see if you want people with a disability out of poverty they must be given opportunities. Drastic action needs to be taken. Australia needs to revisit the policy of Affirmative Action. In the 1960’s and 1970’s Affirmative Action was a buzz term. It was used effectively to promote women into management positions. Affirmative Action had its critics. For example there were people that claimed that many of the women who were promoted into management positions were mere tokens. It was claimed that they had not earned their positions and that the opportunities were handed to them on a plate. This is nonsense, what Affirmative Action did was provide these women with opportunities to expand their skills and knowledge and hence compete for other jobs. While there is still great disparity between what men earn and what women earn, which makes no sense, Affirmative Action has meant that women have been able to gain the experience that has allowed them to at least COMPETE.
Why should this be different for people with a disability? Why can we not aggressively target positions of authority and management to people with a disability so that they can develop the skills and experience to be able to compete for higher paying jobs? Kate Larsen gets it, now it is time for the disability sector, in particular the Deaf sector to follow her lead.
It’s just ridiculous that a deaf man who last week received two offers of CEO jobs cannot even get his foot in the door of a deaf organisation for a job as a Fundraising Manager. It is crazy that the first people that a Deaf sector organisation will target are those with “connections” but with absolutely no knowledge of deafness. It is crazy that a person who is deaf with nearly a quarter of a century of experience in the sector is overlooked for simple management positions simply because a hearing person has an extra degree although they have no experience whatsoever in deafness. Can you imagine a five star restaurant employing someone as head chef whose basic experience in cooking was as a house wife? It just would not happen.
We need the Deaf sector to show faith in the abilities of people who are Deaf and hearing impaired. If they don’t how can they expect the “outsiders” to. We have the ridiculous situation where a Deaf teacher is being told she cannot work alone as a teacher and must be supervised by a hearing person at all times. Last week we had Red Rooster contacting a Deaf girl on the phone for an interview. She rang back through the relay service to be told “perhaps this job is not for you.” RED ROOSTER of all organisations. Ten minutes later the girl received an email saying she was not successful. It’s absurd. To my mind if the Deaf sector cannot proactively employ its own they cannot credibly advocate to other organisations to take on people who are Deaf and hearing impaired. They have to practice what they preach.
BUT there is an opportunity on the horizon. Vicdeaf are again without a CEO. They seem to turn over CEOS more often than people do pancakes. Here is an opportunity for them to lead the way. Draw up a hit-list of suitable Deaf candidates and aggressively recruit them. Perhaps they can take a leaf out of Kate Larsen’s book and show the world just what people who are Deaf can do. It is the right thing to do … Carpe Diem.