As a disability advocate I found 2012 one of the most depressing I have ever experienced. The writing was probably on the wall towards the tail end of 2011. Around that time it was announced that Australia ranked bottom among the Organisation of Economic Cooperation and Development Countries in regard to poverty and people with a disability. Throughout 2012 Australia did its best to confirm this ranking, not just for poverty but for everything.
It started with the horrendous decision of the courts to back Jetstar Airlines. A person in a wheelchair had apparently been refused boarding to a plane because two people in a wheelchair were already on the plane. I may not be telling the story accurately, but that was the gist of it. The person saw fit to take Jetstar to court for what would seem an obvious case of discrimination. But the courts ruled in Jetstar’s favour. Jetstar can now insist that no more than two people in wheelchairs fly on their planes at any one time. The brave person who took Jetstar to the courts ended up more than $30 000 out of pocket for her troubles. So much for the apparent cap on all DDA court case costs. It is supposed to be $20 000. Even $20 000 is enough to put the majority of us off from going to court. Particularly given that we have the totally ineffective Australian Human Rights Commission in our corner.
Of course Australia has a history of mistreating people with a disability on our airlines. Who can ever forget the Kurt Fearnly saga. Fearnly, one of Australia’s elite Paralympians and who also crawled the Kokoda Track, was forced to check his personal wheelchair into the airplane luggage. The airline insisted that Fearnly be pushed around and board the plane in a standard airport chair. Fearnly refused to accept this affront to his dignity and chose to navigate around the airport and board the plane on his hands and knees. Fearnly was furious, he argued that, “An able-bodied equivalent . . . would be having your legs tied together, your pants pulled down and be carried . . . through an airport.” The culprit? Well the ever understanding and compassionate Jetstar of course.
Some may point to the introduction of the NDIS as showing that Australia is making inroads towards improving the lot of people with a disability. But is it? Sure if the NDIS manages to get up it will be triumphant. We have reason to be sceptical because what the NDIS actually highlighted was the ugly side of Australia’s attitude towards disability access.
The smart politician knows that disability access is not a cost. It is an investment. Invest in disability so that people with a disability can better participate in everyday life and the return of that investment will be immense. It has been estimated that just by improving the employment rate for people with a disability to 64% that this would contribute a further $43 billion a year to the economy.
Obtaining the benefit of this increased participation in employment would be largely dependent on having a society that provides for the needs of people with a disability. This means ensuring that where needed they can have their personal needs met, be transported, access information and also access infrastructure. The NDIS, structured properly, will go a long way to achieving this goal. But do our politicians see investing in disability as having a return for investment? Well if you are a Coalition politician, it would seem not.
Joe Hockey made this clear in an interview in December last year. He had this to say, “We’re not going to make commitments we can’t afford to pay for. Under us you will get a full NDIS when we can afford it.” Pretty obvious isn’t it? To me it is obvious that the Coalition do not see the NDIS as an investment but as a cost to the economy. We disability folk are expensive. We take, take and take.
It’s not just Hockey either. The delightful Premier of Queensland, Campbell Newman, is also crying poor. Said Newman, “I’m ready at any time to do a deal with the Commonwealth on the NDIS, but it’s got to be on terms that are practical to Queensland – terms that are practical in a financial sense.” Well one would think $43 billion added to the GDP makes complete financial sense. But it would seem that Coalition politicians, quite frankly, can’t see it. Thank god that Barry Farrel, the Premier of NSW, agreed to cough up some money for the NDIS that matched the Commonwealth’s input. This gives us some hope.
One of the most harrowing cases for me in 2012 was the case of a teacher of the deaf graduate who is deaf in South Australia. The graduate, a young woman, upon graduating applied for teacher registration. On the teacher registration form there was a question asking if she had a condition that would prevent her from teaching. Having graduated and passed all the criteria for being a teacher she quite naturally answered no.
It seems on her application she made a small error. This led to the Teacher Registration Board in South Australia phoning her. The young woman called the Teacher Registration Board through the National Relay Service to clear up the matter. From that point onwards the Teacher Registration Board began to question her fitness to be a teacher.
At first they said that they would only accept her teacher registration IF there was a hearing teacher working with her at all times. Further she was not ever allowed to do yard duty. In essence they virtually were trying to impose conditions that would make her unemployable.
You see they saw her deafness as being a safety risk to the children. This is despite the fact that teachers who are deaf have been employed as teachers all over Australia, including South Australia, without issue for many years. Indeed all over the world since time began Deaf people have been raising children quite safely. But no matter. You see the hearing administrators are allowed to PRESUME and make decisions about issues that they know nothing about.
Later the Teachers Registration Board had a change of heart. They decided that the young woman could register as a teacher but there had to be a note on her teacher registration stating that she was deaf. A further condition was that whoever employed the young woman needed to notify the Teacher Registration Board of all accommodations that they made to support her.
Quite rightly the young woman was affronted by this. She pointed out that there were lots of teachers who are deaf working all over Australia that do not have this condition placed upon them so why should she. The Teacher Registration Board refused to budge and insisted that the special conditions must apply. The case is ongoing because the young woman refuses to accept this ridiculous affront to her dignity.
Then of course we had the awful situation with CaptiView that we have written about enough on here. It is mind boggling that Disability Commissioner, Graeme Innes, and Parliamentary Secretary for Disability, Senator Jan McLucas, continue to promote CaptiView as THE SOLUTION. This is despite continued negative feedback from people who are deaf. It brings to question as to whether our decison makers actually take the views of people with a disability seriously or whether they are just blindly promoting their own agendas. Let’s not get started on the Human Rights Award that the cinemas won for introducing CaptiView. The whole sorry mess is disgusting.
Yes, 2012 was a shocking year to be a disability advocate. Things did not get better they got worse. People with a disability are constantly being made to feel that they are a burden as with the Jetstar case and the Coalition attitude to the NDIS. People with a disability are being made to feel inferior and lesser beings as with the case of the young teacher of the deaf graduate in South Australia. Worse people with a disability, as can be seen by the CaptiView situation, are often ignored and their views disregarded.
Australia should be ashamed! Let 2013 be the year of the advocate!