Not Very Bright !

government is stupidAnd after two weeks of staunch Laborites like me whinging and moaning about the Abbott Government Deaf Australia has done what we all needed. It has laid down the challenge. How the Liberal’s will respond is any one’s guess. But now’s the time to cease the whinging, get our hands dirty and work with what we have. If this media release is anything to go by it shows that Deaf Australia are up for the fight. Let’s get in behind them.

So ended the last Rebuttal. I fancied myself as a sort of latter day Neville Chamberlain. Of course Chamberlain was the Prime Minister of Britain prior to WWII. He famously came back from a meeting with Hitler declaring, “…peace in our time” A few months later WWII was in full swing making a mockery of his statement. In the deaf sector it looks like history is about to repeat itself.

I was quite sincere in my sentiments. I really felt the post election period had been relentlessly negative. Prime Minister Abbott did not help himself with his one-woman cabinet, electing himself as Minister for Women and seemingly demoting disability Ministers to bit part players.

But what was happening was that the criticism coming through really was not about these issues. The criticism just relentlessly targeted Prime Minister Abbott. It became quite demeaning. Sure I laughed at some of the memes going around on Facebook and even shared some. In retrospect I wish I hadn’t. In doing so I simply contributed to the relentless negativity. My apologies to everyone that was forced to read them. Sharing those memes was not very bright.

Of course I am still whining, particularly about the demise of the NBN. I did so yesterday and came in for some ribbing from my mates. “Try living in South Korea…” said Stewart, or words to that effect. Apparently South Korea has the fastest broadband in the world but their lifestyle is no better that Australia’s said Stewart.  Wouldn’t our lifestyle be even better with their broadband?, was my retort. He told me to go back to England if I was that pissed off. (Wounds are still raw since the Aussies were drubbed in the Ashes 😀 )

But anyway my point is that there are some important issues to focus on and we, as communities that have concerns, need to be working together. Equity policy is a point in case. Equitable representation of women in government and equitable opportunities for people of disadvantage would seem to be pressing concerns. For example Education Minister, Christopher Pyne, has flagged the cutting back of targets for disadvantaged groups in higher education. This is something we all need to monitor and work together closely on.[1]

As I said in the last Rebuttal, we need to now to forget the negativity and have a focus on working with the Government. We need to continue the smart fight for the things that we hold dear. I encourage people to work with Deaf Australia and other disability peaks and continue to let them know of the issues that are of concern to them. Hopefully Deaf Australia etal can continue to raise these issues at high levels for us all.

What I do not encourage is blatant point scoring that Deafness Forum demonstrated today. Last week Deaf Australia released a punchy media release. It was a call to arms if you like. They criticized the non-appointment of a Disability Minister to the cabinet. They raised concerns about plans that “appeared” to indicate the slashing of the employment Assistance Fund. This fund included Auslan for employment and captioning in employment. Rumours were that Auslan and captioning funding was to be halved.

Good on Deaf Australia for raising these issues. Deafness Forum decided to investigate with the Government to see if the alleged cutting of the EAF was true. The Government has indicated that there are no “Anticipated”[2] cuts to the EAF. This was good news for all of us. However a word of caution in the use of the word “anticipated” This leaves the door ajar for cuts in the future. I would much rather see them say THERE WILL BE NO CUTS!

Congratulations to Deafness Forum for clarifying the issue and concerns surrounding the EAF. But it is here that my congratulations end. For reasons known only to them, in clarifying concerns about the cutting of the EAF, Deafness Forum took the opportunity to literally SLAM Deaf Australia. Below is the full text of their statement on their Facebook page.

Allegation of cuts to Employment Access Fund

A claim was made recently by an organisation with the deafness sector that the federal government would cut the Employment Assistance Fund.

Deafness Forum does not endorse the claim.

The Employment Assistance Fund helps people with disability by providing financial assistance to purchase a range of work related modifications and services.

Deafness Forum contacted the Department of Social Services and was advised the allegation was baseless.

Deafness Forum contacted the office of the Assistant Minister for Disability & Ageing and was informed the allegation was wrong.

Clearly in this statement Deafness Forum are having a go at Deaf Australia. there are several components of the Deafness Forum statement that are inaccurate. Deaf Australia said there “appear” to be plans to cut the fund which is entirely different from saying the fund WILL be cut. Further they said it was to be cut by 50%, not that it was being completely cut. It is worth noting also that, to my mind, Deaf Australia’s focus was only on the Auslan and captioning component of the EAF. All these things Deafness Forum have conveniently overlooked in their efforts to belittle Deaf Australia.

Australian’s who are Deaf, Hard of Hearing and Hearing Impaired have grown tired of the constant bickering between our two major peaks. At a time when negotiations with a new Government require our peaks to show a united front, publicly demeaning Deaf Australia in this way is the last thing that we need. Sure they did not mention them by name but it is pretty obvious isn’t it?

All Deafness Forum needed to have done was to contact Deaf Australia and say they have contacted the Minister and this is the response. The two orgs could then have put out a joint statement saying that they were pleased that the EAF was not to be cut. Deaf Australia could have had the opportunity to retract their statement or at least explain where they had received their information.

Thank you for the clarification Deafness Forum but the public demeaning of Deaf Australia in this delicate political climate is, to put it mildly, NOT VERY BRIGHT! Let’s get smarter people, all of us, particularly me.

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Merit, Deaf Australia and All That!

womenI hate the word merit. Merit is one of the most abused words in the human language. By definition merit according to Google means – The quality of being particularly good or worthy, esp. so as to deserve praise or reward. The word merit is getting a lot of airplay at the moment. Prime Minister Abbott has elected his frontbench and within it there is just one woman.  Prime Minister Abbott says there are plenty of skilled and talented Liberal women just knocking on the door but that they are not quite there. He chose his Front-Bench on merit he said.

Of course this is totally insulting to all women everywhere. Why? Because Prime Minister Abbott is saying that only one of the Liberal women is good enough and that the rest simply cant hack it. And if you go by the definition he also means these women are not deserving. To add insult to injury Prime Minister Abbott also suggested that the women who were part of the Labor Party ministries were mere tokens.  What an insult to such brilliant women such as Macklin, Ellis, Wong, Rishworth et al. It is not that the women in the Liberal Party cant do the job rather it is, as Jenna Price notes in the Canberra Times, “There are talented women in the Liberal Party who have been marginalised.”[1] And Tony Abbott is responsible for that.

Merit is a horrible way to select people. Why? Because it does not take into consideration a raft of social reasons as to why a person might not have the same experience as another. In the example of women they may have been guided in a way that was ‘traditional” and in the early stages of their career chose “female” specific occupations. Often it may not have been until much later that they realised this was an error and redirected their career. This may put them five to ten years behind their male contemporaries in terms of experience. Then of course there is childbirth and being a mother which can take years out off a woman’s career. It is not for nothing that women are paid less than men and have fewer opportunities to climb the corporate ladder.

People with a disability are in the same boat. They have a whole host of challenges to confront. Just getting educated is one of them. It might just be being able to access a lecture theatre so thatone can get a degree. It might be the language issues confronted by many deaf people. Deafness means that access to information through overhearing, media and social avenues is often hindered. For many young people who are Deaf or Hard of Hearing what this means is that when they leave school they don’t quite have the experiences and maturity of their hearing peers. This often means it takes longer for them to complete their studies. For a whole range of reasons people with a disability are constantly playing catch up.

It’s not for nothing that unemployment and underemployment is rife among people with a disability. When they do finally get employment they are confronted with attitudes and barriers that often keep them in base grade work for many years. Of course when they apply for higher management jobs they are over looked because of that nasty word, MERIT. “You are highly skilled” say the bosses, “ …but you don’t quite have the experience and we chose the position on merit.”

Well good for the bosses. It didn’t take them double the time a non-disabled person did to get through University did it? They didn’t lack support at school did they thus making University an even greater challenge? And of course they didn’t have to confront Australia’s inherent prejudice and discrimination towards disability did they? It’s not for nothing 45% of Australia’s disability population live below the poverty line.

What this means is that people with a disability, like women, are constantly playing catch up. No matter what the skills and the experience they have they are simply hindered when it comes to competing on merit. This is why so many advocates, including myself, are now pushing for quotas and affirmative action when it comes to employing people from disadvantaged backgrounds. Let’s not call them minorities shall we because women can hardly be called a minority. Paradoxically, combined it is women, disability, Aboriginal and other groups that are actually the majority.

So what Mr Abbott has done by citing merit as his argument for appointing only one woman to his cabinet is put Australia back 40 to 50 years in terms of social gains. It is a never ending battle to try and overcome the meritocracy. Without proactive policies and policies that recognise ABILITY as integral and the disadvantage that many face, the lot of women, people with a disability, the Aboriginal community and other groups is unlikely to improve. We advocates are rightly frustrated that the minimal gains we have made in recent years appear to have been almost lost under the new Abbott regime.

Deaf Australia has recognised this with there recent and quite brilliant media release that questions the Liberals new front bench.[2]  Deaf Australia made their view clear, Tony Abbott shocked the nation on Monday when he announced his new cabinet; eliminating key ministerial portfolios, including Disability, Women, and Mental Health. Deaf Australia has condemned the move, saying it will take Australia backwards.”

This is what Deaf and Hard of hearing Australians want from their advocates. They don’t want pussy footing diplomacy they want things to be said as they really are. The media release makes riveting reading, “With this decision, Tony has already broken his promise made in his victory speech, saying there would be “no surprises, no excuses’,” said Deaf Australia Acting President Todd Wright today. “He has shown his true colours by further marginalising one of the most vulnerable minority groups in Australian society.”

Mr Wright outlined Deaf Australia’s concern at the alleged cutting of Auslan and caption funding for employment for Australians who are Deaf and Hard of Hearing. Already the amount given is pitiful. My own funding lasted barely 2 months this year. Mr Wright warns of the ramifications of cutting the funding when he forcefully points out, “If the EAF is cut, many Deaf people will be at risk of losing their jobs, as their employers will not be able to afford to pay for interpreters and other requirements. Forcing Deaf people back onto the dole is irresponsible and old-fashioned and will cost the government much more in the long run.”

This is simple and brilliant advocacy. I was inspired when I read it. After years of soft approach advocacy someone was finally telling it as it is. I know there are times for diplomacy but this is not one of them. People are worried and concerned, it is a time when we need forceful and brave advocacy.

Deaf Australia has made it very clear their concerns. Mr Wright, in what can only be described as laying down the gauntlet, let rip – “Abbott is washing his hands from disability issues by removing critical ministry and parliamentary secretary roles in his cabinet. He is out of touch with what the disability sector needs and will drag down long-term productivity gains in the workforce contradicting key Liberal policy.”

And after two weeks of staunch Laborites like me whinging and moaning about the Abbott Government Deaf Australia has done what we all needed. It has laid down the challenge. How the Liberal’s will respond is any one’s guess but now’s the time to cease the whinging, get our hands dirty and work with what we have. If this media release is anything to go by it shows that Deaf Australia are up for the fight. Let’s get in behind them!

What About Me???

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Two weeks ago Australia elected Tony Abbott as Prime Minister. They elected him for no other reason than that internally the Labor Party was a rabble. No matter that the Labor Party had actually governed quite well. The economy was functioning well in difficult times. They put out policy and created social reform in a hung parliament that required negotiation skills of the highest calibre. Debt, despite the Liberals claims, was manageable and amongst the lowest in the world per head of population. These things did not matter because internally Labor was a rabble. And of course there was Kevin. And if there is one good thing about the Liberal’s coming to power, the demise of Kevin is it.

Yesterday Prime Minister Abbott announced his cabinet. To the surprise of no one it was male dominated. In fact in his cabinet there is only one woman, Foreign Affairs Minister, Julie Bishop. In the outer ministry there is a smattering of women. Condescendingly Prime Minister Abbott has stated that he has picked his cabinet on merit. In doing so he has basically said that there are no women within the Liberal Party that are capable.  Said the Prime Minister, “You have to make very tough judgment calls as a Prime Minister as to who is in and who is out of Cabinet and at the end of the day we, as a Coalition, have always said that these positions should be based on merit rather than on quota. And if I might say, with respect, have a look at the Labor Party and you can see what quotas do.”

How insulting is this to all the women of Australia? Particularly given that Prime Minister Abbott has his own quotas. He has a quota of National Party members which he must select because they are a Coalition. How else can you explain the selection of people like Barnaby Joyce or Warren Truss? Mr Truss is actually the Deputy Prime Minister simply because he is leader of the Nationals not because he is capable. This is hypocrisy at its best. It is a terrible, terrible slight to all the women of Australia! It was particularly disgusting suggesting that the Labor Party ministers who were women were simply there to fill quotas. The latter point is the biggest insult of all

Women aside it is a real concern to me is that there is no Ministry that is specifically for people with a disability. It can be argued that disability affects nearly 100% of Australia’s population.  Either a person has a disability or they are a family member, friend or support person of a person with a disability. Given that we are in the throes of launching the NDIS, which the Liberals have made a concrete promise to continue, and given the far reaching impact of disability one would think that a Minister for Disability was warranted. But No!

The closest that we have is Mitch Fifield. Mr Fifield is nice man. He is knowledgeable and very supportive of disability. He has been appointed as the Assistant Minister to Social Services. He is also the manager of Government Business in the Senate. Inside information tells me that he will be responsible for Disability and Aging. Of course Disability and Aging are one of the biggest populations in Australia. In between being the manager of Government Business in the Senate and assisting the Social Services Minister across a huge portfolio he will have a lot of time for disability wont he??

What is more telling is that Prime Minister Abbott has not even appointed a Parliamentary Secretary for Disability. Labor had three. They started with Bill Shorten who drove the early NDIS debate. They then had Senator Jan McLucas and when they lost Government they had Amanda Rishworth in the post. Note two very capable women there who are mere tokens according to Mr Abbott. (For the record I was not that impressed with Ms McLucas, but I know of a lot of people who were.)

So disability is absolutely demoted under a Liberal Government. There is no specific portfolio for one of the largest issues confronting Australia. Instead disability has been hidden away in Social Services. It appears to be the responsibility of Mr Fifield who already is heavily committed to two major roles. By hiding disability away in Social Services the Liberals have forever labelled disability as a welfare issue.

This is a real concern. It is certainly true that there are elements of disability that are a welfare issue. But anyone who is anyone knows that disability has far reaching implications across many areas. There are medical, social and economic impacts of disability. To my mind Australia has always been more focused on medical aspects of disability. Australia’s disability policy is heavily focused on fixing, managing and supporting the individual with a disability. Australia has yet to properly explore the social and economic impact of disability. With disability now hidden away in the Department of Social Services under the Liberals this does not look like it will change anytime soon.

This has always baffled me. I have always seen disability as its own thriving economy. There are jobs in innovation in the development of technology and infrastructure to ensure inclusion for people with a disability. There are jobs in education where people with a disability require specific education support. There are jobs in many specialist professions that focus on disability. There is business to be made and profits to be had from people with a disability simply by making business, events and entertainment inclusive. In short, people with a disability are an important economic cog for Australia.

Bill Forrester from Travability will tell you about the multiplier effect. When a person with a disability goes out into the community they rarely do so by themselves. They go with family, friends and sometimes support people. For example when a person with a disability goes to a restaurant they may have two or three others with them. If memory serves me correctly Forrester believes this multiplier effect is 2.5. What this means is that if a person with a disability visits a shop, a venue or a facility that is not accessible they take their business elsewhere. Believe me, this amounts to a lot of business and money!

And then you have the infrastructure issues. Labor launched the NDIS. It will be fully operational by 2019. All going well this will mean many more people with a disability will be getting out there into the community. Rather than going out once a month, it is foreseeable that people with a disability will now have the capacity to go out several times a week. This large influx of people with a disability to the community will require more accessible infrastructure. The impact of the NDIS in terms of infrastructure requirements has not been well thought out. It requires foresight, planning and mostly a significant investment.

Of course even Labor did not think about this. Even Labor was firmly entrenched in a medical view of disability. How else could they have come up with a condescending and medically focused name for the NDIS like DisabilityCare? BUT at least Labor gave disability a focus. They gave it a focus by having a Parliamentary Secretary for Disability. They gave it a focus by having a Prime Minister that actually took a keen interest and attended events and consultations concerning disability. They gave it a focus with a far reaching national consultation when developing the NDIS.

What do we have under the Liberals? Well we don’t know because it has been hidden away. It almost seems to be unmentionable, like Voldermort “… Oh, we do not mention its name…”

So to the women who are missing and the people with a disability that have been hidden I end with the lines of the famous song…

And now I’m standing on the corner all the world’s gone home
Nobody’s changed, nobody’s been saved
And I’m feeling cold and alone
I guess I’m lucky, I smile a lot
But sometimes I wish for more than I’ve got

What about me, it isn’t fair
I’ve had enough now I want my share
Can’t you see I wanna live But you just take more than you give

A Day in the Life ..

THE DEVICE!
THE DEVICE!

The thing about Australia is that disability is rarely taken seriously. People don’t see the issue of disability as an important thing to consider. By and large people see disability as a burden and an add on. The needs and rights of people with a disability are not something that people think about as a matter of process. If they did every building would have a flashing light so that the deaf can be aware of fire if it happens. If Australia was taking disability seriously every building, our entire infrastructure and all our processes would be designed so that people with a disability were a focal concern. It is an embarrassment that on Saturday at the elections stories abounded of the lack of access for people with disabilities. Poll booths were inaccessible, disabled parking not considered and there was little assistance for people with intellectual disabilities to understand the voting process. This is Australia, the lucky country.

Last week a wheelchair using friend of mine attended the NSW Art Gallery. She took part in a guided tour. Of course the Art Gallery had not even considered viewing art from a wheelchair user’s perspective. Art displays were in glass cabinets where people in a wheelchair could not see over the top. Pictures are hung at eye level for standing people. Displays are set up so that people with a wheelchair cannot navigate around them. In the tour no thought was given to the needs of the wheelchair user. People raise their arms stand on tip toe and generally obscure the view of the wheelchair user. The tour was so inaccessible that my friend left the tour and embarked on a tour on her own.

An example of an art display designed with no thought to wheelchair access.
An example of an art display designed with no thought to wheelchair access.

She took a lift to the Goya exhibition. After viewing the art she went back to the lift so that she could go back downstairs. To her horror the lift had broken down. She had a plane to catch in a few hours so she was not too alarmed. She found someone from the Gallery staff and asked for assistance. She was told that a couple of men would be up to assist. My friend had visions of muscular and bare chested firemen carrying her down the stairs. She joked about this with the Gallery staff.

Eventually two guys came up to assist her and they brought with them a device. The device apparently locked in the wheelchair and enabled the person in a wheelchair to be transported downstairs. But it was an old device and it did not fit my friend’s modern and expensive wheelchair.To my friends horror it appeared that the two men had little experience in the use of the device. One said he had used it once and thought he could remember how to use it. The other said that he had no idea how to use the device. My friend was terrified. She is no shrinking violet and had gone wheelchair abseiling the week before. Wheelchair abseiling was easy the device just looked insanely dangerous.

In the end, because my friend’s modern wheelchair did not fit the device, one of the men had to go downstairs and get one of the Gallery wheelchairs. This was an old wheelchair that they use for people who have injuries or have mobility issues. The device had been designed for these types of wheelchairs. The ironic thing is that what this means is that most wheelchair users who use modern wheelchairs would not be able to use the device either. The device is virtually useless.

So after some toing and froing the two guys eventually attached my friend to the device. This would not have been easy or dignified. She would have had to somehow get out of her chair and get in the Gallery one. Her own chair, worth a nifty $15 000, needed to be dismantled carefully so it was not damaged. Eventually all these challenges were negotiated and the two guys began to transport my friend down the stairs.

My friend said it was one of the most terrifying experiences of her life.  A few times her head was nearly smashed into the step. Then suddenly one of the guys had a brainwave. He apparently worked out that they had attached the chair the wrong way around, hence why my friend nearly had her brains dashed out. Eventually she got down the stairs with the aid of a stair lift. She had been the brunt of curious stares and whispers of people walking the stairs. Unsurprisingly she was flustered and on the verge of tears.

There is more to this story but it would take a virtual book to describe it all. But to add insult to injury when my friend got to the airport she was told by a guy assisting her that he had been “smashed by wheelchairs all day.” And then, in my friends words, “.. he fucked off”  My friend was later to see him running around with his two way radio. She had a special document that referred to her wheelchair and the need for it to be looked after properly. In trying to show this letter to the guy the guy put his hand in her face in what my friend described as the, “ …the universal shut the fuck up for a moment sign.”

This was the last straw for my friend. She broke down into tears of rage and went “molotov” Sadly this was not the end of her day from hell. When she arrived back in Perth she had a taxi driver try to refuse her fare. He wanted to refuse the fare because he didn’t have the insurance to cover any damage that might happen to her expensive wheelchair. My friend had seriously had enough and said to him, “..’Buddy, this is a fight you want to pick with another fucking woman on another fucking day. Put my wheels in the back of your station wagon. And do it now.”  Sensibly he did as he was told.

This is the sort of crap that Australians who have a disability are dealing with every day. It happens because Australia does not see people with a disability as equal citizens. Consider if there was a fire at the Gallery. If this was the case the lift would not be an option whether it was working or not. There is a woman in a wheelchair stuck upstairs and there is no one in the Gallery who is trained to get her out quickly and safely. What will happen? Well she will burn and likely die. I Am betting that staff are trained to evacuate all others quickly and safely – But people with a disability? If my friends experience is anything to go by virtually no thought has been given to their needs at all.

Australia is a signatory of the United Nations Convention of the  Rights of Persons with a Disability. The principles of the convention are clear:

  1. Respect for inherent dignity, individual autonomy including the freedom to make one’s own choices, and independence of persons;
  2. Non-discrimination;
  3. Full and effective participation and inclusion in society;
  4. Respect for difference and acceptance of persons with disabilities as part of human diversity and humanity;
  5. Equality of opportunity;
  6. Accessibility;
  7. Equality between men and women;
  8. Respect for the evolving capacities of children with disabilities and respect for the right of children with disabilities to preserve their identities

These are the principles that Australia signed up to. In the day in the life of my friend NOT ONE OF THEM WERE MET. The lot of people with a disability in Australia is an absolute disgrace. My god a player from the St Kilda Football Club set a dwarf alight for fun! We have to do better than this!

This is your challenge Tony Abbott –Can you and your Party rise to it!