I am 50 years old in September. Half of those years I have spent as a disability advocate. I must say it has been an enthralling journey. In the deaf area I have seen rapid and paid access to Auslan interpreters and live remote captioning at work and in education. I have seen the introduction of of the National Relay Service. I have seen rapid improvements in technology such as the internet and mobile phones that have given me access that 20 years ago seemed to be but a pipe dream . I have seen the introduction of facilities such as accessible buses, trains, planes and the like for wheelchair users and people with mobility issues . The 90s and early 2000s were a period of rapid progress and change that have meant that the Deaf and people with disabilities have become ever more prominent in our society.
And then it stopped. The introduction of the NDIS gave us some brief respite but apart from that it seems that access and inclusion for people with a disability is going backwards and in steep descent. It just seems that since December all the news I am hearing about disability is bad. I do not want to hear soppy good news stories about some little guy that woke up one morning after his cochlear implant and heard the sparrows for the first time. I don’t want to read some kind of inspiration porn about the gal with one leg that put on her billion dollar metal leg and made the Olympic team. I don’t want to hear about some wonderfully kind benefactor that provided Sally with a free trip to Disneyland because she has cerebral palsy. It’s not that I am mean, its just that I want to hear about real change that impacts on everyone. I want to hear about an Australian society that provides real access and real respect to people with a disability.
But this isn’t happening. I woke up this morning and a prominent member of the Deaf community is complaining on Facebook because he cant get access to a course he wants to do. He is a strong culturally Deaf guy and needs Auslan interpreters. Instead the training agency, a private agency it seems, asked him to try lipreading and even to bring his own interpreter. Generously they told him that if he can find another nine deaf people they might consider setting up a ‘closed’ course for him.
This in 2014, where people are discussing living on Mars and the Government is willing to buy fishing boats from Indonesian fishermen to stop asylum seekers getting in. But can we provide simple access to a course for a Deaf person? NOPE! Of course our Deaf community guy can go complain through the DDA if he wants, which might take a couple of months, by which time his course may well be over.
And it got worse. I scrolled down and the delightful CEO of Townsend House, Judy Curran, had made a Youtube announcement to the Deaf community. Regular readers of The Rebuttal will know that Judy Curran has been at the forefront of a push to sell the spiritual home of the Deaf Community at 262 South Terrace, affectionately known as 262. Judy beams into the camera and in so many words manages to say, “HAPPY NEW YEAR EVERYONE – we sold it.”
Of course she did not say it in that way but thats basically what she said. But it gets worse! She jovially carries on to the end and bids farewell with, ” Enjoy your packing, and have a happy new year …” What an insult to the South Australian Deaf community who are mourning the loss of their community home and who have spent the past six months sadly packing away 80 years of memories.
Of course we will have a happy new year Judy. You just sold the spiritual home that the South Australian Deaf community built through blood, sweat and tears and lived in for 80 years. Oh happy days! The Deaf communities spiritual home has been sold to prop up services that no one wants. The Deaf communities spiritual home is being sold because a group of largely hearing people screwed up. HAPPY, HAPPY DAYS – Give me a break. Judy Curran’s announcement is one of the most disrespectful and appalling things that I have ever seen in my 25 years in the disability sector. SHAME ON HER and THEM!
And the hits kept coming. I met a triple amputee who uses an electric wheelchair and lives in a small town. He cant get out of the town because there is only one accessible bus a day. To make matters worse the one bus stop near him is inaccessible and has a ramp so steep he cant get on the bus anyway because it is too dangerous. He can get a taxi if he wants but the fares, even with subsidies, are beyond him. And anyway he can wait up to four hours for a taxi to arrive. And the Liberal Government wants disabled people to work. It is as simple as getting them off the pension you see. Bugger fixing up Australia’s dodgy infrastructure.
And then there was the kid with a disability in Northern NSW that needed to attend Westmead hospital a couple of hundred miles away. His mothers accessible van was in for service so he had to catch a train. He and his mother were to discover that most of the stations he had to use to transfer to another train were inaccessible. He had to be carried up stairs and they had to carry his heavy electronic wheelchair upstairs too. Not only was this an affront to his dignity but by the time he arrived at Westmead the constant tussle to get him through these inaccessible stations left him in a great deal of pain. Australia, the lucky country – Give me a break!
Please someone send me some good news. Surely after so much progress and over so many years, access for Australians with a disability is not going backwards? Of late It seems that way. I hope someone can prove me wrong because it is becoming almost unbearable.