Hey Al !!!!

Australia’s Disability Commissioner, Alastair McEwin, is my friend. I am not one to name drop but I am just putting it out there.  In fact I met him as an 18 year old. Our first meeting ended with him being quite irate.  He claimed that I made him look silly, a fool was the word he used if I remember. Since then we have become good mates. I have shared meals with him, gone away on boy’s weekends with him and he was even the chauffeur at my wedding. Our favourite memory will always be the lamb chop dinner we had while he was house sitting his aunt’s home. He met Georgina and Diana that night and he is never likely to forget.

I am having dinner with Al tonight. It will be great to catch up. But I want to catch up with him as a mate. We both work in disability so the last thing we want to do is keep talking about it over dinner. So that I don’t bring up any shop talk I am going to talk shop now. I have a wish list for Al to consider. Listen up pal!

Al, you know that cinema access for the deaf in Australia is appalling don’t you?. You know there is not enough of it. You know that Captiview is, well, crap. You know that the Big 4 cinemas promised that something like 250 cinemas and any number of screens would be accessible for us deafies by 2014 and that we would have unparalleled access. You know that they agreed to do this in exchange for funding and that the guy that did your job before you played a big part in negotiating the deal. The blind were supposed to get audio description too. God knows what happened with that.

Well the technology is crap and often doesn’t work well. Hell, for some it’s even a health hazard. The access isn’t there, the Promised Land never arrived. The cinemas are in breach of their agreement, they have broken the law. The deaf are missing out on quality cinema. It is a human rights issue. Simple question – will the Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) hold the Big 4 cinemas to account?

Now Al the other thing is that disability and employment isn’t improving. In fact it’s got worse. People with a disability at ADE’s are still getting a pittance. Only 53% of people with a disability have employment. Often they are underemployed doing menial jobs on low wages. No wonder 45% of people with a disability live at or below the poverty line.

The Australian public service percentage of people with a disability employed by them over the last 30 years or so has dropped from over 6% to a point now where it’s just over 2%. Governments that should be leading the way are not. For the deaf the paltry $6 000 a year interpreting funding for employment is a barrier for anyone that wants to progress as a deaf professional. Hell, unless a deaf person is working for a large organisation that can afford to pay over $20 000 a year in Auslan interpreting or captioning the chances of employment are almost zero.

The guy that did your job before you was big on this. He wanted quotas. He wanted action. He even took on Myer. I reckon that he was so outspoken is part of the reason he why lost his job. BUT, the point is that the employment situation for people with a disability sucks! What is the AHRC going to do about it? Surely 45% of people with a disability living in poverty is scandal enough to get something happening – a Royal Commission perhaps! No, wait, that’s only for something like Pink Batts isn’t it?? – My bad!

And then there is the NDIS. I know you are big on the NDIS. I think it’s one of your five priorities. As you know I work within the NDIS framework and can tell you when it is working well its fabulous. But you see just providing funding to people with a disability is not enough. We need investment in the community.

Last year I attended a Mark Bagshaw talk. He told a story about how he catches trains to the Blue Mountains for a day out with his wife. You know he can only fit in specific parts of the train because his wheelchair is too big. He can’t get into the regular carriages. Instead he has to go into a particular part of a carriage. This particular part has no air-conditioning. In the summer if he is on the train he sweats like a pig. If its winter he freezes.  It is 2017, this is just not right.

And you know as the NDIS rolls out more and more people with a disability are going to get out there in the community. They are going to be more visible. They will have the supports and the means to get out. But trains are still largely inaccessible. Tram stops and bus stops are inaccessible. In Melbourne we have the bizarre situation where you have an accessible tram stop that is serviced by trams with – wait for it – steps!

Buildings are still inaccessible. There are not enough accessible taxis. NDIS participants have money for transport but can’t find any transport that is accessible. It’s crazy. We are giving all these people with a disability money to get out there in the community so that they can be active members and contribute economically but we are not investing in any new infrastructure so that our community is fully accessible.

I mean there are people with a disability who have severe physical disabilities who go out in the community and do not even have toilet facilities. Even when they have accessible toilets they have to get changed on the floor with their head wedged near a toilet bowl. Yet Changing Places toilets offer a solution but the roll out of these facilities is painfully slow.

I will say it again – What’s the use of a program to enhance community participation when that community still is largely inaccessible? I mean only two people in a wheelchair can fly on any one flight at a time. How humiliating is that? If these things are not a human rights issues, I don’t know what is! So AL, what are the AHRC gonna do about this?

But seriously, how many people with a disability have to get abused before there is a Royal Commission? You would have seen and been appalled by the 4 Corners report into the abuse of people with a disability. It’s not new this abuse. Many organisations have been exposed. Its been talked about for years. I cannot fathom how abusers of people with a disability can get off simply because prosecutors decree that people with a disability make unreliable witnesses in court.

What really galls me is that known abusers actually are still working in the system. How can this be? I cannot fathom the cover ups. I cannot Fathom how people can put reputations and dollars before abuse of people with a disability. But it is happening. It is horrific.

Your boss, Gillian Trigg’s, was brilliant with children in detention. She went out on a limb for them. She copped scandalous abuse from your political master. (I  cant even say his name without feeling sick) Pink Batts warranted a Royal Commission. Abuse of kids by the Catholic Church warranted a Royal Commission. I’m not saying none of these commissions were warranted but why isn’t something similar being mooted for people with a disability who are systematic victims of abuse in Government funded facilities? But the Government’s response to a call for a Royal Commission into this abuse has been a flat NO!

Will the AHRC take up the cause. As I said, if Ms Triggs can fight so hard for the children in detention, surely this warrants a similar response for abused people with a disability within these facilities. It should and it must!

And then of course, Al, there is the dreadful Disability Discrimination Act (DDA). A law that relies on complaints, good will and a prayer that offenders will come on board. It was never going to work. Especially when the only real way to get change is usually to go to court and at great expense. Given that 45% of people with a disability are in poverty how many can afford that???

The DDA was wonderful in its day but the day has long passed. History tells us that most big organisations and offenders piss on the DDA. They piss on it because it is pathetically weak. The AHRC needs to acknowledge this and campaign to give the law some teeth. Big fines and even gaol time for big and repeat offenders are the only way to go. And please get rid of that stupid exemption thing, particularly for big and wealthy corporations. A multi-billion dollar oragnisation should never be given exemption to discriminate EVER. If you want to see what a strong legislation and jurisdiction can achieve just look at the type of access that Netflix has been ordered to and does provide. Change is long overdue!

So Al, that is off my chest. There is clearly much to be done. I’ve known you for a very long time and I know that you are up to the challenge. If you need a right-hand person who is also up to the challenge just give me a call – Advocacy is my thing! In the mean time I promise not to say a word tonight, see you at dinner. Oh! By the way, the houseboat thing, remind me tonight!