The State of Inclusion (Not)

Congratulations Dan Andrews on your Danslide. As you said it was a victory for fair minded people. A rejection of fear, a rejection of misogyny and a rejection of a heap of isms including those starting with race and sex. It’s goodbye to right wing extremism. I for one am rapt.

Dan was a happy man. He told the world that Victoria was a progressive state. The best in the nation he said. Indeed under his stewardship things have happened. Metro Tunnel, airport trains, getting rid of train crossings, free TAFE and an apology to the LGBTI community for the years of discrimination and abuse. Dan and his team make things happen and that’s why they were voted back in power.

But – As progressive as Dan and his team have been they seem to have forgotten disability in all of their policy. There seems to be a train of thought that the NDIS will fix it. No longer do Governments need to think deeply about disability. This hugely expensive and evolving NDIS will fix it. I am sorry it won’t. Not on its own anyway.

Did you know that around Victoria the very slow progress to make public transport accessible is continuing at snail pace? In no time at all we can build a tunnel to the airport and fix the railways crossing issue. Meanwhile most people with a physical disability, and after many years of campaigning, struggle to use public transport.

Wheelchair users still have to wait for someone to let down a ramp so that they can get on a train. Most tram stops are inaccessible. Accessible trams are no good if you can’t get on them. Where stops are accessible they are sometimes still served by inaccessible trams. Public announcements at train stations still happen and deaf people are left in limbo. Come on Dan you want to be progressive? Then fix this mess. Successive governments have failed to do so. Be the one that does.

Tonight my wife is going to an awards night for my son’s school. My son is a bit of a clever chap. He won an award or six, including the prestigious Caltex Award. He goes up tonight to receive his medal. My wife, who is deaf, has to follow the night by using transcripts of speeches because there are no funds for interpreters.

A week ago we both attended his Valedictory. As school captain he was giving a speech. He was also being acknowledged as the schools top student. At this evening the school, from its own budget, paid for one interpreter. My wife and I coughed up some money to cover the travel costs of the interpreter. It was a four hour night and only one interpreter could be afforded.

Of course we looked after him. We gave him breaks and had him only interpret essential parts of the awards. Because he was only interpreter we had to allow him time to recover and social chitchat with others was kept to a minimum. In short we both got only the essentials of the night and were unable to be fully enjoy it.

Why? Well because the Education Department has outsourced all funds for interpreting to Language Loop. The conditions of the contract appear to be very strict and there are only limited circumstances where Auslan interpreters, (or any language interpreters), can be used such as parent teacher nights. Meanwhile deaf parents are unable to be fully involved in the celebration of their child’s schooling. All because the schools do not have enough funding for interpreters and the Education Department refuses to cough up.

This is not an NDIS responsibility. Education, and all to do with it, is the responsibility of the Education Department, including access to such important events as Valedictories and awards nights. At any rate many deaf people do not have an NDIS plan. Even if they did NDIS is not supposed to be used for Education Department endorsed events.

In short the Government, yes the one that Dan leads, needs to fund the access. Especially if it wants to be known, as Dan proudly proclaims, the most progressive Government in the nation. It’s a disgrace that deaf parents are missing out or being made, as we did, to contribute towards some of the cost. Oh, and while Dan and his team are fixing that, don’t forget the shocking state of TAFE where deaf students are going with only partial access to their TAFE education.

Moving away from Dan for a moment, let’s focus a bit on Bill. Well Bill is going to be Prime Minister very soon. I would much rather Tanya but it is what it is. When he does come on board, as one of the architect of the NDIS, he needs get his Government to fund infrastructure so that all buildings, transport and services are fully accessible? Not the current mishmash of hit and miss.

And please fix the National Relay Service. Does anyone honestly think that Deaf Professionals can be productive while waiting 20 minutes or more for a relay officer to answer? It is not good enough and it is a real kick in the guts for those that fought so hard for telecommunications access for the deaf. In this day and age of technology there is no excuse for this type of access to go backwards.

Dan, congratulations. I think you and your team are doing a great job. Get to work Dan. Make Victoria the State of Inclusion. There is much to be done. Are you up to the challenge?

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