Sco Mo was on TV today. Australia is burning so he tried to lead. Fires happen apparently. Lightening, arson, random sparks and the like. It’s unfortunate said Sco Mo. Meanwhile the crickets on. Let’s not forget the brave cricketers entertaining us and distracting us while the country burns. I am not really sure how much of this is actually right. You see Sco Mo spoke with no captions or Auslan interpreters. That’s what I heard anyway. I saw a bit of it on Facebook, no captions nor interpreters. My friend Kelly gave me the gist of what he said. I wish she hadn’t. There can be very few leaders in the world as ignorant and lacking in empathy as our Sco Mo.
It reminded me again how far Australia has to go in terms of disability access. A friend contacted me today and asked me if I would be making a submission to The Royal Commission into the Abuse and Neglect of People with a Disability. I pointed out that I had not really been abused. He reckoned that the neglect that we people with a disability experience on a daily bases, at the hands of ignorant able bods, was akin to abuse and that the Commission should hear about it. I am not sure if that is their remit but he had a point.
I mean a few years ago I was working in a job with a local council. In the Council they have an emergency services manager. This person’s job is to respond to natural disasters like bushfires and get the community prepared and ready. They do this in many ways. Through town hall meetings, radio announcements, videos, letterbox drops and the like. They develop a response plan to disasters. I looked over the plan and pointed out that there was no mention or consideration of people with a disability.
There was no plain English information for those with learning disabilities. No large print information for those with a vision loss. No captioning on videos. No consideration for making town hall meetings accessible through interpreting, captioning or physical access. No thought, whatsoever, had been given. Over two years I tried to get the Council to consider these things.
The Emergency Services Manager at first promised the earth but did nothing. My persistence was met with contempt. She stopped responding to my emails altogether. I would talk to her and she would patronise me and smile. She once said … ” Gary, we have a community, they will look after the disabled members.” While I agree, there is a role for the community, there is so much that needs to happen to ensure people with a disability are informed and safe. The ignorance and complete contempt for the needs of people with a disability was scandalous.
Luckily there were and have been no major disasters in the area in this time. I truly fear for the safety of people with a disability because there is no plan to respond to their needs. No plan for accessible evacuation vehicles, no plan to communicate with deaf members, no audit nor knowledge of where people with a disability might be. You see, the neighbours will save them.
Is this abuse and neglect of people with a disability? Is this something that the Royal Commission should hear about? Must someone die first until people realise the magnitude of what needs to be done to respond to the needs of people with a disability in the case of an emergency? My friend has a point. Disregard and ignorance of the needs of people with a disability is neglect.
Until recently I was a member of the Disability Workers Registration Board in Victoria. I got a job in Adelaide and had to resign, sadly. This Board was looking at standards required to employ people in the disability sector. A disabled member of the Board raised an issue of attitude.
He said qualifications are one thing, but how do we measure attitude. How can we ensure that people who work with people with a disability understand human rights, dignity, equity issues, power imbalances and the like. He pointed out that he would much rather have someone working for him that met an attitude scale rather than just a focus on qualifications and meeting police checks. He was right. I hope the Board take his concerns seriously.
I mean its 2020. Just last year someone I worked with in the NDIA gave me some work. She didn’t quite pat me on the head but she said… ” I have every faith that you can complete this work.” For fuck sake, it was just checking NDIS plans. 30 years experience and a title of Senior Planner and I get patronised like that.
Then I was in a meeting with my manager who was frustrated with communication issues and having to ensure I could lipread her. “Gary ..” she said, ” Perhaps you have more important work at your desk. Would you like to go and do that.” I must have given her an almighty dirty stare because she almost physically jumped back. ” No thank you.. ” I said, “This work is very important too.”
She later apologised but the number of gaffs she made was appalling. For example she tugged her earlobe and said .. ” Gary, listen to me.. ” She once had the gall to tell me to stop taking notes and focus on the Auslan interpreters. This is a person in a high ranking leadership position working with people with a disability. What did the employer do to measure her attitude and approach to working with people with a disability?
Not a lot it would seem. And this is what the Board member was touching on. To work with people with a disability takes more than just a piece of paper. What can we do to ensure people who are working with people with a disability are not just academically qualified, not just accountants but actually know how to relate to people with a disability and treat them with respect.
It is a big hole in the sector, the elephant in the room. No one wants to address it because it is too hard. Meanwhile, people with disabilities are still labeled occupational health and safety risks. Meanwhile, organisations are neglecting their responsibilities and expecting “The Neighbour’s” to pick up the slack.
Australia has improved in terms of disability rights but there is still much to be done. Neglect of people with a disability happens in so many forms. People in leadership roles are chosen for the wrong reasons and this leads to poor decisions, ignorance, neglect and indirect abuse.
We all know that the abuse that people with a disability have endured, both physical and sexual, is horrendous. I fear that unless we make a real effort to address the attitude and power imbalances we will only ever paper over the cracks, no matter how many millions of dollars are spent on the Royal Commission.
Here is to a better and safer world for all people with a disability. The current one in Australia is nothing to be proud of and leaves a lot to be desired.