DDA – Destitute Discrimination Act

Photo is of Graeme Innes. He is wearing a dark suit with a white tie. He has a small badge on his jacket lapel. He is sitting with his black guide dog.

Graeme Innes is a legend in the disability sector. He has been a committed and tough advocate for people with a disability. He was one of the prime drivers of the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA). He is often the DDA’s strongest advocate , encouraging the Disability community to make complaints and set precedents. At the moment he is very angry. You can read why HERE.

Recently, Mr Innes had an awful experience at the Adelaide Airport. Mr Innes uses a guide dog. A security guard made things difficult for Mr Innes. To cut a very long story short, Mr Innes had to get through a security lane that used a body scanner. He did this to avoid long lines which his guide dog found difficult to navigate. As he made his way through security, Innes was told his dog was not allowed in the lane. In Mr Innes own words:

“We put bags and metal on the belt and walked to the scanner. The male security guard said aggressively you can’t come through this lane with the dog. I explained that at GC airport where I live there are only body scanners, and I do it every time I travel – regularly. He refused. I explained I would sit the dog, be scanned, and call her through. She would trigger, I would not, and she gets pat-down. She loves, I do not. Again refused.”

Apparently, by this time the guard had turned his back on Mr Innes. Being blind, he did not know this, but his friend told him. Eventually, Mr Innes got through the security but not before at first being humiliated and treated like a second class citizen. All Mr Innes wants is a system that treats everyone equally and not differently. He is sick of being singled out. I can only empathise with him.

The airlines industry in Australia has a long history of disability discrimination. Their rules will only allow two people with physical disabilities to fly at any one time. Kurt Fearnley famously crawled through an airport, rather than being forced to be pushed around the airport in a standard wheelchair. Many people with disabilities receive no assistance to leave their seat. We often hear stories of valuable mobility equipment being damaged in the cargo hold or worse, lost. Inflight entertainment is often inaccessible with no captions or audio description. Australia’s airline industry and their treatment of people with disabilities has been, historically, lousy.

Mr Innes has had enough, He wants change at policy and service level. What is also interesting is that Mr Innes had this to say – “I am publishing this on Twitter because it is now in the public domain, so it will be much harder and less relevant to settle through a confidentiality clause in an agreement. I want this in the public arena.”

Has Mr Innes, one of the staunchest advocates of the DDA and a person who encourages us all to complain through the DDA, inadvertently just admitted that the DDA is cumbersome and difficult to use to get the change that we desire?

Mr Innes has also chosen to be very public. He is even demanding compensation now, outside of the DDA process. Said Innes,

” I want policy change and more respect and flexibility for people just trying to comply with the Security process the way everyone else does. I do not want a separate system. Want this one to treat us equally. I also want $5000 compensation to a charity of my choice. Apologies made are meaningless platitudes – I want real change. I am happy to try conciliation, but will not settle for less.”

It is interesting that Mr Innes is open to conciliation. However, the whole point of the conciliation process is to negotiate a resolution. Given that Mr Innes, “…will not settle for less.”, it would seem conciliation would be pointless, unless the respondent would offer more. Highly unlikely!

Perhaps Mr Innes has already completed a DDA complaint, but judging by his comments, he does not seem to have much confidence in the process. Rather than follow the process, he has publicly slammed the respondent and demanded change and compensation. Of course, with his huge profile and following he can do this. Hopefully, he will be successful and many will benefit.

Sadly, very few of us have Mr Innes’s status and clout. In Victoria, many people with physical disabilities will not be able to get on a tram today. Either, because the tram stops are inaccessible, or because the stops are serviced by old trams which can only be accessed through steep steps. Maybe one of these disabled people will scream blue murder to the press and demand $5000 and immediate change, as Mr Innes has done. I reckon their chances of success are slim either way.

Or those Deaf and hard of hearing people receiving phone calls from the NDIS (of all organisations!). When they cannot answer, their requests for access to the NDIS are put on hold. They are sent a letter that tells them the NDIS tried to contact them and they need to contact them immediately if they still want access to the NDIS.

Or worse, the planners and LACs who refuse to book interpreters or meet on Teams. They try to do planning meetings over the phone. Or call on the phone to organise reviews. When the deaf person doesn’t answer, they simply roll over plans and sometimes with steep cuts. Maybe one of these deaf people can write a blog and demand action, change and compensation. Or they can try the NDIS complaints process along with the DDA? I can’t say I fancy either of those options leading to change either.

Or the poor student who can’t study because they have severe autoimmune issues. They want to study online. However, because COVID protocols have been removed they have been directed to study on campus. They have provided medical evidence that they cannot, and if they did that they would need to attend in PPE. They have been told bad luck, because if they help them study or attend class online, it will impact on the quality of learning of others. Given that university students studied successfully online for two years, I would say this is absolute nonsense. So four months into the term, the student can’t study and can’t get resolution.

Meanwhile, their fellow students merrily study on. Can the student do what Mr Innes did? Can they use the DDA? Can they use State Equal Opportunity law? Well they can. She might win and be able to study in 2025. Perhaps $5000 compensation will sweeten it for her. I kind of think she will be pissed off either way.

These are real life stories. What is the DDA doing to help? Precisely nothing. It is a useless law. It relies on complaints that are directed to conciliation. That respondents to complaints can refuse conciliation if they want, is a joke. More often than not, complaints need to go to court for resolution. Many people just drop things there. It is all too hard and all too stressful. It is a truism to say that the DDA is destitute.

Meanwhile, organisations run roughshod over people with a disability. They can’t get on planes. They cant get on trams. Organisations develop communication systems with no thought to deaf or hard of hearing people. Educational providers make studying an uphill battle using inherent requirements and quality of learning as an excuse to deny access for people with a disability. If they are private providers, they just claim they are too poor to provide any support.

The DDA is dead. It is long past its use by date. We can’t all go screaming to the media demanding change and compensation here and now, like Mr Innes has done. We can’t even use the DDA most times because our window of opportunity is too small. Governments stall change, claim that they are better than other States and that we should be thankful. (Yes this happened.)

Don’t get me wrong. I support Mr Innes in his quest. I hope he wins. I hope change happens. But I, like other people with a disability, have become despondent. It really is a Destitute Discrimination Act. It needs change and strengthening.

Labor claims that they want a country for all Australians. Let’s hope that they have the guts to tackle this ridiculous law and and provide people with a disability with the dignity and access that they all deserve. If they don’t, I demand $5000 now – not for charity but for an airline ticket to a country that might treat me better.

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