Parliament: Interesting Speeches

Disability Awareness

The Hon. K.L. VINCENT: A couple of events in the past few days that have been reported and discussed in the national media mean that I need to come here today and talk about disability and disability awareness in the broader community. There tends to be a view that the National Disability Insurance Scheme will solve, and in fact has already solved, every challenge that we have in the disability community.

Whether it be funding, resourcing, advocacy, out-of-home care (otherwise known as respite), protections against abuse, employment, buses being accessible, accommodation, support for family carers, wheelchairs being fixed or serviced in a timely manner, training for disability support workers or a justice system that works for all, it seems that the answer to everything is the National Disability Insurance Scheme. Well, I am sorry, but it is not.

Yes, the NDIS at a commonwealth level is a once in a generation reform that could, in the long term, vastly improve the organisation of services, provision and resourcing of the disability sector. This improved system could help increase awareness of people with disabilities in our community and our basic rights by improving our access to it—that is, our right to access housing, transport, the community, employment, entertainment, recreation, education, travel and all other life opportunities, just like everyone else.

However, what it cannot do in and of itself is remove many of the barriers still facing us. It does not immediately educate the media or community about the importance of not stereotyping or portraying people with disabilities as a giant homogenous group: ‘the disabled’. It does not educate employers about employees with disabilities being more loyal and dedicated employees.

That is why it was disappointing to listen to our new Prime Minister, the Hon. Malcolm Turnbull, introducing his new ministry on Sunday and make no specific mention of disability in general or the National Disability Insurance Scheme. Yes, I know that the Hon. Christian Porter now has responsibility for disabilities and the NDIS as social services minister, but Dignity for Disability, like the community, believe that it is important that disability has a portfolio and be acknowledged on its own merit. After all, one in five people has a disability.

It was also pleasing to see a number of women elevated to the ministry, but I think it is worthwhile noticing that I as a disability MP, and a politician with a disability (and a visible one at that), am still something of a novelty in this country. With one in five Australians with a disability, and two in five who support or care for a person with a disability, this is a mainstream issue, not an exclusive club. I do, however, look forward to working with the Hon. Christian Porter MP, especially to negotiate a new bilateral agreement in terms of the NDIS for this state.

The other event I would like to briefly mention is a news story of a security guard at a retail hi-fi store refusing entry to a 21-year-old man with Down Syndrome. He did this because he thought he was some other person who had been already banned from the store—someone who also has Down Syndrome. However, the young man refused entry was of a Fijian background, with dark skin and hair, unlike the photo of the man who had in fact been banned from the store, who I understand was quite clearly Caucasian. The man who was refused entry was fair-haired and light-skinned, yet the security guard’s comments, I understand, as they were reported in the media, were, ‘They all look the same.’

This story quickly went viral on social media and then entered mainstream media across the country. As if the security guard’s actions were not bad enough, the media reporting referred to this man as a ‘Down Syndrome boy’ and ‘suffering from Down Syndrome’. A 21 year old is not a boy—he is a man or young man—and you do not ‘suffer’ from disability; you have a disability. You suffer from ignorance and stigma. We really need to be more careful and respectful about how we portray disability and report on disability in this country. I encourage you all to reflect on your own perceptions and misconceptions and how words perpetrate myths and stereotypes about people with disability. We need a more enlightened and respectful thinking in 2015, not regressive concepts and outdated ideas.