Launching DisabilityCare - A Cautionary Tale
Thursday, 4th July 2013 at 10:25 am
DisabilityCare Australia is here but let’s not think this is all done now – nothing will change until families, politicians, the service sector and Australians with disabilities understand that we are equal partners says systemic advocate for inclusive practices, Tricia Malowney.
There are very many Australians who have been hanging out for the launch of the National Disability Insurance Scheme, now called DisabilityCare Australia – ok I hate the name – but let’s face it, we’ve come a long way baby! We can change the name later – to something that recognises that I need support not care.
On Monday, I was fortunate to be able to attend the launch of DisabilityCare Australia at the Geelong office, followed by a reception at the Geelong Town Hall.
Let me say that the first event was brilliant. It was attended by many Australians with disabilities, our families and supporters, members of the disability sector and bureaucrats and politicians who had all worked side by side at the local, state and federal level to ensure that DisabilityCare Australia became a reality.
So we had Mary Wooldridge, State Liberal Minister for Disability Services and Reform, and Darren Cheeseman, local Labor Federal politician each giving short speeches recognising the contribution from all sides to get this up and running – very little politicking – which was refreshing.
All contributions were acknowledged with particular mention given to the contribution of Julia Gillard. We then had a tour of the back of office – with a great sign on the toilet door saying ambulatory and showing crutches – at last a toilet I can use!
The great thing about the staff is that a high proportion of them are Australians with disabilities – I heard estimates of between 11-15% – unheard of in Australian employment terms. We were happy to join the staff in cutting the cake to celebrate.
So all of us were in fine form as we travelled to the Town Hall to continue what we thought was to be a reception to celebrate a new era in how Australians with disabilities were able to finally exercise their citizenship rights, be included in the community, and change the way we were to be treated in the future.
How wrong could we be! The event at the town hall was awful – it was overcrowded with not enough seating. Australians with disabilities who were not able to find their way to the front of the room were left looking at the backs of those who stood in front of us. I was lucky enough to find a seat on a table, until I was bumped so the food could be put out.
I was concerned for those who were standing as many looked like they were feeling the strain of listening to the boring, long, continuous self-congratulatory speeches from everyone from the mayor to councillors, the Minister, a parent, another councillor and a service provider. It went for ages and ages and ages – the only good part of it was the short welcome to country from Uncle David – thanks.
And not only was the program long and self congratulatory, they thanked and mentioned every dignitary, and every service provider, and talked about how great the scheme was going to be for the families – with no mention of the part we had to play in all this. It was obvious that we are still considered to be children needing to be spoken about. The only people who were not included were Australians with disabilities either as speakers or with thanks – we were not provided with an opportunity to speak, we were not thanked for our contribution, and we were ignored.
The service provider spoke at how pleased he was to see that the burden of caring for disabled people would now be lifted. We were told how good this was going to be for families.
It was at this stage that I, and many other Australians with disabilities and those who understand that we have the opportunity to be on the brink of a brand new world, walked – or rolled – out.
If this is the future, where Australians with disabilities are being relegated to the back of the bus – then nothing has changed.
But I have news for the rest of Australia – we are not going to stay down, we will be vigilant in ensuring that we get to take our place in society – as full citizens.
I ask all of you to see if you can see change – are people with disabilities employed in your industry/workplace – are we included in social events, is your public transport accessible, is your restaurant accessible.
You cannot put the genie back in the bottle, and Australians with disabilities will no longer accept second class citizen status.