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Disability groups fight to end segregation of people with disability in Australia


9 December 2020 at 5:12 pm
Luke Michael
The disability royal commission is yet to look at the issue of segregation in detail 


Luke Michael | 9 December 2020 at 5:12 pm


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Disability groups fight to end segregation of people with disability in Australia
9 December 2020 at 5:12 pm

The disability royal commission is yet to look at the issue of segregation in detail 

Advocacy groups are calling on the disability royal commission to “push for real change” and recognise that segregation of people with disability is discrimination and a breach of human rights.  

In a position paper backed by 42 disability organisations, advocates expressed their deep concerns over Australian laws, policies and frameworks that “maintain the segregation of people with disability from community life”. 

The commission is yet to look at the issue of segregation in detail, although it has made clear it intends to further consider segregated employment settings in later hearings.

Advocates are urging the inquiry to fully investigate the impacts of segregation on people with disability in Australia.

Romola Hollywood, director of policy and advocacy at People with Disability Australia (PWDA), said many people with disability remained in congregated living situations such as group homes or hostels.

This means housing and support services for these people are often managed by the same organisation.

“Imagine your landlord also employs the person who helps you shower, and decides where you go for recreation and what you eat for lunch,” Hollywood said.

“This can lead to very dangerous situations if someone is experiencing violence, abuse or neglect in their home. It can make it very difficult for a person with disability to complain or change providers without putting their housing at risk.”

Advocacy groups say the commission must recognise that segregation of people with disability is discrimination and a breach of human rights under the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (of which Australia is a signatory).

Carolyn Frohmader, the CEO of Women with Disabilities Australia (WWDA), said while the commission has committed to making recommendations within a rights-based framework, it is yet to fully indicate whether it considers segregation to be a human rights breach.

“Segregated systems are often justified by low expectations of people with disability and ableist ideas about what is ‘in our best interests’, but it’s important to remember that there are well-established funding arrangements and vested interests in disability, education, mental health, aged care and other services,” Frohmader said.

“We need to be having a serious conversation about whose needs are really being met by the perpetuation of these systems.

“People with disability fought long and hard for a disability royal commission. Now we need them to push for real change.”

Segregation has also long been raised as a key systemic issue affecting students with disability

A royal commission public hearing into inclusive education in October examined segregation but the key focus was on the experience of students with disability in mainstream schools.

CYDA CEO Mary Sayers told Pro Bono News that the CRPD made clear that no form of segregated education was acceptable.

But she said all states and territories in Australia were still investing in segregated education for students with disability.  

“The evidence is clear that the life outcomes for people with disability are better when they are fully included in education in mainstream schools. Yet we’ve got governments who are resisting phasing out segregated education,” Sayers said.

“And unfortunately, we know segregated education is a pathway to segregated employment, which is also another form of discrimination. And we know that these pathways of low expectations actually harm people with disability.” 

Sayers said she would like to see the commission recommend that segregated education settings be completely phased out across Australia and a national inclusive education plan be developed.

“We’re not saying it needs to happen overnight and that tomorrow we will start shutting every special school, but we need them to be phased out over time and at the same time be building inclusive environments,” she said. 

“And for employment, a commitment to paying full award wages would be a good first step to make sure that there’s not a wage gap for people working in segregated employment.”

The disability royal commission was approached for comment but was unable to respond before deadline.


Luke Michael  |  Journalist  |  @luke_michael96

Luke Michael is a journalist at Pro Bono News covering the social sector.

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