Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Australia's shocking stand on disability rights

So, here we go for another year - its back to the grind, it's our first blog for 2013, and a year which no doubt will present tougher challenges for us at 2PR FM. 

This morning on ABC radio, I heard fragments of a speech delivered by the paralympian Kurt Fearnley, all of it I can relate two.  He noted "Amongst developed nations, Australia is one of the worst performers when it comes to disability".  He continued; "Living with a disability in Australia isn't rosy compared to the rest of the world, even amongst prosperous nations".   "If you have a disability in our country, you are more likely to be unemployed, more likely to be living in poverty, and more likely to be less educated then if you don't have a disability" - Hello politicians are you listening? I doubt it.

He continued quoting figures from the OECD; "In Australia 45% of people with a disability live in or near poverty, more then double the OECD average of 22%.  We rank 21st out of 29 of the OECD countries in employment participation rates for people with a disability".  I found it very relevant how he stated with disgrace, "We rank 27th out of 27 - LAST - in terms for the correlation between disability and poverty".

Ita Buttrose was one of the guests who attended; she noted "I think he reminds us that there's a lot more we need to do for people with disabilities. You can't just talk about it; you actually have to do something positive about it. The community attitudes to people with disabilities needs to alter."

I am not surprised about this, this is all so true!

So to kick of the year, this has been one smashing reality check for the country that loves to call it self "The Lucky country".  As many of you know, I've never seen a paid job since leaving school in the late 80s.  But more appropriately are his remarks to poverty.  While I'm not exactly living on the streets, the government housing agency that is subsidising my rent is trying desperately hard to push me that direction.  They want me to live in one of their own (runned down) properties - because they don't want to pay my market rent.

They have already offered two places, none of which are suitable, and this is not just a case of me being picky, but a serious lack of consideration on behalf of the government housing agency.  The last place I was offered was only half the size of my current unit, it was in a drugs ghetto, and in an area where my personal safety was seriously at risk.  While inspecting one of the places, one of the neighbours told us some truths that housing was conveniently economical with.  My advocate and I were told that people had died in the unit we were looking at, and that it also hadn't been cleaned.  The kitchen and laundry was infested with cockroaches, and yes, I have all this on video for proof.     

The very reason why I would like to start 2PR FM professionally is so I can earn money from advertisers on my station, and contribute back to society.  Just like everybody else, I would like to earn my own way with a good wage, take out a mortgage, and get a place of my own choosing, on my terms without an incompetent government breathing down my neck. Unfortunately the way the government carries on in this country, it prefers for me to be living in a shit-hole on a crappy pension.

Poverty was very much the central issue of Kurt Fearnley's speech.  Government and society in Australia just constantly try to push us down to this level.  I can't speak for other disability people, but I personally often feel like a 50c discount item in a stores bargain scrap bin. 

Though this is a bit of a side note, a website called Democracy For Sale notes how both Labor and Liberal have a nice healthy list of financial donors, including a competing radio network; Austereo who donated almost $200,000 to the Liberal party in 2010-2011.  This is another tin of worms that is completely out of control, but I'll leave that one for another day.

Knowing how the political system is bought out in this country, our society is very much operated as a corporation rather then a community.  The worth of a person in Australia today, is their productivity level, and ability to fit into a work place.  If for whatever reasons one has difficulties with fitting in, particularly those on a disability, the attitude of society seems to punish rather then nurture.  This is for example those with special skills, like those with Asperger's Syndrome.  Those who have the syndrome have various struggles with social skills, such as reading between the lines during communication and intuition.  Only missing a few social cues now is enough to throw one down to the depth of the social ladder.  This translated into plane English means weeks, months, and years of crippling isolation. 

This leads me to my last comment in this blog, yes isolation, but more brutally the unrelenting reality of being ignored by those in any sort of authority, and this is MY EXACT ISSUE!  Though I have asperger's syndrome, my social skills are not so bad that people don't like being with me.  I've got a group of small friends, and go to a community group operated by Aspect NSW.  I get along fine with people in this area, and all is hunkey dory.

The moment it comes to anyone in a position of authority or heavy influence, their first line of thought is how to fob me off, and keep me out.  This is so much to the point that many of my e-mails and letters over the years have been ignored.  If I would say that this is the case with every e-mail and letter, honestly I'd be lying to you - but with that in mind, the few responses I have got were rather tepid, and ultimately very defiant. 

Aside from a half hour meeting with two politicians on the Liberal side, there has been absolutely no progress on my submission.  I couldn't even get a meeting with Mr Conroy - this was after 20 phone calls over four months.  I can't believe after all the work I've done; it has been so difficult to arrange a face to face meeting with the appropriate people.  Everyone wants you to send them a blasted e-mail, which most of the time may not even get a response.  With saying this, I don't want to appear as arrogant and selfish; I know that people are busy.  The reality of not being able to communicate the things I represent to anyone influential has been both emotionally exhaustive and mentally draining - it's like I just don't exist.   

So to bring this back to the speech of Kurt Fearnley, this is the honest down to the ground experiences of being a person with disabilities in Australia in 2013.  I wouldn't blame anyone if they thought by reading this from overseas that Australia is still in the 1940s.  I'm proud of Kurt Fearnley's speech; we need someone to tell the uncomfortable truth - Thank you Kurt!

You can here parts of his speech here: