HAVE you ever heard the phrase, “every society is judged by how it treats its most vulnerable among them”? Let’s excuse the word vulnerable. Instead think about how our society generally supports our disability community.
This year marks the 20th anniversary of International Day of People with Disability. The UN-sanctioned day focuses on promoting an understanding of people with a disability and encouraging attitudinal change. Fittingly, the theme this year is: “Removing barriers to create an inclusive and accessible society for all.’’
As a society, we need to seriously consider the effect of physical, attitudinal and legislative barriers to people living with a disability.
According to the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, to which Australia is a signatory, disability results from interaction between a person with impairment and attitudinal and/or environmental barriers that hinder their full and effective participation in society.
In other words, if we remove the barriers, we reduce the disability.
The biggest barrier people with a disability face is the attitude of others. The second barrier is the way we develop infrastructure in society. So, if we build houses, transport systems or cinemas that make it difficult for people to access if they have a physical, visual or intellectual impairment, we are actually creating disability.
As we move into 2013, we’ll see a step in the right direction. Our region is looking forward to being one of the small number of national launch sites for the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS). This scheme will offer choice for people living with a disability, their family and their carers, and put people in control of the care and support they receive. This will give people with a disability a chance to participate actively in their communities by providing targeted support.
People with a disability will soon hold the power and the funding to choose what they’d like to do, when they’d like to do it and with whom. For example, rather than a person with a disability attending a structured outing with people they don’t always know, they will now have the choice to pick what outings they feel would help them best.
These changes are empowering people to live their lives with their own choice, voice and control.
Prime Minister Julia Gillard last week launched draft legislation for the NDIS, which will ensure in future that people with a disability will have the same rights as any other member of the Australian community to contribute to the social and economic life of their community.
This is a much-needed move which the prime minister called “the greatest change to Australian social policy in a generation”. This is a start to a broader shift in society of becoming inclusive for all.
Cec Shevels is the chief executive of the local welfare organisation, Samaritans.