Doing Life

Dr Katharine Mallory has worked as a General Practitioner in Kalgoorlie and Perth Western Australia for more than twenty years. Much of this time she has worked in clinics providing health services to Aboriginal people.

Dr Mallory’s story was published in the Medical Forum WA last month, and I was prompted to write to the editor with my views of the story. Dr Mallory’s story is remarkable – in the true sense of the word – because she uses a wheelchair. She said that doctoring in general practise does not involve too many restrictions.
“The examination couch I work with is modified so that I can get my wheelchair under it, and get quite close to the patient,” she said.

My letter, setting out my views on Dr Mallory’s story, is below-

Dear Editor,

Most people’s response to Dr Katharine Mallory’s story [February edition] would be “amazing”, “inspiring”, “remarkable” etc. My reaction, as a lawyer who is blind, and as Australia’s Disability Discrimination Commissioner, is “what a great story about Katharine doing life.”

Someone once asked me if I was scared, as a person who cannot see, travelling the world on my own. “Sure I am,” I replied.
“Then why do you do it,” he said.
My response: “Because the alternative – not doing it – is much scarier.”

Whatever issues we face in life – marital or family problems, a lack of confidence in public speaking, disability etc – we still have a life to lead. You play the hand of cards you have been dealt, the best way you can. So I’m pleased, but not surprised, by Katharine’s story. Because for me it’s not about what’s missing – it’s about what’s there.

The biggest barrier that people with disabilities face in Australia is the attitude barrier – the way people limit us by assuming that there are things we cannot do. Of course I cannot drive a car, and Katharine can’t reach medical supplies down from a high shelf. But it doesn’t prevent me being a lawyer, nor her being a doctor.

Medical practices should be accessible for patients with disabilities, as should all other facilities in our communities. That’s why the Australian Human Rights Commission worked with the RACGP (Royal Australian College of General Practitioners) some years ago to have adjustable height couches mandatory in General Practices. Not only do they achieve better outcomes for patients with mobility disabilities, they also mean that doctors and nurses protect their backs, so it’s a win-win.

One in five Australians has a disability. So if we want a community which includes everyone then it needs to be an accessible community. I congratulate Medical Forum WA for running this story, and Katharine for “doing life.”

Graeme Innes,
Disability Discrimination Commissioner

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