Author: Graeme Innes AM

DOG BLOG … or FINDING A WAY: Hey! That’s My job

DOG BLOG … or FINDING A WAY: Hey! That’s My job

A journal of the life and travels of Graeme Innes from the perspective of his guide dog Arrow

Monday 16 November

Wow, the boss has finished writing that bloody book. I saw him boasting about it on Twitter. About time too. I’ve been doing far too much sitting around and sleeping on the balcony while he wrote that.

It must be huge – he’s been typing for days. Hope he gave me a starring role.

Oh well, at least he did a lot of work on it when we were down at Gerringong last week. I liked it there. Maureen talked him into taking me to the beach a bit and letting me off the lead. And then Rachel would just come and steal me and take me to the beach. I like being with the boss, but it’s all work work work.

At least with Rachel I get to have some fun. All work and no play makes Arrow a dull dog you know.

The book has caused me to think. I’ve decided to start blogging

– damned if I’m going to let the boss have all the profile. I’ll sneak it on to his blog site – probs he won’t notice. And if he does I’ll tell him it will help with book sales – that should get him off my case.

Tuesday 17 November

Oh my goodness! The boss is packing the bag. We just got back from the South Coast and it looks like we are on the road again.

I wonder how far we are going this time. Hope I get to ride in the back seat of the car so I can look out the window.

I watched very carefully. He’s just made up eleven dog dinners.

This could be a big one. And damn it, he didn’t drop a crumb – note to self, jostle his elbow more often.

Wednesday 18 November

I heard the zipping this morning after he and Maureen came back from their walk. He’s showered and dressed – nice suit today but no tie, probably means its meetings rather than speeches. I wish he’d just let me look at his calendar so that I knew what to expect. I wonder if Hey Siri works with barking or loud doggy panting. Might try that if he would ever leave me with the phone.

And we’re off (very excited tail wagging) It’s harness on so it’s a taxi. Damn I don’t get to look out the window. But I can sleep down here on the floor. Hope no-one runs into the back of our taxi like they did yesterday. That gave me a fright and I may have disgraced myself with the little expression of wind I let go. Don’t think they minded too much. Boris our cab driver was more concerned about looking at the back of his car. And the boss is used to my breaks of wind.

Oh I know this place. We’re at PwC. Some sort of meeting. The carpets are nice to lie on here, but the boss and those PwC people do talk a lot. Oh well.

And we’re off again. Another taxi. And it’s the airport. I love flying. Can spread out on the floor of the plane, get admiring smiles from flight attendants and passengers, and the carpet is just crumb heaven. Great.

We’re off to Melbourne. 720 km. I’m going to count them this time.

Another taxi, and a café. Meeting – cafés seem to be the boss’ meeting place of choice. More crumbs.

Now across the road and into the Treasury building. This must be important. Oh Department of Education bureaucrats – with some old friends amongst them from when the boss was Commissioner.

He’s talking to them about the Programme for Students with Disabilities. He’s quite articulate when he gets warmed up you know. I didn’t even snore.

Another taxi and the airport again. Wow, that security guy just pointed and said over there three times before he got it and used left and right. I must be invisible.

This time we’re off to Adelaide – another 650 km. That’s 1370 km for the day. Not bad, but I think tomorrow might beat it.

Does this guy ever stop? He’s dropped our bags at the hotel and now off to a late dinner with colleagues from tomorrow’s conference. Doesn’t he realise an old dog needs her beauty sleep?

Nice hotel though, good carpets. I hope he takes me for a walk in the morning.

A tale of two Attorneys

I was buying the family fish and chips when attorney general Philip Ruddock called to appoint me as human rights commissioner and disability discrimination commissioner in December 2005. One of the things he said to me, after informing me and congratulating me, was that I must do the job “without fear or favour”.

As human rights commissioner I reported on three inspections of immigration detention centres, two under the Howard government. I conducted the Same Sex: Same Entitlements inquiry, and the Howard government did not implement my recommendations. I supported Australia’s participation in the drafting of a Disability Convention, which was initially opposed by the Howard government.

I disagreed many times on policy issues with Howard ministers and staffers. Our discussions were sometimes “free and frank”, usually civil and never personal. My views were regularly questioned, my integrity was not.

When the Rudd government was elected and Robert McClelland became attorney general he said to commissioners: Sometimes you’ll give us a kicking. Sometimes you’ll support us. That’s your job. He took the Ruddock approach, sometimes questioning our recommendations, but never our integrity, as did attorneys-general Nicola Roxon and Mark Dreyfus.

Things changed in September 2013. My first sign was when a George Brandis staffer berated me for my criticism of Myer. I had called out Myer CEO Bernie Brookes for his assessment of the National Disability Insurance Scheme levy as being “money that could have gone through our cash registers”. The disability sector and others vehemently criticised his remark. When he made what I regarded as a “Clayton’s apology” the next day I joined the criticism, and recommended that he rectify his error by committing Myer to hire more employees with disabilities and commit to a 10 % target – a call to employers I made numerous times. The Brandis staffer questioned my judgement rather than my policy approach.

The trend continued with Tim Wilson’s appointment as human rights commissioner without a selection process, and fresh from the Institute of Public Affairs, whose policy was to abolish the Commission. Until that point, both sides of politics, as well as the Commission, understood that the position of human rights commissioner was redundant. From the time I moved from that role in 2009, the president, Catherine Branson, and then Gillian Triggs, carried the role.

The ill-fated Labor bill proposed in 2013 to consolidate Australia’s human rights legislation abolished the position altogether. This part of the bill was not opposed by Brandis in opposition. However it never came to the parliament.

Wilson’s appointment meant that the resources of the Commission were so stretched that when my term as disability discrimination commissioner ended last July the position was not filled. Susan Ryan got the job, as well as her full-time job as age discrimination commissioner. She had no lived experience of disability, although she is doing the best job she can.

The decision to conduct the children in detention inquiry was made when I was still at the Commission in 2013. All commissioners made it. Commissioners before me had inquired into the issue, I reported on three inspections of the centres, Catherine Branson inquired as well. The Commission has been concerned since the late 1990s that Australia has not been complying with its commitments under the Refugee Convention.

While the number of children in detention is less now than under Labor, those there have been there for much longer. Also, information about people in detention was significantly harder to obtain from the immigration department after the Coalition took power. In conducting the inquiry, the Commission was just doing its job “without fear or favour”.

The Forgotten Children report was received by the attorney general last October. The message to undermine Triggs clearly went out this January. It has happened ever since, climaxing when the government initiated discussions about her resignation, and talked of other employment.

Triggs was hammered in The Australian, although supported in most other media outlets. It isn’t the first time The Australian has attacked the Human Rights Commission – let’s not forget the time they put Tom Calma’s Canberra house on their front page, questioning what he as an Aboriginal man (who happened to be an outstanding bureaucrat) would know about Aboriginal welfare in the Northern Territory. They ignored the fact that this was where he came from. There are other examples too.

Part of our democratic system, and the rule of law, provides that a key duty of any attorney general is to defend judges and statutory officers doing their jobs, because they are not in a position to easily defend themselves. Far from defending, Brandis has attacked. It is he who has made the serious error of judgement. He has “shot the messenger”.. Triggs has advocated human rights compliance by Australia – she has done her job.

The “play the person, not the ball” approach was followed when Senator Ian Macdonald, chairing the Senate committee considering the report, admitted on Tuesday that he hadn’t read it because –
he said – it was partisan. How “chicken and egg” is this – if he hasn’t read it, how does he know it is partisan?

But you know, I agree with Malcolm Turnbull. This is not the main debate. We should be debating why children are still in detention, as Gillian Triggs has sought to do.

(This article was originally published in The Guardian.)

“(tags graeme innes, ruddock, phillip ruddock, McCleland, robert mccleland, roxon, nicola roxon, brandis, george brandis, brookes, bernie brookes, myer, attorney, attorney-general, triggs, gillian, gillian triggs, tom calma, ian macdonald, senator, without fear or favour, fish and chips, the guardian),

What’s in the name?

“A rose by any other name would smell as sweet” said the bard in Romeo and Juliet So what’s in a name?

Some dogs are famous individuals – Lassie, Rin Tin Tin, Inspector Rex, and Hairy Maclary from Donaldson’s dairy. Their names are famous because of their pursuits, or what they achieve.

But some dogs are famous as groups. The St. Bernards with the keg of brandy around their necks, St_Bernard_with_barrel_alt

the explosives detection dogs which support our diggers,201492-sapper-darren-smith

the sniffer dogs looking for drugs or illegal imports. Quarantine detector dog

And of course, guide dogsSoutheastern+Guide+Dogs+Puppy

I love my guide dog. She is great at her job. I love walking, and she provides me with a far more relaxed and faster means of travel. On familiar routes she is almost perfect.

arrow is the cutest

She’s also a great addition to the family. She provides support and safety to my teenage daughter. She is an excellent foot-warmer for my wife. Her friendly lick on my leg in the morning is a great start to my day. And her leaps of excitement when I get out her harness so she can work just give me a warm inner glow.

But why is her name so important? “What’s your dog’s name?” is the most common question I am ever asked.

My standard answer is – “I don’t use her name unless I’m giving her a command”. I answer this way both because it is true (she responds very well to her name and I don’t want to lose that), and because if I tell people her name it will encourage them to pat her, or interact with her when she is working. These things make it harder for her to work, and puts my safety at risk.

During the time we have worked together (about eight years) I have been asked this question about six thousand one hundred and forty five times. That’s more times than most test cricketers score runs in their careers.  It’s not quite as many times as my dog and I have had hot dinners,dutch-hotmeals-mainbanner but its close to podium. Aus PC X Bradbury

I understand that people are evincing a genuine interest, and I get why they want to know. But I am well and truly over answering this question. I find it a little unnecessary and intrusive, but much less so than a lot of other questions people with disabilities are asked. But you can only repeat the same answer so many times before you start seriously contemplating the more extreme alternatives – which could involve physical harm to the questioner or the answerer.

I don’t want to be rude when I answer, saying things like “mind your own business” or “I’m not telling you.” That’s not the best way to oil the wheels of human interaction.

284578-grumpy-cat.gif

I don’t want to keep saying what I have said for years – not because its not true, but because I’m downright bored with saying it.

bored_lion

Perhaps I should try flippancy – “I can’t tell you, she’s working under cover” Screen Shot 2015-01-25 at 9.40.34 am or “I’ve forgotten”.

Perhaps I should attach a small speaker to her harness, so that I can play a message saying “I’m sorry Dave, I can’t tell you that.”

chess_2001_space_odyssey

What do you think? Please give me some ideas? I’m getting desperate! All suggestions will be seriously considered, and I will tweet the ones I choose.

(Graeme Innes has come to the end of his repetitive tether, and is desperate not to be dogged by the same request).

Throwing your lollies out of the Cot

Changing attitudes changes lives Cody’s story will cause different reactions.

Many people will be appalled that teenagers could be allowed to play a game like rugby where such serious spinal injuries could occur. Many people will be saddened about a young life they consider much diminished, and view Cody as a victim. Many people will think that Cody and his family were heroes because of the positive approach they took in the face of such adversity. Only a few of us will think, as I do, “I’m sorry that occurred.

Disabilities requiring someone to use a wheelchair, just like other disabilities, are part of the human condition. How can we best support Cody to enjoy and contribute for the rest of his life.” Cody shares my views. He says “I don’t want people to treat me any different. I’m sitting down all the time, but apart from that I’m still the same.”

And his story, and the interaction with his family and mates, bear this out. Negative attitudes towards people with disabilities do not come – in the main – from hatred, meanness or negative intentions. They come from lack of awareness and understanding. Cody was sixteen when his accident occurred. His story, the first episode in the Attitude series on ABC television at 6 30 on Saturday nights, (and available on ABC iView) is one of many being experienced by people with disabilities.

We are teenagers, sports players, mums, bankers, accountants, truck-drivers, teachers, lawyers, doctors, academics, etc etc etc. We just want to live our lives, not as victims or as heroes, but as agents of our own destiny. And the biggest barrier we face in doing that is the Attitude barrier – we are prevented from living our lives by the limiting and negative assumptions made about us by people without disabilities. Every day, on the train, in the street, in my work and in my leisure people assume that there are things that I cannot do because I cannot see.

There are a few – but trust me not nearly as many as you think. I read, I write, I travel, I love, I parent, I pay the mortgage – ordinary things that ordinary Australians do, whether or not we have disabilities. Cody’s story, and the six other episodes in the Attitude series currently going to air, are taken from “the vault” of Attitude Pictures in New Zealand.

They have been making such programmes as these in New Zealand for the past ten years to change attitudes of people in New Zealand towards people with disabilities. And they are succeeding! We want to do the same thing in Australia – change the attitudes of Australians towards Australians with disabilities. Because we know that changing attitudes changes lives.

If an employer accepts that I can work as a lawyer, rather than assuming that I can’t, and gives me a job, that will change my life. If a fashion retailer assumes that people with disabilities buy fashionable clothes, and includes models with disabilities in its advertising, that will change our lives.

If you use pictures as well as words in your signs, that will change our lives. If you don’t park in our accessible parking spaces, that will change our lives. And if you caption your advertisements on tv and in cinemas, so that people who are deaf or hearing impaired can follow the spoken word, that will change our lives.

Cody’s story is powerful because of his attitude. He says “I love challenges. i’m happy to come across something I can’t do, and go back to it later in the week or in a few years, until I can do it.” And Cody’s dad says “He hasn’t thrown his lollies out of the cot. He’s got plans. He’s gonna be a Wheelchair Black.”

You can help Change Attitudes by supporting our Start Some Good campaign. We are crowd-funding our first Australian programme, and we’ll build to an Australian series. Join us today to help change attitudes towards people with disabilities.

Don’t Bugger Off Now: We Need You

I saw Stella Young perform last Wednesday night at the closing function for the Don’t Dis my Ability campaign. Her opening lines were something like-

“Now before we start tonight, I just want to thank all the able-bodied people in the room. I’m so pleased that your friends have brought you out tonight, and that you are here. You are just so – what’s the word – so inspirational.”

From then on, for the next twenty minutes, she had the crowd in the palm of her hand – laughing, cheering, and applauding. Her stories of ordinary life as a person with a disability were funny, poignant, but always contained a powerful message – “It’s not our disability that’s the problem, its the way you view it, and the barriers that you put in our way.”

I didn’t even bother to talk to her last Wednesday night. There was a big crowd of people, and I thought I’d just catch up on twitter or the phone some time soon. And now she’s gone – at 32 way before her time.

I would have loved her to write my eulogy. I never expected or wanted to write hers. “You can’t bugger off now: we need you.”

How do I describe Stella Young. Feisty, smart, quick mind, sharp wit, great communicator – speaker and writer – and passionate disability advocate. Good friend, who would call me out publicly as the Disability Discrimination Commissioner if I wasn’t speaking strongly enough, or acting quickly enough, but have a drink or a coffee with me as a friend, and strategise on how to progress disability issues.

If you haven’t seen her Tedtalk, go and watch it now! If you haven’t seen the “room for change” five-minute films made as part of the Australian Human Rights Commission’s Twenty Years Twenty Stories films, search it on Youtube and watch it now. If you haven’t read her powerful articles on Rampup and ABC The Drum dealing with disability, violence against women, do yourself a favour, go and read them now. If you haven’t followed her on Twitter, go and look @stellajyoung

Stella didn’t achieve the National Disability Insurance Scheme implementation on her own – but she made a significant contribution. Stella would be the first to admit that she could not have run Rampup on her own – she needed all those of us with disabilities who contributed articles. Stella wasn’t the only one to use social media to achieve positive change for people with disabilities – but she led the charge. Stella has not ensured that every music venue and bar in Melbourne has an accessible toilet not stacked with cleaning materials – but she has, with her force and charm, taken many along that path.

Stella had so much more to do. She was energetic, passionate and committed. But not only did she communicate so effectively, using humour to pass on her message, but she worked hard to ensure that the voices of other people with disability would not be silent.

This woman, who said that she could break a bone just by breaking wind, will be sadly missed. Her legacy will be that all who are disability advocates will campaign harder to achieve the change she sought. Heaven must have been short of a few laughs to take her so soon.

This article was first published in The Guardian.

An Excellent Save

Several weeks ago in this blog I wrote about Westpac and how I was “locked out” of my bank. This was because the Go button on the banking app did not work for users operating via voice output.

So it is only fair that I tell the rest of the story.

There were two issues about which I was upset. The first was that, because the Go button did not work, I was effectively prevented from doing my banking, or “locked out”. The second issue was Westpac’s response – whilst the member of staff to whom I spoke was friendly and helpful, her response indicated that Westpac were aware of the problem, and that there was no immediate plans to address it. So I was blocked – during the Christmas and new year period – from using an app which I had used perfectly happily for a number of years before it was upgraded. But other customers who did not use voice output were not. I felt excluded, and I felt hurt.

A previous occasion when I, and many other Australians with disabilities, were hurt in this way was when Myer’s Bernie Brookes said, on the day of the increase of the medicare levy to part-fund the National Disability Insurance Scheme, that this was money which would not be spent in Myer stores. Hundreds of people with disabilities reacted to this comment. The next day, Myer made an apology straight from the Claytons song book.

On that occasion I expressed how hurt I was by that half-hearted apology, and challenged Myer to do something positive, and commit to an employment target of 10% of people with disabilities. This was a challenge I had issued to many other employers, and 30’000 Australians supported my call.

Westpac took a very different approach. The head of the relevant IT area in the bank contacted me personally, after I had published my blog, apologised, and explained that Westpac took access for everyone very seriously. He and I then worked together to narrow down the cause of the issue. So unlike Myer, Westpac made a full apology and sought my support to resolve the problem.

It turned out after further investigation that the problem only occurred when My braille keyboard was connected to my iPhone – whenever I disconnected it, the Go button magically reappeared. Westpac have tracked this down to incompatability between the Go button, which is a generic Apple tool, and braille keyboards. Westpac have reported this to Apple, and are moving to return to the old login process – which did not use Apple’s generic Go button – until Apple solve this incompatability.

There is a clear lesson here for all businesses. Whether a business, or an individual, none of us are infallible. So it’s how you go about dealing with the mistake which is important. I am no longer “locked out” of my bank, and I have withdrawn my discrimination complaint.

You can be Myer My Store and say my way or the highway, or you can be flexible and support diversity like Westpac, and stay simply the best.

Not Getting The Point

Picture the scene. It’s been a lengthy cab ride to the airport for my guide dog and I. The driver and I have chatted. We have agreed on politics and sport, but expressed different views on the weather and choice of radio stations. Situation normal.

The traffic hasn’t been too bad, so I’m in plenty of time for my flight. And I know a good cup of coffee awaits on the other side of airport security. Life is ok.

I pay the fare, and am about to get out when I ask the driver to tell me where the entrance is. Cabs can pull up along the front of the terminal, so I like to get some broad direction.

“it’s just over there,” he says, as I feel his arm raised in front of my face to point.

How do I respond? Do I just get out, not having the information I need? Do I ask him to tell me again, because my dog wasn’t watching where he pointed? Do I explain that I can’t see the direction of his digit?

“Pointing doesn’t work for me,” I say, “is it behind or in front of the car.”

“It’s right there,” he replies, pointing again. His physical action showing that he has not got the point.

I get out defeated, hoping my dog will find the way. Which she usually does. She’s a labrador, not a pointer.

This is a regular experience for me. Many people have trouble giving clear directions.

“It’s to your right,” they say confidently, when they mean left.

“You turn left here,” they say, when they mean go straight for another five metres and then turn left. I try to smile as I brush the dust from my clothes, having turned left immediately and walked into a wall or a tree.

But my favourite is “It’s just there,” as I imagine there finger pointing confidently in a direction which I cannot determine.

Perhaps I should reach out and grab their arm, encourage them to hold it steady while I track it down past elbow and wrist, and – using touch – determine the direction in which I should travel. If I could find there arm, that is, without grabbing various other more inappropriate sections of clothing or anatomy.

Perhaps I should train my guide dog to watch carefully, and point her nose in the direction shown by their finger. My dog is good, but that may be above her pay scale.

But until then, or when the penny drops for those who resort to the directional digit, I will continue with my life, not getting the point.

Graeme Innes is a Don’t DIS my ABILITY ambassador, lawyer and disability rights activist. He was Australia’s Disability Discrimination Commissioner from December 2005 to July 2014. He now Chairs the Attitude Foundation which uses story-telling and the media to change attitudes about people with disabilities, because changing attitudes changes lives.

This article was originally published in “Made You Look” the Don’t Dis My Ability campaign publication.

Simply The Best

The words of that Tina Turner song ring in the ears of many –

Simply the best

Better than all the rest.

But even when you are at the top of the tree, you have to be continually paying attention to ensure that you stay there.

Many a sporting team has learned that hard lesson. I still vividly recall the fall of the mighty Australian cricket team, and my pain as I endured the ashes of 2005. You just cannot take your eye off the ball.

So, as Gail Kelly announces her retirement (and I don’t suggest that the two are related) Westpac has done just that. Yes, that organisation which the disability sector holds up as a bright light whose achievements should be the bench-mark for employment and access. The bank who have 13 % of their employees as people with disabilities, who recruited paralympic champions, and led in many areas of building and internet access.

Just as the citizens of a number of countries were during the GFC, I’ve been locked out of my bank. You won’t be surprised to hear that I’m talking about a virtual lockout – access to the Westpac banking app has been removed for me.

I do the vast majority of my banking through my iPhone. I can’t quite make my wife’s claim of not having walked through the door of a bank branch this century, but I would come pretty close.

Westpac upgraded their online banking platform several months ago, and as part of that upgrade they changed the front screen of their app. I can key in my customer number and password, and the voice on my iPhone speak them back to me. Once this is done, the user is expected to press the Go button. Except while people can see the Go button on the screen it isn’t labelled – so my screenreader does not speak it to me. So I’m locked out.

I could ring up and use telephone banking. I could open my computer – something I do less and les these days – and do my banking online. But the app door is locked for me.

If the Go button did not operate for customers who could see it during the app testing which I am sure took place, the app would never have been released. But clearly no-one checked if the button operated using voice output, or if they did check they took no action to fix it. They took their eye off the access ball.

I finally spoke to Westpac today. The staff member with whom I spoke was friendly and apologetic. She said that they were aware of the problem, and it should be fixed in the next upgrade. So after the Christmas New Year break I can do my banking. Until then …’

The Sydney Olympic Organising Committee lost a court case about these issues fourteen years ago. Coles are currently being taken to court for lack of access for their online shopping site. US grocery sites are currently settling similar claims. The WWW Access Guidelines have been around for years.

For Simply The Best, this is Simply Not Good Enough. Just as we build buildings to be accessible for everyone, we should build virtual environments to be accessible for everyone.

That is why I am lodging my Disability Discrimination Act complaint against Westpac today, and seeking $100 compensation a day until this problem is fixed.

If you lock me out of my bank I’m banging down the door.

Inclusion or Exclusion – it’s your choice.

We Need You

My guide dog and I

arrow is the cutest

walked through the ticket barrier at Wynyard station last week with clear instructions for where I was meeting my friend. “I’ll meet you at the top of the escalator for the Carrington Street entrance of Wynyard,” Gemma had said. “It is on your left after you walk through the ticket barrier.”

Wynyard has a large open concourse between the ticket barriers and the Wynyard ramp, and I was not sure Arrow and I could find the escalators in question without assistance. She would want to go straight up the ramp, as we had done hundreds of times before.

So I asked at the ticket barrier- “could you please tell me where are the escalators for Carrington Street?”

“where do you want to go?” replied the Attendant.

“I want the escalator up to Carrington Street,” I repeated.

“Yes, but where do you want to go,” he said.

“I’m meeting someone at the Carrington Street entrance,” I said, not really understanding why he needed to know.

“Ok,” he replied. “We’ve got a lift that will take you to that level.”

I’m sure this man was trying to help. But he, consciously or unconsciously, had made a decision that anyone else would make for themselves. He had decided that I and my guide dog could not use an escalator – something we do multiple times every day. He had excluded me.

Despite my reference to the escalator twice, he had decided that I needed to use the lift. His actions would result in me not arriving where I wanted to be – the top of the escalator.

This is a very minor example, which did not change my day much. I found someone else who showed me the escalator, and got to where I wanted to be.

But it is an example of something which happens many times every day to people with disabilities. Elizabeth Hastings, Australia’s first Disability Discrimination Commissioner, used to say that we swim in a sea of discrimination. People – consciously or unconsciously – make many choices which exclude us.

People park in accessible parking bays, removing the only parking option for people with mobility disabilities.

People leave obstructions such as shop displays, tables and chairs on footpaths, which people who are blind or have low vision run into, or who have mobility disabilities trip over or can’t get past.

People at meetings don’t use microphones when they are available, and exclude people with hearing impairments.

silly microphone

People stare at our difference – our skin condition, our wheelchair or our crutch. 

People use words without pictures on signs, and exclude some people with learning or intellectual disabilities.

complicated road sign

People use words like Mental, Insane, Retard or Spastic, or describe others as “turning a blind eye to my problem” or being “deaf to my concerns”. Language which hurts us, and sends a message that we are diminished because of our disability. 

Laws and regulations sometimes, but not always, bar these actions. Or they provide a basis for people with disabilities to lodge complaints if we are discriminated against. But those laws do not stop the exclusion and discrimination from occurring. Because laws can change behaviours, but they cannot change attitudes.

We can campaign all we like in the disability sector. We can successfully lobby politicians to enact laws such as the NSW Disability Inclusion Act, or provide support through the National Disability Insurance Scheme. But without you, those benefits are significantly reduced if you make the choice – consciously or unconsciously – to exclude us.

Just like The Beatles sang, we need you.

Graeme Innes is Australia’s former Disability Discrimination Commissioner, a human rights activist and a Don’t Dis My Ability campaign Ambassador.

(This blog was originally published on the “Don’t Dis My Ability” campaign website.)

I like your new stuff

 “I like your old stuff better than your new stuff” were the song lyrics Regurgitator used to lament the new music from one of their favourite old bands. But in life rather than music, give me new stuff every time.

Our seventeen-year-old was recently lamenting – as only teenagers can – the fact that she wasn’t allowed to vote. She was shocked and appalled – as only teenagers can be – when I told her that in my lifetime the voting age in Australia had been 21. It was reduced to 18 after the persuasive argument that we should not send our young men (not people in those days) to fight in our wars before they could vote in our elections. I drew the parallel with Caroline Overington’s recently published “last woman hanged” where the suffragettes argued that if the legal system could execute women then perhaps women should have a place on juries, and be allowed to vote. Another successful argument.

This discussion caused me to think about several conversations I have had in the last week where I liked the new stuff better than the old stuff. They were numerous and disparate.

The first related to driving. A friend was bemoaning speeding fines, and I pointed out that the reasons that Australia’s road-toll and vehicle-related injuries have significantly decreased during the past few years were better safety technology in cars, better roads, and more stringent speeding laws. I prefer the new stuff.

Next was bill paying and banking. I asked someone about the methods of payment for their account, and they replied that the easiest way was for me to post them a cheque. I chuckled, and told them that I had not written a cheque since the last century. They were a little shocked by this claim, but agreed that the various electronic payment methods now available to us – direct debit, credit cards, and Paypal – were much more efficient for all concerned.

My wife and I were conducting a banking transaction on Sunday afternoon when the website stopped the transaction and logged us out without a reason. I bemoaned this inconvenience until Maureen pointed out to me that some years ago I would not have been able to pay this bill on a Sunday, and would have either had to post a letter, or go into a bank branch (something she claims not to have done this century) and pay over the counter. Of course she was right.

The third conversation related to how I read newspapers and books. Until a decade or so ago I didn’t read newspapers much at all. And when I did, it was in a bulky braille version with a very limited selection of articles which were quite out of date, or on the radio (link radio for the print-handicapped) at a time of the broadcasters choosing rather than mine. Now they arrive on my iPhone, and I select the type of articles I want to read from a variety of publications. It’s called an RSS feed.

Books are the same. I grew up reading braille books which arrived on my front verandah in a large cane basket, and more recently in satchels which I had to lug to the post office because they were too big to fit in the post-box. The alternative were audio books, which arrived in packages of cassettes. Now they fly to my iPhone or similar sized reading device through the cloud, and that trip to the post office has morphed so that my fingers do the walking on a keyboard or touch-screen.

Finally, there was the christmas holiday planning – fitting three generations of the extended family into the combination of apartments we had booked at our favourite resort. It was tricky – catering for cots, crying babies, and snoring adults (I plead guilty of that), and the different dates people would arrive and leave. “You’ll need a pen and paper,” I said to Maureen as we sat down to tackle the task. “I think you will have to draw a chart.”

“No,” she said, “I don’t need a charting tool I need an annotating tool. I think I’ll use Skitch in Evernote.” Three minutes, job done!

That’s why I like your new stuff better than your old stuff.