Category: Disability

What’s in a (doggy) name?

What’s in a (doggy) name?

Or why Qantas doesn’t need to know my handle

Hey peeps.

As you know, the Old Dude flies a lot. And of course, I tag along (we’re in Perth at the moment).

It’s cool. I wriggle in under the seat next to him, and there are always crumbs to clean up. I also get lots of admiration from the other passengers and airline staff, which of course I try not to notice. After all, I’m working and it’s not good for me to be distracted.

I wish they wouldn’t try to pat me and talk to me though. I’m trying to work dudes. Take a chill pill and let me do my job.

So, Qantas have introduced a new policy for assistance animals. And they want to know stuff which is — well — pretty in your face. Not the sort of stuff a young female dog likes to reveal.

First, they want to know where I was trained. I wonder if they ask the other passengers what school they went to. So, I tell them Guide Dogs NSW. And the Old Dude puts it in his Frequent Flyer profile — don’t want to have to answer this stuff every time we book. We have lives, you know.

Next they want my length. When you flew last, did they ask you how tall you are? No way. But 60cm goes in the profile — not including my beautiful tail of course.

Next they want my weight. Now come on. Personal as. And I’m a Labrador — you know we enjoy the odd snack or 30. And I see some pretty heavy dudes getting on those planes — not to mention the ones who are carrying a few extra kilos. Do they ask you your weight, or weigh your luggage? Come on Qantas, get a grip. Yet again we’ve chosen not to rock the boat — so we’ve put 30kg in the profile. Well that’s close enough, right. And it’s usually on the mark — unless I go for a big chew-out.

But then their last question for me crosses a line. They want to know my name. And I know what will happen if I tell them. They will put it in the flight manifest, and every flight attendant will think it’s ok to talk to me and distract me.

I’m trying to work dudes!

Well it’s not ok. I have a job to do. And if I don’t do it properly then the Old Dude is not safe. So, distraction, and using my name, is seriously uncool. I bet Qantas didn’t consult any dog handlers before they introduced this question.

But again, the Old Dude has come to the rescue with another one of his bright ideas. He has them occasionally, although don’t tell him that or it will go to his head.

We put his name, Graeme, down as mine. So, when those sneaky distractors think they’re talking to me they’ll just be talking to the hand. And he’ll answer them, which is the way it should be. Humans should talk to him, not to me. I’ve got work to do.

Job done. And I’ll just get on with my work. And the occasional crumb on the floor of course.

Tricked you, Qantas.

See ya peeps.

Something’s happening here

Something’s happening here

Something strange happened last Friday. I sat at drinks whilst a friend leafed through the pages of my book, chuckling at some parts and asking questions about others. It’s not often that one experiences that sort of assessment of your major piece of writing.

I had mixed feelings. I was a little scared that a friend, whose opinion I value, was critiquing what I had written. But overlaying this feeling was an overwhelming level of excitement that my labours have come to fruition.

My book Finding A Way will be in the book stores from 22 June, and will be launched on 13 July. Just 3 weeks to go. And like Big Kev of advertising fame: “I’m Excited”.

I touched an advance copy for the first time last Friday, and the front cover, with its representation of Braille (the script I have used all of my life) is just amazing. I rifled the pages, smelled the printer’s ink, and held the actual printed words to my heart — my life so far in words on paper.

You will be able to share my excitement very soon. You can register on this site and be sent the first copies when Finding A Way is available. Or click the link to buy an eBook. All of the links are on the site. And if you order a signed print book, I will sign it for you before it is sent out.

You can also choose to come and join me at an event to publicise the book. They are starting to appear on my calendar — also on this site — and are currently planned for Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Perth and Newcastle. Others are still in the planning stages.

If you want me to come to an event near you I am happy to do that. Just get in touch through the link on my site, let me know the place and what arrangements you can make and we will work with you to make it happen. Events may be at bookshops, or arranged by community organisations, either as part of a bigger conference or on their own. I will try to fit in as many as possible.

My life so far has been a fantastic experience, not without its challenges. But I have always managed to Find A Way. Join me to share that experience.

Graeme

Parting is such sweet sorrow; my final Dog Blog

Parting is such sweet sorrow; my final Dog Blog

Hi Friends and goodbye

Arrow lying on her back
I’m kicking back!

By the time you read this I’ll be living in Brisbane. The boss is taking me up there so this is my last chance to get on his computer and write.

He doesn’t think I know. It’s amazing how humans under-rate our sense about these things. If I hadn’t understood him talking to other people about it, I would have picked it up from the extra cuddles and pats he has been giving me for the past few months since the decision was made. I can read him like a book.

I’m sad about going

I really enjoy working as a guide dog. I love working with the boss. I get to be a superior dog, going to lots of places where other dogs are just not allowed to go. I get to travel to new places all around Australia. And most importantly I get to meet all of you, and give you a quick sniff (and even the occasional lick when the boss is not paying attention).

Arrow's taxi to the airport
Only the best taxi to the airport

But I am finding it tougher these days. I’m 10.5 years old now, that’s 75 in human years. The arthritis is painful when I’m in cold places, and my wheat allergy means that my ears are sore much of the time. I think I should take it a little bit easier.

Where I’m going will be great. It’s Brisbane so it’s warm. I will be with people who I have visited for Christmas for the last five or six years. There are two other dogs there who I really like. And humans who visit call it dog heaven — it’s a totally dog-friendly house, we get to go for walks every day, and it’s close to parks and the beach.

I visited there with Maureen and the boss last year, and really enjoyed the weekend. I’m going to be pretty happy there, and I’m sure that the boss will come to visit me regularly.

I’ve met the dog whose taking over my job

I tried to pass on some of the things I have learned. But she’s a typical teenager, and it seemed to me that much of it went over her puppy head. We’ll see how much she took in during the years to come, I guess.

She’s a golden Labrador, and she has been training with the boss for about four weeks. It’s hard work for both of them at present, but in time I think she’ll be almost as good a guide dog as I have been.

I don’t think her writing skills will match mine, but you wouldn’t be surprised by that. I did explain to her how she could access the boss’s computer at night when he wasn’t paying attention, but she just looked at me dismissively. She told me that computers were very “old school” and all the hip pooches are using “smart” devices. She tells me not to bother myself about techno stuff; she’s cool with all of that. We’ll see.

Think of me kicking back in Brissie

Arrow the guide dog get some well-earned rest on a bed wrapped in Rachel's baby blanket
Here I am in Brisbane. My bed is made with Rachel’s old baby blanket

I’m sorry I won’t see you at the book launches. But just remember that he didn’t write it all — you have my permission to quietly remind him of that if he gets above himself.

So, to quote the great dog of the universe: “May the sun shine warmly where you lie, may the breeze bring you pleasant smells, and may you catch all those rabbits that you chase in your dreams.”

Arrow, the retiring guide dog

P.S. You are seeing some of my pictures from Facebook. I will try and update my old mate Jordie’s FB page (she was MY predecessor, may she rest in peace), so you can see what I’m up to.

Image credit: Top and centre, Tracey Markos. Bottom: Julie Tait. Featured image: Kim Welinski.

 

DOG BLOG – week 4

DOG BLOG – week 4

Thursday 3 December

It’s another early start. Pick up at 6 30 for a 7 AM gig at the Museum of Australian Democracy at Eureka. Good quality crumbs from the breakfast, though.

The boss is comparing women in Claire Wright’s book The Forgotten Rebels of Eureka with the way women with disabilities are also forgotten. Claire Wright’s book is a great read – he thought I was asleep while he was reading it, but I stayed awake to listen. It’s annoying, though, when he listens to sections with his headphones on in a plane and a car, so I miss a few important chunks. I wonder if I could get his computer to play it to me again.

Anyway, we’re back in the hire car and off to the ANZ headquarters in Melbourne. Our second International Day function. It’s the Star Awards – I didn’t get an award, but managed a few appearances in photos, and grabbed a few more crumbs.

And we’re off again. Back to the airport and heading to Tweed Heads. Umm Jetstar Boss, could be a challenge.

Yes, I was right, the flight is delayed. Thank goodness Queensland is an hour behind us – means we are not too late to the dinner awards function for the Tweed City Council.

Nice and warm up here – Ballarat was cold, even in December. The Boss made another speech and lots of people got awards. Wow I’m tired though – too busy a life for an old dog. Oh, so is he.

He’s sneaking out a little early – that’s not like the boss, but thank goodness. Back to the hotel, some nice carpet to sleep and an open balcony.

Friday 4 December

We’re flying again. Home this time I think. I might get a weekend at home for a change.

Yes, the taxi is dropping us off here. Thank goodness – a bit of time out of the harness.

Not for long though. The boss has unpacked, and sat at his desk for a while, and we’re off again. He’s speaking at a Cricket Australia conference in Artarmon for the International Day. And they like him – I get the sense that most of them in this room are cricket tragics themselves, just like the boss. Not sure what they see it in myself. Games go on for a long time, and the commentators seem to chat about a lot of things not related to cricket – I guess they have to work out a way to fill in the boring bits. Don’t tell him I said that though.

Now we’re off to the city for an Attitude Foundation board meeting and then the Australian Network on Disability drinks. That should be good. Lots of my friends there, and the crumbs are always good in a crowd.

Saturday 5 December

There’s the doorbell. And they’re calling me. I’m in the lift by myself. This means its bath day.

Sandra meets me on the ground floor – I don’t know how they open the door for her – this technology tricks me sometimes. And off I go to the trailer for a wash. It’s a warm day so I won’t get too cold. And I do like coming back with a clean shiny coat, and smelling so nice. I get very excited when I return to the apartment.

The Boss and Maureen are going out to dinner tonight which is great – I get time for a long sleep, and with any luck Rachel’s boyfriend will come over. He always gives me lots of pats.

 

Sunday 6 December

Another quiet day. Everyone in the family is taking it easy.

Oh no, the suit case is out again. How many meals has he made up this time, and where are we going now?

In a taxi and off to the airport. Adelaide this time. Ok.

Wow it’s hot here. 40 degrees. How do they live in this? Dinner with friends tonight, and we must be doing a gig tomorrow.

Well the boss made a good call and did not leave the hotel window open. He and I usually like that, but the heat is amazing here.

And now we’re off to the University for a “Conversation with Graeme Innes” primarily aimed at people with disabilities. Wow, the footpaths are burning my little feet and its only 9 o’clock in the morning.

Lots of interesting talk, and then lunch and back to the airport. There are some lovely people here, but I couldn’t live in this heat. Phew, Sydney is a bit cooler.

Tuesday 8 December

Two more International Day speeches today, but at least they are in Sydney. So we’re on the train. I like the train, and the Boss is much happier now that stations are announced. It’s funny you know, some people think it’s me who knows what station we have to get off. It’s really the Boss who works it out, but I’m happy to take the credit for it if people want to give that to me.

Our first speech is to the Department of Planning. Did I say our first speech? Well the Boss makes them, but I deserve a lot of the credit – it’s me who gets him there, and lots of the stories are about me – at least the good stories are about me.

That one’s done and we’re off to Sun Studios for a photo shoot. What – I’m not included in the photos. What are they thinking – these pics will sink without trace.

Now we’re back for another speech to the Office of the Environment and Heritage. This day is just Go Go Go.

And there is an evening function as well. The Boss is facilitating a Life without Barriers roundtable for the disability sector – called Ideas without Barriers – clever name boss. This one is about Choice and Control. Interesting discussion, and the crumbs at Spark Helmore are certainly better than average. I’m glad it’s Christmas soon – not sure how much longer I can keep up this pace.

Wednesday 9 December

At last, a quiet day. The Boss is appearing on The Drum this afternoon, so he’s doing his research. But he’ll go by taxi, so with any luck I’ll get to stay at home for a long snooze. He usually leaves some nice music on for me – he’s quite thoughtful really.

He’s come back happy, so The Drum must have gone well. That’s good.

Thursday 10 December

Another speech today. The Boss is giving the Occasional Address at a Sydney University Graduation where he is an Adjunct Professor. He’s going to wear that gown and squishy hat again.

Not sure I’m keen on that look, but it seems to get some positive feedback. No hat for me I notice.

He gave a good speech though. Told a story from his book which is coming out next year – you should read it, there will be some great guide dog stories.

Friday 11 December

We did a video shoot this morning for a Sydney University promotion – at least the Boss did the shoot and I snoozed in the corner. They didn’t want me in the shot again. When will people learn that dogs draw eyeballs?

Then off to the Boss’s Uncle’s funeral – I thought the Boss was quite sad today.

Maureen and the Boss are out to dinner tonight so I’ll get a quiet one.

Saturday 12 December

Flying again. And Maureen’s coming. This is different.

We’ve gone to Brisbane, and someone is picking us up. YES, it’s Sharon and Julie. I have gone to their place for Christmas for the past four or five years. They must have moved to Brisbane.

This Is Exciting!

I get to hang out with their two dogs, Bully and Maddie. I also get the run of this house. Their jokey nickname for the place is “the kennel” because it is so dog friendly. And both Sharon and Julie are just lovely to me. I could stay here for a long time.

The Boss and Maureen had a lovely weekend here – going out and sight-seeing, and just catching up with good friends. I just hung out – it was awesome.

I reckon I could retire here – nice warm weather, two doggie friends to play with, the lovely Sharon and Julie and a house for us all. I can’t think of much more I could want.

photo of Maddie by Juile Tait

photo of Bulley by Juile Tait

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

One last word

It’s been a pretty hard few weeks while I’ve been blogging, and another big year for the Boss and me. I turned 10 in September, so I’m starting to feel the years a bit more. And the injury to my foot on that SydneyTrains escalator earlier in the year was certainly a set-back for me.

I love working with the Boss. We go to some fascinating places, and I reckon I fly more than any other dog in Australia. But I guess all good things must come to an end.

I think I’m going to stop blogging now. It’s been lots of fun giving you my perspective on the Boss’s life. But it’s hard to find the time to write when he’s not on the computer.

So you all have a good Christmas – I hope Santa brings you lots of bones and doggie treats, and you get plenty of time stretched out on the balcony with the occasional tummy rub. That’s my plan.

By the way, make sure you get your share of the Christmas ham – it’s the best!

photo of arrow with a christmas bow tie

DOG BLOG – Week 3

DOG BLOG – Week 3

Friday 27 November

Well, I was right.  We’re off with the family on the shuttle bus to Cairns.  I’m sorry to be leaving here – I have just loved my time on the beach.  And the apartment is not too hot, particularly if I am left alone to turn on the air con, which I can because it has motion sensors.

Not keen on the metal floor of these shuttles, though – I can’t get a grip and slide around a lot.  I prefer the carpet in the plane.

Hang on, I’m going down the back with Rachel – excellent – I’ll get more pats down here.

Now, what’s happening?  The family are flying back to Sydney, but the boss and I are going to Melbourne.  Oh, that’s right.  He’s appearing in the Wheeler Centre’s Interrobang Festival.  What the hell is an Interrobang? I think Rachel said something about that one time…

Long flight – 2700 km from Cairns to Melbourne.  That’s a total of 6220 km so far on this trip.  Nice to stretch the legs on the walk to a taxi.

We’re staying at the Hyatt on Collins.  Nice enough room, but no window or balcony.  Even though the boss can’t, I like to be able to look out.

Friday night at the Interrobang sounds fun, although the stairs to the stage and green room at the Athenaeum Theatre are pretty dodgy.  If I had my way the boss wouldn’t go up those, but he’s made me do it.  The show must go on I suppose.

It’s a game show panel, and just before we appeared someone in the audience asked the question: “Which is better, cats or dogs?”
That was a great lead-in for the boss.  I sat up nicely next to him so that the audience could see me, and told him to say that of course it was dogs.  We got a big laugh for that gag.  I don’t think the boss gives me enough credit for setting up his jokes, though.  I’ll have to talk to him.

We didn’t win our round in the quiz, although I thought we deserved it.  The boss made a silly Sydney-Melbourne comment which may have done us some harm – I wish he’d let me check his material before he uses it.

Back to the hotel for a sleep.  Thank goodness, it’s been a long day.

Saturday 28 November

An early breakfast meeting at St Kilda.  What’s he thinking?  I wanted a lie-in.

Oh, and the taxi driver has dropped us at the wrong hotel.  If I have told the boss once I’ve told him a hundred times – use Uber; they are more reliable and they work with GPS systems.  I’m only a dog, but I get the value of technology.

Back to the city and Interrobang.  The boss gave a lecture on leaving a legacy – it was quite good too.

He’s having an afternoon nap – don’t blame him.  Think I’ll have one myself.

The evening Interrobang is a panel of speakers on “Are actions stronger than words?”  Well, I don’t have words – at least until I started blogging – so I’m arguing for actions.  Good, the boss is as well.

That festival was lots of fun.  And the Wheeler Centre staff were efficient and friendly.  I hope he does more of that.

Sunday 29 November

Early start again.  I don’t know where he gets his energy.  We’re off to the airport for a trip back to Sydney.  I think we are going home.  That’s another 700km making a total of just under 7000km for the whole trip.  Wish I got frequent flyer points.

This is one of my favourite days of the year.  The family hosts a Thanksgiving lunch for about 50 people.  They’ve done it ever since Leon married Rachael, even though those two are back in the States now.

I just love it.  There are crumbs all over the place, and if I’m really lucky, some of the guests just feed me pieces of ham and stuff directly.  The boss and Maureen really don’t approve, but I just give the guests a big smile, and we work it out.  I also get heaps of pats and tummy rubs.  Don’t know why the family doesn’t do it more often.  Feel a bit sick in the tummy, though, with all that ham.

Bloody hell.  When the boss fed me, tonight he made up three more meals.  We must be travelling again.  We’re keeping Qantas in business.  I’d better have a good sleep tonight.

Monday 30 November

And I thought yesterday was early.  Taxi picked us up at 5 45 this morning and yes, it’s the airport.  We’re back to Melbourne for the Life Without Barriers Victorian Carers Awards.  Remember them – they are the ones with excellent taste in bones and ties.
And the boss is wearing that tie this morning.  I bet Maureen picked it – he wouldn’t have thought of that – colour co-ordination is never his strong suit.

A really funny thing happened as we were getting off the plane in Melbourne.  The boss got his bag ready and made sure my lead and harness were ok. Then he said to me: “Come on when you can.” Which just means that he is telling me we can go as soon as the people in front have moved.

The guy standing in the aisle in front of us turned around, got right in the boss’s face, and said: “Who are you telling to go.  Just wait your bloody turn you ignorant pig.”

Unusually, the boss was so surprised he did not say a thing. Just shook his head.

Someone must have tipped the guy off because he was waiting for us in the air bridge to apologise.  “I didn’t see your guide dog,” he said.  “I didn’t know you were talking to her.  I am so very embarrassed.”

The boss thanked him, laughed and told him not to worry about it. Pretty amazing behaviour.

Parliament House in Spring Street.  It’s a nicer building than the NSW Parliament – not as cramped.  And the audience liked me, so that’s always good.

Then off to a working lunch – well working for the boss, I just dozed – and meetings for the rest of the afternoon.

We’re staying at the Wyndham hotel tonight – windows and a balcony.  That’s more like it.  Put those things in your hotel profile please boss.

Tuesday 1 December

Up for an early morning walk and a coffee for the boss.  We have a good routine going.  He takes me out for a walk and I find him a good coffee shop.

Then back to the apartment,  pack the bag, and we’re catching a tram down to Docklands.  Had to catch two trams, and no announcements on either of them.  I’ll talk to the boss about lodging some DDA complaints.

Quick meeting at ANZ and then off to Hawthorn in a taxi.  The boss is giving the International Day of People with Disabilities keynote at the Able Australia supporters’ lunch.

He told a few good stories, but the one about me was the most popular.  I’ve said to him often that he should use more guide dog material.

Back in a taxi to the airport, and we’re flying back to Sydney.
He’s presenting the Graeme Innes AM Disability Employment Award at the Australian Human Resources Institute awards dinner.  But Maureen is going, so he’ll probably leave me at home with Rachel.
Good, I need the break.  Hope he feeds me before he goes.

Wednesday 2 December

Quiet morning while the boss writes.  But then we’re off again – guess where – yes the airport.  On our way to Ballarat – via Melbourne of course.  Oh, they’ve picked him up in a hire car.
That’s an improvement boss.  I can stretch out across the floor in the back seat.  More of this, please.

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.

Dealing with disability discrimination: Our destiny is in our hands

Presentation to Access Arts conference

Chatswood, 28 October 2014

Scarlet wanted to go to “the school in the bush” but was refused enrollment because her spinabifida meant that she sometimes used a wheelchair.

John wanted to go to the movies with his family, but the lack of captions meant that he did not know what people were saying, and he could not enjoy the soundscape.

Maurice just wanted to catch the bus, but the South Australian government was proposing to buy another fleet of buses which excluded him because of his mobility disability.

Bruce wanted to enjoy the olympic experience with his kids, but the lack of the ticket book in braille, or an accessible web site, meant that he could not.

Madeline and Stella had a passion for fashion, but their retail experience was restricted by the discriminatory policies of the clothing stores they wanted to attend.

And I just wanted to know where I was when travelling by train. 

These are six examples of Australians with disabilities who experienced discrimination. There are millions more. Elizabeth Hastings, the first Disability Discrimination Commissioner, correctly observed that Australians with disabilities swim in a sea of discrimination. It happens to us so often that we frequently don’t even notice.

I’m very pleased that Accessible Arts Australia have decided to feature this issue at this conference, and make a film of discrimination: the good, the bad and the ugly. Because, as Australians with disabilities, discrimination is a significant issue in our lives. The film will be on the Accessible Arts Australia web site soon.

As the promotional material for the conference says “experiences of discrimination can challenge us. They can be isolating, liberating, frustrating or empowering. How we respond to discrimination can have a profound impact, both on ourselves and the people around us.” Profound impact sets the bar for our response very high, but I can assure you – from my own life experience – that those words are true.

When the call went out for exhibits, AAA received messages of loneliness, humiliation and vulnerability, but also received stories of generosity, hope and humour. We see all of those in the film.

I was really pleased to be asked to speak at this exhibition. Perhaps that’s because I watched Missy Higgins play from this very stage several weeks ago. So I’m fan-girling – if an old bloke can fan-girl – about being on the same stage as her.

The request to speak arrived when I was still Australia’s Disability Discrimination Commissioner. My time in that role ended in July of this year. And Senator George Brandis, the Attorney-General of Australia, chose not to appoint another full-time Disability Discrimination Commissioner, and not to have as the Commissioner a person with lived experience of disability. His actions just added another wave to that sea of discrimination, despite the fact that 40 % of discrimination complaints received by the Australian Human Rights Commission relate to disability, twice the total of the next largest ground of complaint. I note that he is appearing on QandA next Monday – perhaps this issue should be the subject of some questions to him.

Experiences of discrimination do challenge us. The film provides numerous examples. exhibiters were isolated by discrimination. Others were frustrated. But many were liberated. And many were empowered. I congratulate and thank all of you who shared your creativity around this issue. Arts is usually the catalyst for social change, and your work can act as incredibly valuable peer support, and as a call to action for many other people with disabilities. It shows us that we are not alone, and it encourages us all to challenge the discrimination we experience.

Because when we do challenge that discrimination, the results are often not only empowering and beneficial for us. The challenge not only affirms to us that we were discriminated against, that it hurt, and that we are fighting back. It can also benefit many other Australians with disabilities. Our response can have a profound impact.

Scarlet’s challenge to her school was rewarded with significant financial compensation, and the confirmation that Hills Grammar had broken the law. But the broader benefits were that publicity of her case showed this wrong to the Australian community, and now this school is welcoming children with disabilities.

John’s action on captions has led to the availability of cinema captioning and audio description on 230 cinema screens throughout Australia. We still have a long way to go, but many more of us than just John and his family have benefited.

Maurice’s complaint led to accessible buses being available on 50 to 60 % of bus routes in metropolitan Australia, with more to come.

Bruce’s complaint led to a large pay-out by Socog, and to web sites throughout Australia being more accessible to people who use screenreaders.

Madeline and Stella can now shop for clothes more easily, and their actions have led to an improved retail experience for everyone.

And when I catch a train I know where I am most of the time, as do millions of other Sydney train commuters.

The arts always lead cultural change, and all of the artistic and legal actions of which I have spoken have made a significant improvement to the environment for people with disabilities. So I congratulate you for that. But it’s not nearly enough – there is still much work to do before we can participate fully in the Australian community. So I encourage you to keep making those challenges – artistically and legally. And here are ten top tips from my experiences in this area –

  1. When discrimination occurs, write it down. Make notes of what took place, what was said, and your reactions to it. The more immediately you write it down, the more accurate will be your recollections, and the stronger will be your evidence.
  1. Lodge your complaint early. Don’t talk to the organisation first before taking your action. You are in a much better negotiating position if you offer to withdraw your complaint when they fix the discrimination.
  1. Make a public announcement when you lodge your complaint. This can be a media release, or just a post on your website, facebook or twitter. This reduces the chance of having to agree to a confidential settlement later on, as the matter is already in the public arena. It also gives your complaint more momentum.
  1. Get support for your actions from friends or colleagues, or others with disabilities. Don’t be on your own against a team of lawyers from the respondent.
  1. Don’t minimise the impact of the discrimination on you. You don’t have to “hang tough” about how you felt – you only have to “hang tough” about how you negotiate.
  1. Always claim compensation, and don’t negotiate it away. Respondents take discrimination seriously if they have to pay money.
  1. Remember that lodging a complaint does not mean you have to go to court or incur costs. Less than 1 % of discrimination complaints go to court, and the decision to go to court is yours and yours alone.
  1. Think through your negotiating position before you meet with the respondent. Just like gardening, it will be much easier to hold your ground if you have prepared your ground.
  1. It doesn’t matter if you cry during a conciliation conference. The impact of discrimination is deep and personal, and emotion running down your cheek has a powerful affect. It’s fine to cry – just keep talking while you’re crying.
  1. More than half the complaints lodged are successfully resolved. to quote that famous Rolling Stones lyric”You can’t always get what you want” but you will affirm yourself, and advance opportunities for others. To continue the quote “So if you try try try, you just might find, you can get what you need.”

Senator Brandis actions – taking away our Commissioner – have meant that our destiny is firmly in our hands. So I encourage all of you, artistically or legally, to challenge the discrimination which you experience. Don’t think that one individual action can’t make a difference – because the reality is that it is only the action of individuals which does make a difference. Your challenge to discrimination will affirm your view of the damage that it did to you, and make a better and more inclusive society for us all.

Hey Tony, I want to play for Team Australia

Remember that feeling when teams are being picked and you are the last one. It might be a sporting team, it might be a spelling bee, or it might be the handing out of invitations for the six year old birthday party. Most if not all of us, at some point in our lives, have been left on the bench.

It’s a horrible feeling, right there in the pit of your stomach. It usually shows on your face, and sometimes even trickles out of your eyes. You want to be part of the in-crowd, but you don’t get invited.

That’s what happens to Australians with disabilities in the employment market. Despite it being the accepted wisdom in Sydney’s Daily Telegraph, none of us want to survive (I wouldn’t call it live) on the Disability Support Pension – less than $20,000 a year. All of us want to have an answer to that first barbecue question “what do you do?.

But 45 % of Australians with disabilities live in poverty. We are employed at a rate 30 % less than the general population. And in reality the statistics probably paint a more positive picture, because many of us have withdrawn from the labour market. In the game of employment, far too many of us are benched from Team Australia.

This is despite the fact that we stay in employment longer and are more committed employees, we take less sick leave and make fewer workers compensation claims, we have a better safety record, and we are excellent problem solvers – we would have to be to get through our lives.

So it’s time we – the members of Team Australia – did something about it. Yes, I mean each one of us reading this blog. It’s time we shirt fronted our local politician. Which I understand in polispeak means having a very robust conversation. And here’s what we should say.

I propose that politicians take the lead on employment of people with disabilities. I suggest a government-established scheme which allows an extra member of staff for each politician who employs a person with a disability. If you don’t think it works, just ask Minister Duncan Gay in the NSW coalition government, or Jan Barham in the NSW Upper House representing the Greens –
they’ve already done it, and they speak publicly about the benefits. Or just ask Kelly Vincent, a woman with disabilities representing the Dignity For Disability party in the SA upper house. I’m sure other politicians around the country have done it as well – I just don’t know who they are.

Let’s count the positives-
* Each politician gets an extra member of staff. That gets a tick inside Parliament.
* Just doing the numbers – pun intended – at the federal level, around 250 more people with disabilities get a job. That gets a tick in the disability sector, and in the community.
* The additional cost to the budget is under $20 million assuming $80,000 for the cost of employing each extra Electorate Officer. That’s probably the equivalent of the pilot’s seat in one of our new Joint Strike Fighters.
* People come into electorate offices and see Australians with disabilities gainfully employed – a positive image.
* We make a small saving from the welfare budget if people move off the Disability Support Pension. Let’s say that’s $5 million – we saved the seat cushion.
* The percentage of employees with disabilities in the public service increases from its current shameful level of 2,9 % when the number of people with disabilities of working age is 15 %.

So how do we make this dream a reality?

It’s up to all of us. I challenge every one of you who reads this to shirt front your federal member of parliament, in the House of Representatives or the Senate. Personal visits work best. Letters or phone calls next best. But emails are good as well. You can find their contact details at http://www.aph.gov.au It doesn’t matter which party they represent – we just want to create a ground-swell of support.

I made three phone calls today. How many have you contacted?

Graeme Innes is a human rights advocate, Australia’s former Disability Discrimination Commissioner, and a renowned shirt fronter – in polispeak of course.

Ahoy me hearties

One-eyed Jack the pirate chief
Was a terrible fearsome ocean thief.
He wore a peg upon one leg,
He wore a hook, and a dirty look.
One-eyed Jack the pirate chief
Was a terrible ocean thief.

What thoughts does this anonymous poem evoke for you?

Child-hood memories?
Scary pirate stories?
The sea and sailing?
Olden days criminal activity?

For me it says “Just another person with disabilities at the top of his profession.”

He’s the chief, he’s in charge.
He is fearsome, which is definitely part of the skill set when you are a pirate. He’s obviously stolen a lot of “pieces of eight” so he’s successful.
And his marketing plan has worked so well that he is notorious, and someone has written a poem about him.

On this “talk like a pirate day” we should celebrate these ancient villains whom we have turned into folk-heroes. These Ned Kelly’s of the sea.

Pirates were very inclusive of people with disabilities. Missing eyes, hands or legs were clearly not a factor when the recruitment agency was culling pirate candidates. Being deaf was actually a situational advantage with all that cannon firing. There treasure maps included such things as footprint markings, rhyming treasure clues and X marks the spot for people who could not read as a result of cognitive disability.

The business system was clear and direct, which benefited everyone- but particularly people with intellectual disability- find ship, stop ship, steal treasure, sink or take over ship.

Prisoners were given a clear two-option choice for career advancement- walk the talk or walk the plank.

So, is the pirate model one which we should all follow in our progress towards diversity?

We could certainly do a lot worse.
Disability was not a bar to promotion- take one-eyed Jack, captain Hook and peg-leg Pete as three examples.
Pirate leaders were genuinely elected- so others in the work-place clearly looked at the person and their skill set first, and the disability second.
Stolen treasure was equally shared, including shares for those injured in the course of their employment activities. And companion animals- particularly parrots- were acceptable in the work-place.

So ahoy there me hearties. Today, let’s not just talk like pirates. Let’s celebrate the contribution which people with disabilities can make by saying those really powerful words to someone with a disability- “You start on Monday.” And I’m sure that the person won’t mind very much if you say it in a pirate accent.

Invisibility out of my control

I have an invisibility cloak. You think I’m joking, but I guarantee it. I will show you how it works any time you like. The only problem is, I can’t control when it operates – someone else always does that.

Let me tell you about it.

My brother Brian and I had just bought our first car. It was a blue Chrysler Galant. It was five years old, with a few miles (yes they were miles when that car was made) on the clock, but we thought it was the best thing since sliced bread. We never missed an opportunity to take it for a spin.

I had been asked by a social club in Wollongong to give a presentation to their afternoon meeting on people with disabilities. So Brian and I decided to drive. For him, four or so hours behind the wheel of our little beauty was worth the tedium of listening to one of my presentations.

I spoke about the importance of including people with disabilities in all aspects of society, and how disability was just one part of our lives. I encouraged people to focus on the person, not the disability, and to ask if assistance was needed rather than making assumptions (often negative) about what we couldn’t do, and acting on those assumptions. During question time I reinforced these points, and commented how critical it was to talk to the person themselves rather than about them.

At the end of the meeting we were invited to afternoon tea, and were happy to partake of the excellent cakes and biscuits on offer. One of our hosts approached me, and said to Brian who was standing right next to me, “Would Graeme prefer tea or coffee?”

I winced in disappointment, given that my presentation had referred to talking to the person, not about them. However, “coffee” was Brian’s calm reply.

“Does he take milk,” she asked.

“Yes,” Brian replied.

“And what about sugar,” she continued.

“Two sugar’s please,” was his calm response.

In contrast my temperature was rising, steam was beginning to trickle from my ears, and I was planning the tongue-lashing he would receive during the drive home.

“By the way,” Brian said with a wry smile, as our host was about to leave with the coffee order “would you like me to drink it for him as well?”

Suitably chastened, she apologised to me, and my recompense was an excellent cup of coffee, and an extra lamington. She worked out the way to my heart.

My invisibility cloak had been in evidence. She had switched it on as she walked up to Brian and I.

This is a regular occurrence. It happens in shops. I walk up to the counter with my wife or daughter, indicate to the sales assistant what I want to purchase, and they immediately start talking to the person with me. Or often, they will hand my goods or my change to that person, despite me standing there with my hand out.

It happens in restaurants – when the only advantage of my invisibility cloak is that the bill usually gets delivered to the person with whom I am dining rather than me.

It happens on aeroplanes. On one memorable occasion my wife was scolded by a flight attendant for letting me use the business class rather than the economy class toilet.

And it happens to people with other disabilities as well. People who use wheelchairs often find themselves being discussed – in their presence – as if they were a package or simply not there.

I’m told that this invisibility cloak is also worn by women of a certain age, who can stand in shops for ages waiting for attention, whilst men and younger women are served.

I wouldn’t mind having an invisibility cloak if I could switch the damn thing on and off myself. It would be pretty useful when I wanted to walk between my family and the television screen, or to pop across to the bar or buffet table for that second cake or fifth beer.

But I’ve lost the remote control. It’s attached to the cloak somehow, but always seems to fall into the hands of the person with whom I am seeking to deal, rather than into my hands.

Why does this happen to people with disabilities? We’re not any more difficult to talk with than the rest of society, once you get started. In fact, some of us are quite engaging people.

It’s really a demonstration of the way people with disabilities are viewed by society. Either people are afraid to talk to us because of the stigma that goes with our disability. Or they just can’t be bothered; viewing us as less than equals. Not everyone does it, but my invisibility cloak is regularly in evidence.

What do you think are the reasons for this behaviour? How might we change it? I would welcome your comments.

Graeme Innes is excited by the possible alternative uses of his invisibility cloak if he can only find that remote control, and is geeky enough to think that someone might have developed an app. by which he could control it. He can often be found wandering the corridors of the app. store carefully reading product descriptions.