Category: Uncategorized

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.


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.


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.”


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.

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.

10 top tips to getting a job

I’m one of the lucky people with a disability in Australia- I have a job.

People with disabilities in Australia are 30% less likely to have a job than people without disabilities. When we are employed, we are usually under-employed. In addition, 45% of us live in or near poverty.

I spoke at a careers forum this week for university students with disabilities. I shared my story, and some of the wisdom I have gained about employment. In this blog, I will share it with you.

What are the lessons I have learned? Following the Buzzfeed model, here are my Ten Top Tips for getting a job as a person with a disability.

One, it will be harder for you to get a job than your peers without disabilities.  That’s the reality, supported by the statistics.  So suck it up.  And as Sara Henderson famously said – don’t wait to see the light at the end of the tunnel – get down there and turn the bloody thing on yourself.  Your opportunities are in your hands.  Be proactive, and keep being proactive. 

Two, think hard about whether or not you disclose your disability.  It’s a bit hard for me not to disclose mine when I walk into a job interview with my guide dog. But some people with hidden disabilities have that option.  I learned quickly that when I disclosed my disability during a phone conversation with an employer, that was usually the last interaction I had with them.  So I just turned up, and surprised them at the interview.

If you have a mobility disability, and need an accessible venue for the interview, that may be more of a challenge than you are prepared to give an employer. On the other hand, it may put you in a stronger negotiating position.

Your only legal obligation to disclose is if your disability means that you cannot carry out the inherent requirements of the job. Don’t be told otherwise.  And don’t accept the employer argument that you somehow misled them by not disclosing.  In the same way that no employer can require you to disclose your sexual orientation, no employer can require you to disclose your disability, or punish you for not doing so.

But there may be benefits in disclosing.  Some employers are now running programmes to encourage employment of people with disabilities. So disclosing may get you into jobs with those employers.  Of course, if employers have a more disability-friendly workplace then you are more likely to disclose (Westpac and Woolworths) And you may feel that if you disclose your disability it may be easier to negotiate those reasonable adjustments you may need. 

In essence, the answer to the disclosure question is – it depends – on you, and on your view of the employer.

Three, prepare for each job application, and send an individually written letter which indicates you have done so.  You may have a standard CV, but your cover letter should always be written for each application.  As a person with a disability, you have to follow the Baden Powell principle and be better prepared.

Four, research the job with a disability focus.  Be in a position to point out to recruitment agencies that there is a specific stream for people with disabilities into which you would fall.  Getting past the mass-production recruitment process is often the biggest hurdle you will face.

Five, if you do disclose, be up-front at the interview about your disability and any reasonable adjustments.  If employers don’t ask you about your disability – and many won’t – be prepared at the end of the interview to talk about the disability, and how you will do the job for which you have applied.  Give them all the material they need to make an informed – rather than an uninformed – decision.

Six, research some successful people with the same disability as you. If they are working in the same profession as you even better.  Get some stories or youtube clips about them, and show them during discussions with employers.  It’s all about challenging assumptions.

Seven, be prepared to do some voluntary work, internship, or “stepping into” programmes. If you can’t get the job you want, or for which you are qualified, take a lower level job and work your way up. The biggest challenge we face is that people can’t see how we can do the job.  Showing them may just get you over the line.

Eight, find a good mentor.  Someone with a similar disability to yours, who has been successful in employment, would be great. Peer support is always valuable. You don’t have to follow their advice, but you can always learn from sharing experiences.

Nine, make sure that you understand the Australian Employment Assistance fund process, and how that might be relevant for reasonable adjustments for you. Work with the employer to make this happen. If there is a problem, own it. That is a great approach to show to employers.

Ten, always dress up, not down.  People with disabilities are generally viewed more negatively than others, and these visual judgements are often made in the first few seconds of the interview.  So compensate by strutting your stuff.

Please let me know if these tips are helpful, and share the news of your success when you get a job. One of the ways we, as people with disabilities, will get more jobs is if the conversation about us getting jobs increases.

(Graeme Innes qualified as a lawyer, and then spent a year attending thirty job interviews without success.  He took a job as a clerical assistant in the public service, and recently ended a nine year term as a Commissioner at the Australian Human Rights Commission.)