Category: Uncategorized

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.)

Equal Before The Law

Australians who need communications supports, or who have complex and multiple support needs, are not having their rights protected, and are not being treated equally, in the criminal justice system. This must change.

Hence the work of the Australian Human Rights Commission in our report “Equal before the law: towards disability justice strategies”, launched in February. Negative assumptions and attitudes, coupled with a lack of support services often means that people with disabilities are viewed as not credible, not capable of giving evidence or unable to participate in legal proceedings. As a result many are left without effective access to justice.
Since the release of the Commission’s report a number of state and territory governments have acknowledged our findings, and are considering how they might develop Disability Justice Strategies.

Last year we identified five key barriers for people with disabilities. We heard from victims, witnesses, those accused of crime and offenders.

The first barrier concerns programmes, assistance and other community supports addressing violence, prevention and disadvantage, which may not be readily accessible to those with disabilities. One submission told of Sarah, an Aboriginal woman with cognitive impairment, psychosocial disability and health conditions. Sarah began a long pattern of contact with criminal justice and human service agencies at age 12. What became obvious was that there is a lack of appropriate support outside the criminal justice system, and responsibility for addressing her needs was often left to the police and the juvenile justice system. At 18, she was provided with 24 hour supported accommodation through a Community Justice Program. If Sarah had had access to community assistance from an earlier age, she would not have had such continual interaction with the criminal justice system?

Police services are often the fall back position in times of crisis, rather than appropriate community and health services. One submission said ‘The police have become the emergency mental health response … for many individuals and families, and they are ill-equipped for the job.”

The second barrier dealt with the supports people may need, to participate in the criminal justice process. Maria, for example, has cerebral palsy and little speech. She wanted to tell police about a sexual assault, but there was no communication support worker to help with the statement. The police relied on Maria’s parents. Maria was uncomfortable giving personal details in front of her parents, so her evidence was incomplete. This caused problems for the investigation, and during the court process.

Barrier three concerns negative attitudes and assumptions about people with disabilities, which often result in us being viewed as unreliable, not credible or not capable of giving evidence, making legal decisions or participating in legal proceedings. we were told that “When I attended the police station, the police officer thought I was dumb at first, and he didn’t take it seriously.”

We were also told ‘a victim won’t even get their day in court, as the DPP won’t run the case.’

The fourth barrier deals with accommodation and programmes for people deemed ‘unfit to plead’. These people are often detained indefinitely in prisons or psychiatric facilities, without being convicted of a crime. The well-known case of West Australian Marlon Noble demonstrates this. It is one of the Commission’s Twenty Years: Twenty Stories films The last barrier concerns prisoners. Supports and adjustments may not be provided to prisoners with disabilities so that they can meet basic human needs, and participate in prison life. This can result in delays and difficulties exiting prison, or exiting with successful chances of re-integration.

Henry has an acquired brain injury. He wanted to apply for support from Legal Aid to appeal his conviction, and needed help to fill in forms. He found the language complex and difficult to understand. He did not receive assistance in prison to fill out the forms, and filled them out incorrectly. This delayed his application. By the time he filled out the forms correctly, his application was outside the time limit.

And the statistics back up what we heard. 90 per cent of Australian women with intellectual disability have been subjected to sexual abuse at some time during their lives. There are currently at least 20-30 people in our prison systems who have not been convicted of an offense, but have been found unfit to plead, and gaols are the only accommodation option. From 1989 to 2011 105 people were shot by police, and 42 % had a mental illness.

Women, children, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, and people from a culturally and linguistically diverse background with disabilities, are even less likely to have equitable access to justice.

So what can be done? The justice system in Australia is large and complex. The Commission report recommended that each State or Territory develop its own Disability Justice Strategy, to deal with all of the issues raised in our report.

The Commission also put together a database of programmes and services which provide a more positive justice pathway for people with disabilities. s/programs-and-services-assist-people-disability-criminal

Much more needs to be done so that Australians with disabilities are truly equal before the law.

These comments were made by me at an Australian Human Rights Commission RightsTalk entitled Balancing The Scales Of Justice on 16 June. The whole RightsTalk can be viewed at Captioning is in progress at time of posting.

A Commissioner For Left-Handers

Dear Adam Creighton,

I have seen you on ABC’s The Drum on television. I know that you are economics correspondent for the Australian, have worked for the Reserve Bank and the Australian Prudential Regulation Authority, and that you studied at Oxford.

I am writing to you about your recent comments regarding whether we need a Disability Discrimination Commissioner. You said “lots of people are discriminated against. Why don’t we have a gay rights commissioner, or a left-handed commissioner, or a short persons commissioner, or a commissioner for people who aren’t good-looking.”

As a person with a disability I am hurt and saddened by your comment. Hurt because you trivialised the significant issues impacting on the day-toDay lives of Australians with disabilities, and the work a Disability Discrimination Commissioner does to address them. Saddened because your comment demonstrates your total lack of awareness of the magnitude of these issues.

I’d like to meet you, and introduce you to some of my friends. Let me tell you about us.

I qualified as a lawyer, and then failed at around 30 job interviews because employers could not understand how a blind person could do such a job. My first job was as a clerical assistant in the public service. That was some time ago, but not much has changed.

Let me introduce you to Josh. He is an excellent app developer, with several successful apps. But he can’t get a job because his autism limits his communication skills, so he is no good at job interviews. I work with government and private employers to change this situation.

The recent budget makes my work harder, because Josh will have his Disability Support Pension re-assessed, and may loose it. But he will still struggle to find a job. The government budget contains a welfare plan, but not a jobs plan for people like Josh.

Then there’s Marlon. He spent ten years in Geraldton prison without being convicted of a crime. He was found “unfit to plead” as a result of his cognitive disability, and the West Australian government regards prisons as appropriate accommodation options for such people. I campaign to change these laws.

I work with Arthur, who has an intellectual disability, but has found a part-time job stacking shelves in a supermarket. He earns enough not to be on the Disability Support Pension. He has a recurring health complaint, which requires regular doctors visits, pathology and other tests. The $7 a time he will have to pay for these visits means he will struggle to pay his rent.

There’s Julia who wanted to catch a bus from Sydney to Canberra, but could not because the buses did not carry people using wheelchairs. I work on laws to change that.

There’s Stephanie, supporting her teenage son through high school. But the budget changes to education mean that the extra funding he needs to be successful in a regular school will not go ahead. I work with government to increase that support.

Then there’s Stella. She’s a journalist, comedian and great communicator who gives people with a disability a powerful voice by editing the ABC Rampup site. It was defunded by the government in the budget, and the ABC cannot pick up the funding. Stella may be left-handed, but she also uses a wheelchair.

There is Pat, in her seventies, and still supporting her two adult sons who have mental illness. The National Disability Insurance Scheme, which the government is continuing to roll out on time and in full, will ease some of that load. But I still need to educate police, so that they encourage her sons to go to hospital when they need to, rather than using brute force.

So that’s what a Disability Discrimination Commissioner does. 37 % of discrimination complaints relate to disability, 45% of people with disabilities live in poverty, we are 30 % under-employed compared to the general population, far more of us are accommodated in institutions or prisons, we experience higher levels of domestic violence, and the government systems to support us are broken and broke.

Gritty Australian cricket captain Alan Border, a left-hander I note, played some very tough innings. But I don’t think he ever faced an innings as tough as the one Australians with disabilities face every day. My job, as Disability Discrimination Commissioner, is to make that innings a little easier.

Mr Creighton, to quote from my friend Rachel Ball at the Human Rights Law Centre, “it is easy to stand atop a mountain of privilege, and tell those at the bottom of the mountain that privilege is irrelevant.”

Graeme Innes

Disability Discrimination Commissioner

(This article was first published in the Sydney Morning Herald)

You can take that to the Bank

Guide dog asleep
Arrow the guide dog taking a well-earned rest

Travelling with a guide dog is a great way to get around- it removes some of the stress of travel, and can have other advantages. Many is the time I have walked into a room or lift and heard – “Aw, look, beautiful,” or “Sooo cute”. To which I usually reply: “Yes, and the dog doesn’t look bad either”.

I had completed a meeting with some senior bank officials in Brisbane. Walking with my guide dog, I got into the elevator on the 30th floor of their building at the same time as another person. The lift buttons were not marked with raised letters or Braille, so I didn’t know which one to press. Turning to the other man in the lift I said: “Could you press the button for ground please?” I got no response.

Thinking that he may have a hearing impairment – I am the disability Discrimination Commissioner after all – I looked directly at him, so he could read my lips, and said a little more loudly “Could you press ground please?” Still no response.

Puzzled, I reached over and tapped him on the shoulder, and repeated my request.
“Oh,” he said, “Are you talking to me. I thought you were asking the guide dog.”

My dog’s good, but she hasn’t learned to read lift buttons yet!

Graeme Innes travels with a black labrador guide dog called Arrow, and spends some of his spare time thinking up funny responses to such questions as- “What’s your dogs name?”
“Can your dog read bus numbers?” and
“Does your dog have its own mobile phone?”

What funny guide dog questions have you asked or heard? Have you ever said something embarrassing to a guide dog user? Please tell me about it?