Tag: alan border

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)

Captain Grumpy

Ex-Australian cricket captain Alan Border and I have something in common. No, it’s not the inate cricket ability that he had and I dream about. It’s that, sometimes, just doing your job, or living your life, as a person with a disability, can make you grumpy.

I’m sitting in an airport gate lounge, my guide dog beside me, drinking coffee, looking at twitter, and waiting for my flight to board.
“Hi, I’m Shane,” says the ground staffer as he approaches me, “We’re ready to board you now.”

I think “Why would I want to stop what I’m doing, not finish my coffee, and exchange this spacious plastic chair for a cramped airline seat ten minutes earlier than anyone else. I say “I’m happy to board with the rest of the passengers, thanks.”

“But you’re a “special” passenger,” he says. “We want to give you more time for you and your dog to settle in.”

I think “that’s code for: we want you on and out of the way before all of the others.” I say “Thank you, I don’t need any extra time.”

“But this is a legal requirement,” he says.

I think “that’s code for: I’m now going to try to bully you.”
I say “It’s actually not, and I’m very happy hear til the flight boards, thanks Shane.”

He sighs loudly, and says “Ok, all right.” and goes away.
I think: “that’s code for: what a Captain Grumpy. And I was just trying to help.”

An hour or so later-
“Sir, we’re landing in Hobart today, and there is no aerobridge. So if you just wait til last, I’ve booked the forklift to take you off the plane.”

“But it’s just my eyes that don’t work, not my legs.” I reply.

“Well, I was just trying to help,” is the unhappy response.
“And I appreciate your help, but perhaps you should have checked with me first.”

For some blind people, this decision may have been necessary, or appreciated. Just as some people with disabilities may need or want to board first. But why not ask if that’s what we want, rather than just assume. Because of the soft bigotry of low expectations.

It happens all the time-
People who use wheelchairs are regularly discussed – in their presence – as if they were luggage.
People with disabilities travelling with family members or friends are often not talked to at all- even when the question is about them. “Can he walk down the plane aisle, or will he need the chair,” said to the friend of a man using a wheelchair.

My wife has been scolded on one flight for “allowing me” to use the “wrong” (business class) toilet.

People with disabilities are often made to wait for long periods of time. Periods of time which most customers would just not tolerate.

Why do these things happen? Because many people in the community, and thus the airline industry, have a negative or limiting view of the capability of people with disabilities. And the customer service training of airline staff – and many other service industries – on disability issues is just not adequate.

I’m very happy, at any time, for someone to offer me assistance. I’m not happy, at most times, to have the decision made for me. That’s the critical difference.

We’ll go this longer way because there’s a lift- you won’t be able to use stairs; Your dog won’t be able to go on the escalators;
Just wait here and we’ll get someone to push your wheelchair;
We want to give you special treatment, so we’re taking you onto the aircraft first, and leaving you to get off last.

When people just assume that women will interrupt their career to have children, or won’t be interested in a more senior role, women rightly get annoyed.
When people do not give job applicants with non-anglo names an interview, those applicants rightly get annoyed.
But when people assume that if you have a disability you won’t be able to do something, we’re just supposed to smile and say “thank you for patronising me.”

So, if I’m being Captain Grumpy, perhaps consider your assumptions, rather than my manners.

Graeme Innes is a disability advocate and cricket tragic, and does a fair imitation of an Alan Border media interview if negative assumptions are made about him as a result of his disability.