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.”
Disability Discrimination Commissioner
(This article was first published in the Sydney Morning Herald)