Graeme Innes, 19 May 2014
"It is easy to stand atop a mountain of privilege, and tell those at the bottom of the mountain that privilege is irrelevant."
Dear Adam Creighton,
I have seen you on the ABC's The Drum. I know you are economics correspondent for The Australian, have worked for the Reserve Bank and the Australian Prudential Regulation Authority.
I am writing to you about your comments on Thursday, after we learnt the government no longer intends to renew the position of Disability Discrimination Commissioner with the Human Rights Commission. 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 having an impact on the day-to-day lives of Australians with disabilities, and the work the 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, then failed at about 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 and has created 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 budget makes my work harder, because Josh will have his Disability Support Pension re-assessed and he may loose it. But he will still struggle to find a job. The budget contains a welfare plan, but not a jobs plan for people such as 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 that requires regular doctor's 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 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's Ramp Up 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 70s and still supporting her two adult sons who have mental illnesses. 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 they encourage her sons to go to hospital when they need to, rather than using brute force.
So that's what the Disability Discrimination Commissioner does. Some figures: 37 per cent of discrimination complaints relate to disability, 45 per cent of people with disabilities live in poverty, we are 30 per cent under-employed compared with 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 Allan 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 is Disability Discrimination Commissioner with the Human Rights Commission.