Category Archives: Disability Issues

Justice, Politics and the Royal Commission Show

Dyson Heydon’s deliberations on whether or not he should stay at the helm of the Trade Union Royal Commission (TURC) after claims of apprehended bias are over. The former High Court Justice has dismissed the application from union lawyers and will continue in the role the Abbott Government appointed him to.

But the story it would seem is not yet over. The unions will consider a court appeal. The ALP, who stand to lose some political skin from the TURC, though probably not enough to lose the 2016 election, have decided that asking the Governor-General to remove Heydon is the way to go. It has been foreshadowed that the Australian Labor Party will couple this with attacks on the Liberal Party for their part in this situation, when parliament resumes from September 7.

In terms of principles of natural justice it is quite clear what should have happened in this instance. It is clear to almost anyone, except for the most wilfully blind supporters of the right side of politics that former Justice Heydon should have recused himself from further hearings of this commission. This would have blunted any attacks from Bill Shorten and the Labor Party. That Commissioner Heydon cancelled his appearance at the fundraiser at a later stage is irrelevant. The decision to say yes to attending the function in the first place says more than enough.

However, there is absolutely no case to say that the Royal Commission should not go ahead altogether. This is particularly the case now that the inquiry has been running for a number of months and is doing vital work, uncovering just how murky the world of industrial relations can be. Renewed calls from Labor for a police taskforce instead of the Royal Commission are a bit rich, considering they announced a commission of inquiry the topic of which similarly could have been examined by a special police body.

Back on the justice side of the equation, the Abbott Government could have used this opportunity to widen the terms of reference to include all forms of corrupt practices across institutions in the industrial relations space. If this had been done, then any squealing from the unions or the ALP about the continuation of the royal commission could have been met with derisory laughter, from both the Coalition and the electorate.

With an election less than a year away, it is worth a brief look at what the current state of affairs means for both the Coalition and Bill Shorten’s ALP.

The Coalition may gain a small amount of much needed political traction from the findings of the Royal Commission, particularly if there are further discoveries made about union activities during Bill Shorten’s time as a union representative. But it will not prove an electoral game-changer. A shift in electoral fortunes could only come from more substantive policy and political narrative changes made by the Abbott Government. That would have had to begin well before the people stopped listening. This critical point was likely reached more than 6 months ago.

The ALP is likely to suffer mildly as a result of future TURC hearings. There will be some more unease about the leadership of Bill Shorten, but the polls and the new rules around leadership challenges will make a change on that front almost an impossibility.

The Trade Union Royal Commission will not feature high on the list of reasons the Abbott Government will probably lose power in 2016. In fact to say it will be a feature at all is nonsense. This area of politics is generally one where most have a worldview firmly locked in on one side of the debate or the other.

There will be some more noise on this issue over the coming weeks, but it will likely not last. It is hard to sustain attacks on things which do not have wide appeal.

Australian politics will meander toward the next misstep or missteps. With every day we will get closer to the 2016 election. And the show that is the Trade Union Royal Commission will continue, with Dyson Heydon likely to remain in the chair.

Farewell Stella Young

This morning I took to Twitter as I usually do throughout the day to keep an eye on the latest breaking news and information about politics and the world around us. Cruelly though, the first thing that caught my eye was a newly sent out tweet breaking the sad news that disability advocate and comedian Stella Young had passed away suddenly and unexpectedly on the weekend.

I had to do a double-take. Were my eyes really seeing what was on my phone screen? Still recovering from the tragic passing of Phillip Hughes, now I had to contemplate the loss of another prominent Australian figure. This time a little more personal.

A couple of years ago a report was released by PricewaterhouseCoopers about disability in Australia. It contained some truly distressing statistics in terms of employment and poverty among those with a disability in Australia.

At that point I had been writing for a brief period of time. I had nothing published at that point aside from some thoughts on my own personal blog at the time. I began to furiously write a piece railing against those terrible numbers.

I hammered that piece out in about 45 minutes and shot it off to The Drum, not knowing about the existence of Ramp Up at that time. A short time later I received an email from Stella introducing herself and offering to publish my angry rant on the ABC disability portal.

I had always been an advocate for people with disability, having been born with one myself. But the opportunity Stella gave me opened up a whole new avenue of advocacy I had never contemplated. It gave me the belief that my message, however small and insignificant, could help deliver change in the lives of those with a disability in Australia.

Stella was an intellectual giant – not just in the field of disability advocacy, but also comedy and feminism. She brought her thoughts and feelings to us with incisive wit and sharp and biting humour.

Issues related to disability are all too often overlooked and that people with a disability are often underestimated, even downright forgotten about.

I remarked today that there are two people in Australia I see as having had the biggest impact on disability politics in Australia in the 21st century – both in different ways, but both so important. Stella Young was one of those people. Assisted by the platform given to her by the ABC, but sadly taken away by a narrow-minded funding decision, disability suddenly had an energetic national voice aside from that of Bill Shorten – whose job it is as a politician to institute programs to help the vulnerable.

I never met Stella, but emailed her a number of times over a couple of years with pitches. She was enthusiastic and offered all-important constructive criticism. Despite that, I am deeply saddened by her sudden and unexpected passing.

Knowing her has helped me grow as a person. And her work will help the nation take a big leap forward.

Her voice and presence will be hard to replace. It will probably take a number of people to fill her shoes.

Thank you Stella. Thank you and goodbye

We Must Remain Vigilant

The National Disability Insurance Scheme, now renamed DisabilityCare is a step closer to becoming reality after the Queensland Premier Campbell Newman signed an agreement with Prime Minister Julia Gillard in Brisbane. The agreement confirms the funding commitment of both levels of government to the disability scheme.

The deal will see Queensland contribute $1.9 billion dollars over the next decade and see the disability reform starting to emerge in 2016, before it is fully operational in 2019-20. In signing up, Queensland now joins New South Wales, Tasmania, Victoria, South Australia and the Australian Capital Territory as signatories to the funding arrangements. That leaves Western Australia and the Northern Territory as the only governments still to put ink on the page.

Understandably, excitement is growing about the future of disability care in Australia and that has accelerated with each individual agreement reached between the state and territory governments and the commonwealth. People with a disability around Australia, their carers and families, are slowly rediscovering a long lost hope, that their needs might be sufficiently met by government. Of course there is going to be palpable excitement. Of course there will be some celebration.

But we need to be very careful about how we view recent events. As advocates and supporters of this much-needed reform we must not allow ourselves to get too swept up in the emotion of important days like yesterday. There is no doubt that commitments like that agreed to by Julia Gillard and Campbell Newman are a big step forward, but a lot can still go wrong between now and 2018-19. In fact, there is a need to continue to be cautious until well after the scheme is fully operational across the country. Things can still go a bit pear-shaped.

The first, but most surmountable roadblock is getting the recalcitrant state of Western Australia and the Northern Territory to agree to a funding commitment for the rollout with the commonwealth.

Western Australia wants to sign up but wants more decentralised control of the scheme in the state and that is fair enough, because service delivery should be based on a largely decentralised bureaucracy. Negotiations between WA and the federal government will continue and a resolution of some sort appears inevitable. But caution is still the order of the day here and both the state and the commonwealth must continue negotiations with an open mind and a desire for compromise on the specific issues WA has with the policy.

The Northern Territory will also need to get the pen out and sign a deal with Canberra for the full rollout of DisabilityCare. The NT Government just recently penned a deal to have their own launch site in the Barkly Region. In light of this, realisation of the funding for the full commitment surely cannot be too far away. But again, all possible eventualities must be taken into account, including the negative ones. even though 6 of the 8 states and territories have agreed to terms with the Gillard Government.

Bilateral agreements aside, there is still the issue of where the commonwealth, even the states, will get the rest of the money for the disability insurance scheme, despite the commitments to fund the scheme. At present the agreements are simply words between two parties and in the interest of making sure DisabilityCare happens, the positive developments must be viewed with the utmost wariness until the full policy has actually commenced.

The Opposition too, who will almost certainly be in government come September, will need to be pursued just as relentlessly over its commitment to the NDIS. There is bipartisan support but it means nothing until we actually see the policy up and running.

Finally, we must continue to run a critical eye over the policy even when it is operational. There may be shortfalls in standards of delivery and even funding and we should not be particularly surprised if either of these possibilities arises. In fact, it is completely within reason to expect that both problems may exist, though hopefully the  launch sites will allow enough time to remedy most, if not all potential issues.

With the agreements signed to date between commonwealth and state and territory governments, about 90% of Australians with severe and permanent disability and those that look after them can now have a little more hope.

We need to make sure over the coming years that the agreements are transformed from words on a page to deeds.

Gap Between NDIS Idea and Reality Narrowing

A not insignificant breakthrough has been achieved in the journey toward a fully-funded National Disability Insurance Scheme. The Gillard Government and New South Wales have reached an agreement on joint funding of the full NDIS, due by 2018-19. The deal brings the full scheme closer to fruition. However, there are still challenges which will need to be overcome before people with a disability can say with absolute certainty that the National Disability Insurance Scheme is going to happen.

Under the agreement the federal government has agreed to fund 51.4% of the cost of the scheme to NSW, with the state government set to fund the remaining 48.6%. Under the deal, in dollar terms, both the state and federal government will contribute over $3 billion to the scheme, with the commonwealth providing $3.319 billion and New South Wales $3.133 billion.

From financial year 2018-19, the major disability reform, under the Commonwealth-NSW agreement, would see 120,000 disabled people in the state have their needs met by the NDIS.

To have the biggest state by population being the first of the states and territories to sign up to the full disability scheme is a sizable coup. What the deal means is that 120,000 of the over 400,000 set to be covered by the full disability insurance scheme now have their future assured, at least on paper.

The announcement does not assure that the NDIS will go ahead, but it does provide a level of hope that has not yet been experienced by people with a disability, their carers, families and advocates.

There are another 5 states and two territories which will need to sign onto the scheme for the national project to go ahead.

The NSW deal could provide a catalyst for other states getting onboard with the disability reform, either when they meet with the Prime Minister at the Council of Australian Governments meeting tomorrow, or at some stage in the future after tomorrow’s COAG.

Today Queensland Premier Campbell Newman appeared to have changed his political tune about the reform, saying that he and his government are “very interested” in a deal like the one Barry O’Farrell and Julia Gillard reached today and that it is “very attractive”. He did however say that at this stage his government did not have the funds for the implementation of the policy.

Western Australia are at present looking at their own trial of a similar scheme to the NDIS, but they too could change their tune tomorrow when the Premiers and Chief Ministers meet at the COAG table.

And Victoria, a state closely aligned with New South Wales in terms of political allegiances could easily agree to follow the lead of the O’Farrell Government when the Council of Australian Governments meets.

It would appear likely that the state Labor Governments which have signed up to the trial will be prepared to sign on the dotted line, providing their formal support for a fully established National Disability Insurance Scheme.

An argument raised today, as it inevitably is when there are major reforms announced, is just how believable and enduring the agreement between the Australian Government and NSW will be.

It is true that the agreement lacks detail at this stage and that it might fall victim to politics. Six years is a long time away and governments, state and federal may fall in the meantime.

The agreement however is a commitment from the O’Farrell Government of New South Wales, that it can and will find over $3 billion dollars to fund a fully operational NDIS. Some of that will come from the approximately $17,000 per person that is spent at present by the biggest Australian state. The rest, the NSW Government has today agreed, will be found elsewhere in the state budget.

Even less of a worry is the prospect of a change of government at the state level.

In the event of a Labor administration taking power in New South Wales by fiscal year 2018-19, it would be unlikely that you would see them walk away from the O’Farrell commitment to help fund disability services. Indeed, it would be a politically stupid government that would choose to walk away from a commitment set to benefit so many people.

The prospect of more states agreeing to deals like the one between New South Wales and the ALP Government too might actually help the deal endure.

It is true that the commonwealth government will likely be a different one in 2018-19 and that in itself could provide problems even though the NDIS is the subject of bipartisanship.

Whichever side of politics is in power during the year 2018-19 will need to act on the NDIS and by then will well and truly be in a position to do so.

The next move or set of moves may come tomorrow, or some time in the near future.

The pressure from the disability lobby must remain strong. There are still five states and two territories which need to commit funds and the advocacy work cannot cease, even after the scheme is operational.

It’s International Day of People with Disability

Today, December 3rd is International Day of People with Disability. This worldwide day has now been running for 20 years, beginning as an internationally recognised day sanctioned by the United Nations. It is a day when disability should be in the forefront of the mind’s of policy-makers around the world. It is a rare day indeed.

But this year there is cause for some hope. For once it is not a blind optimism, far from it. A fully-funded National Disability Insurance Scheme is getting closer and closer. Five launch sites have been agreed to and funded jointly by state participants and the federal government.

At the same time though, the NDIS is far from a fait accompli. People with a disability, their carers and broader families, as well as disability services organisations need to keep the pressure on during the remaining years of this decade. We must do in order to ensure that government works towards allocating what will be upwards of $15 billion dollars a year towards the most important disability reform in the history of our nation.

International Day of People with Disability, as far as Australian domestic politics is concerned, is about much more than just ensuring that we have a well-funded and well-coordinated system for disability support.

This international day, according to the website is also about forging, across the global community, a broader “understanding” and acceptance of people with a disability. It is about how the broader population recognise the challenges that people with a disability face in both the poorest of countries and the wealthiest.

The day is also about other simple measures of a humane society. The International Day of People with Disability is also about trying to secure some of the most basic human rights.

Today is about making sure that we give people with a disability a level of dignity. Just as importantly, it is about pursuing and cementing the rights of the disabled and doing what we can as a society to guarantee the basic well-being of some of the most vulnerable people in the country.

Finally, the day is about integrating people with a disability into society, rather than leaving them at the margins with little support or understanding.

Believe it or not, Australia as a developed nation actually has a long way to go in the way that people with a disability are treated. Among OECD nations, Australia is failing our disabled people.

A report by PricewaterhouseCoopers from late last year made for some truly sad reading.

In that report it was found that 45% of Australian’s with a disability were living on or near the poverty line. Far from on its own being a damning statistic, that number places Australia 27th out of 27 developed nations in terms of being at risk of, or in poverty.

It does not get much better in terms of employment prospects for people with a disability in Australia.

It was found that Australia is ranked 21st out of 27 nations in relation to employment. Only 31% of disabled Australians were found by that report to be in active employment.

With Australia faring so poorly in providing for its disabled community, then one can only imagine how those in the poorest of nations are coping and today is as much about their plight as it is about our disabled people.

Today is a day when all governments, including our own, must pledge to do better, much better in the area of policy development for people with a disability.

In terms of what Australia can do, well, there are two things which are particularly urgent.

The first is to do significantly more in terms of access provisions.

With or without a National Disability Insurance Scheme, access will still be a major issue for people with a disability. Better access provisions will mean more economic participation can be achieved, in conjunction with all that the NDIS will provide. Better access would also mean increased participation in a range of activities that most in society take for granted.

The second most significant thing that needs to occur is a better understanding and importantly, a deeper acceptance of disability. This is particularly the case for businesses, but also government and society in a wider sense.

This means highlighting abilities and not impairments. Too often, negative perceptions of disability cloud the judgement of otherwise bright people and this simply has to stop.

If we focus too much on the NDIS and what it will bring, then we will be neglecting our duty to remind policy-makers that there is much more to be done in the area of policy for the disabled.

We do however appear to be on a somewhat promising path.

A Response to an NDIS Opinion Piece

Today Prime Minister Julia Gillard introduced the legislation for the National Disability Insurance Scheme. This Medicare-like scheme is a very important reform, a long time coming for people with a disability, who have suffered under inadequate and differing support regimes from state-to-state. The NDIS will create a national framework under which the needs of those with a severe and permanent disability will be met.

The introduction of the legislation in the House of Representatives is just the first step. NDIS trial sites will be launched next year, but there is still a need to keep the pressure on, to ensure that the fully-fledged system will be realised.

Up until recently, most of the negative debate around the policy has been about the cost. It is significant, requiring approximately $15 billion a year from the first full year of implementation in financial year. That time comes at the end of this decade. But the scheme can and must be funded. There are numerous ways to ensure that it is fully funded.

This week, in an opinion piece in The Australian written by Doron Samuell from SR2 Healthy, relatively new arguments came to light.

In the first instance, Mr Samuell argued that, “lured by the promise of taxpayer dollars, it is inevitable that disability services will come to be dominated by large, corporate players in the post-NDIS world.”

Later in his op-ed, Doron Samuell provides an argument which says that this is already occurring. So really, what we will have is the status quo. It is hard to envisage that smaller providers could be crowded out even more than they already are.

For equipment, like wheelchairs and other mobility aids, disabled people will most likely choose to use bigger organisations that might have the capacity to carry a broader range of stock and therefore, more cost-competitive products.

For services, users will probably choose to use a mixture of smaller, community-based organisations and larger “corporatised” ones. This will, again, at least maintain the status quo. There is also a strong chance that smaller organisations able to adapt to client needs under the NDIS will be able to grow if they can prove they provide good services.

The idea of the insurance scheme, as it will apply to many applicants, is to give users, capable of decision-making, the choice to pursue services from providers that they perhaps already identify with.

Also on the question of choice, Samuell made what amount to some pretty offensive, not to mention inaccurate comments about the capacity of people to choose wisely under the disability scheme. He actually claimed that the disabled were “often unsophisticated” purchasers and asked “these consumers going to make the right decisions?”.

Well, of course those who have a capacity to make decisions for themselves are overwhelmingly going to make the right decisions according to their needs. People with a disability are no less rational than ‘able-bods’ and nobody else knows their personal requirements better than people with a disability themselves. No doctor, no healthcare professional, no bureaucrat understands disability better.

Mr Samuell also appears to have forgotten a provision in the bill, which allows for funds to be provided to a carer or directly to a service provider in the event that someone eligible for NDIS funds is unable to make or communicate decisions for themselves on their own care needs. The latter is a worry because, again, bureaucrats should not be making these kinds of decisions.

Samuell also states that “the NDIS will need to ensure that buying decisions are scrutinised, audited and reviewed”. The legislation actually provides for this.

Doron Samuell does go to the question of funding. He does this from the position that Medicare, the system that the National Disability Insurance Scheme is based on, is under-funded and has a bloated bureaucracy.

There is a danger that the NDIS will be under-funded. There is always that danger when government embark upon significant reforms, that costs might be under-estimated. But what is clear is that the claim about Medicare only coping “by progressively lowering the standard of care to maintain its universality”, will almost certainly not apply to the NDIS.

A bloated bureaucracy is of some concern. There will need to be a significant number of  jobs created or filled across the states  and territories to oversee the agency. However, the bigger concern should be too much centralisation of the increased bureaucracy.

Finally, Samuell’s contention about the NDIS not being based on insurance principles is neither here nor there. What is important is that this landmark reform provides adequate support for those it is targetted at.Getting bogged down in definitions is pointless.

The biggest concern should be making sure the introduction of the full scheme occurs in 2018-19.

An Open Letter to State and Federal Politicians Regarding the NDIS

Dear state and federal governments,

I do not believe that all of you, despite protestations to the contrary, are actually one hundred percent serious about pursuing the implementation of a National Disability Insurance Scheme. Furthermore, I am concerned that the bipartisanship at the federal level may well be in name only.

Labor: You announced, with great fanfare as a result of work precipitated largely by Bill Shorten as Parliamentary Secretary for Disabilities through the Productivity Commission, that a NDIS was needed. That report identified that the disability services sector is fragmented and under-funded. You pledged to work towards implementing such a scheme.

The Coalition: You announced swiftly, despite a perceived disposition towards opposing major reforms, that you wholeheartedly supported the idea to assist some of the most vulnerable Australians.

Since that wonderful day when you, our federal politicians gave a feeling of hope that many people with a disability and their carers have never experienced before, things have changed.

The future of the much-needed reform looks far less certain than it did this time last year and that worries me. I have no doubt it also worries many others with a connection to disability. We are used to disappointment and people with a disability are used to being largely left out of government calculations.

I acknowledge that the problem is not wholly because of you, the federal government. Blame for the uncertainty must also be laid squarely at the feet of some of our state governments. Yes, you did ignore, as governments generally do an important recommendation. This recommendation from the Productivity Commission said that you, the commonwealth should be the sole funding government of this important initiative.

To Tasmania, South Australia, the Australian Capital Territory and later New South Wales and Victoria: Thank to all of you for getting past the Gillard Government’s refusal to be the sole contributor to the National Disability Insurance Scheme. Your contribution is much appreciated, even yours NSW and Victoria. At least you were willing to remain at the negotiating table even if your government’s played it trickily for a while.

Queensland: Despite the dumping of the key recommendation from the report into the insurance scheme, you could have contributed a modest amount of funds toward a launch site.

You should have been able to get past that point and negotiate with the federal government from the viewpoint that they must be responsible still for the bulk of money contributed towards the establishment of a NDIS. We know and acknowledge that your revenue streams, as with all states, are limited. However, giving something was entirely possible.

To all the states: Please now operate on the assumption that the commonwealth government should provide the vast majority of the funds toward the NDIS. That includes you Queensland.

But back to you, the federal government: A half thanks for the $1 billion over 4 years in the May budget. You contributed something. But in the scheme of things it falls remarkably short of the mark. The meagre sum of $250 million a year for four years for a project that will cost over $13 billion in the first full year is a bit of a joke, especially considering how much more you like to waste in other areas.

To the federal Opposition: Thanks for what appeared, at least initially, to be earnest support for an essential new way of catering to the unmet needs of people with a disability.

Since that initial endorsement though, there have been mixed messages which make me and many others concerned that your professed interest in pursuing this in government might actually be a little on the fake side.

If this is a false assumption then please stop people like Joe Hockey from appearing to question the ability to fully fund the scheme years into the future. Please stop the Shadow Treasurer from referring to it in a negative light.

Contribution to the scheme will be more than possible by the time of implementation put forward by the Productivity Commission. Even the timetable of the ALP Government is within reason. It is only one year earlier.

Again to Labor: I hope you did not think that my concern over your actions, or lack thereof was limited to that already mentioned. It is not.

I am very concerned at your ability to appear to be doing something while actually doing little at all, other than mostly talking. You now say you will introduce legislation to establish aspects of the NDIS, including the transitional agency. That is great, but it is useless without money being funneled towards it.

You have said, or at least hinted over the past couple of days at more money being directed toward the policy, but only next year. If your hilariously small contribution in the May budget is anything to go by, then a contribution next year, keeping in mind the state of the budget and the fact that it is an election year, will either be inadequate or potentially peeled back upon change of government.

The disability community would appreciate it if all of you would address our concerns. Some of you are doing very well, some okay and one state, that’s you Queensland, doing terribly.

There are a lot of people now more cautious, some cynical and some even scared about the prospects of not having the NDIS going ahead. We need reassurance that our concerns are not based in reality. That can only be achieved through strong actions, not strong rhetoric.

Yours Sincerely,

A NDIS fan

Lessons From the Paralympics That Have Been Learnt and Can be Harnessed

The Paralympics have now been over for a bit over half a week. They were a top-class event put together by a masterful organising committee that also had responsibility for that other successful major event, the Olympic Games. Australia did so well. We put together the most successful touring performance of any Australian Paralympic team in history. That performance put us just two gold medals and a number of silver and bronze behind the strongly-funded hosts, Great Britain and just four golds and a handful of minor medals behind second placed Russian Federation.

But far from the phenomenal medal-winning performances and that of all the athletes across all nations involved, the London 2012 Paralympics have taught us some valuable lessons which can be harnessed to facilitate lasting change when it comes to the politics of disability.

Firstly, London put on an amazing show, on an unprecedented scale. These were the highest selling Paralympic Games ever. That mantle looks sure to be safe for quite some time too, perhaps never to be broken, ever. Nearly all of the two and a half million tickets allocated for the Games in London were sold, that makes a huge change to the usually relatively empty stands that our Paralympians tend to have to deal with every four years.

This says that London and Europe in particular “do” disability very well. It shows that people there view disability much more favourably than the much discriminated against and stigmatised disability community here in Australia. This could be a product of many things, but clearly disability and difference experiences a much greater degree of acceptance across Europe. That’s not to say things are great over there, disability has experienced cuts as the economic woes continue in that region.

A large contributing factor is probably how the welfare state is viewed in Europe as compared to Australia. There is less of a stigma to it in that region of the world. Those who rely on it are not discriminated against as much and are viewed as needing it and entitled to it, more so than Australians who tend to view welfare, even for those who cannot avoid it, with a level of disdain.

What the great spectator turnout at the Paralympics also shows is that disabled sport now appears, at least in Europe as just as elite and requiring just as much training, skill, ability and overall sporting prowess as the “able bods”.

But far from the lessons we can learn about Europe and how they view disability, we can also look at how they were viewed back here at home in Australia.

That story is almost as positive. As I wrote last week, the Paralympic Games from London consistently brought strong ratings for the Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s digital channel, ABC2, as well as the original channel, ABC1. That means Australians were more than willing to give the Paralympics a go and the relatively consistent ratings throughout proves that people continued to be enthralled by the exploits of our elite athletes.

It shows that, as I wrote last week, the Paralympic Games have the ability to transform how we view disability here in Australia, not just the sporting abilities of those with impairments, but also how disability is looked at within the broader community.

The efforts of our Paralympians must be harnessed by disability advocates in order to continue to foment change in such a neglected sector of the community. It shows that the efforts of supporters of those with a disability may well not be in vain, that there is a positive view of disability that is growing across Australia. That growth may be slow, but it is something that can be pushed along just that little bit faster by displays such as the Paralympics. Stigmas are hard to break, some would say impossible, but you certainly couldn’t say that after the last two weeks.

Australia and the world is learning and learning fast about disability. But that means absolutely nothing if the lessons that have been learnt over the last two weeks are not actually used to further the interests of people with a disability. It would be nice if Australia could aim to be more accepting of disability than the Brits showed. You could call it the ‘Ashes of Acceptance’, since we love beating the Poms so much at contests.

It’s Okay to be Inspired by Our Paralympians

The London 2012 Paralympic Games are almost over. Most races and events have been run and won. Australia has done amazingly well given the relatively small contingent of 161 athletes representing us against some of the bigger teams we are competing with. As a nation, Australia have, at the time of writing, scored a total of 25 gold, 18 silver and 26 bronze, a phenomenal haul, putting us 5th on the medal tally, happily just ahead of the United States of America. The only teams ahead of us are China way out in front, the host nation Great Britain even in gold medals with Russia but ahead on the overall count and Ukraine ahead of us by two.

At just 5:30am in the morning on the 30th of August Australian time, a total of 347,000 Australians woke up to tune into the Opening Ceremony of the London Paralympics, giving the station some of its strongest ratings ever. These relatively high viewing numbers have continued throughout the coverage of the events during the 7-11:00pm timeslot  on the ABC’s digital television station ABC2. The Paralympics have also continued to be shown on ABC1 for the finals sessions, occurring from 4am in the morning AEST.

But aside from the prolific medal-winning performances of our Paralympians in London, the biggest and most important element of the Paralympics is the effects that it is having back here at home on the Australian population.

The Paralympic Games, with such in-depth coverage give the opportunity for transformative effects on the Australian population, in particular the way in which people with a disability are viewed in Australia. All too often those with a disability are viewed by some ‘able-bods’ as having little worth and something to gawk at when we dare venture out into the community to live our lives to the best of our boundless abilities.

There’s been a lot of talk in recent times within the disability community about the word inspiration and particularly about so-called ‘inspiration porn’, that is, images of people with a disability with slogans meant to tug at the heartstrings. A lot of that has been viewed by those who have a disability with disdain.

Equally too and relevant directly to the 2012 Paralympics, words such as ‘inspirational’ and ‘amazing’ have been used to excess in describing the astonishing feats of our elite athletes with a disability. These comments again from some in the disability community have drawn equal condemnation to that which inspiration porn has attracted.

Many want our Paralympians to be seen as no different to our Olympians. They are elite sportspeople getting out of bed early and often to train to the highest level in their chosen sport. They don’t want to be seen as having done something any different to that of athletes without an impairment.

In the case of the Paralympics though, is it fair to view people commenting about the achievements of our Paralympic athletes with the kind of annoyance of that in relation to inspiration porn?

Recently, our Olympians had their shot at glory and in the early days of the Games, didn’t have as much success as was expected. But then we came good in the latter stages of the event to at least gain a respectable finish.

The superlatives flew in the final days of the competition with the strong performances we recorded, particularly in events we weren’t expected to excel in after under-performing in those we were. During the Olympic Games in London the words ‘inspirational’ and ‘extraordinary’ and just about any other superlative in existence were used to describe our Olympic athletes too.

So in this sense, we aren’t treating athletes with a disability any differently to athletes that do not. We might use a different degree of vigour in describing the efforts of our Paralympians, but for all intents and purposes they’re being referred to in exactly the same way as their Olympic counterparts.

We as Australians find our sportsmen and women inspiring. Sport is so entwined in our culture that we elevate those that show immense sporting prowess to a g0d-like status. Now that might be right or wrong, but that’s what happens and that is now happening to a similar extent with the broader commentary that our Paralympic athletes have been subjected to since the London Paralympics began.

That doesn’t mean that the occasional over-enthusiastic labelling of a Paralympian’s effort hasn’t occurred during the coverage of the Paralympic Games. It probably has. But is this automatically a bad thing?

Disability in Australia, as mentioned earlier, is not viewed as favourably and treated as equally as it is in particularly European countries and in the UK as anecdotal evidence has shown over the past week and a bit. So any change in the Australian mindset that results from this more in-depth broadcasting of the most elite of disabled sporting events should be viewed as a positive.

The fact  that our Paralympic athletes are now being referred to as inspirational and amazing signals at least a small shift in the perceptions of disability and it would be great if this continued to pervade the Australian political, social and cultural discourse.

It shouldn’t particularly matter how the minds of Australians are changed when viewing disability, providing that people aren’t condescending pricks when they talk to or about someone with a disability, what should matter is that the change itself is occurring.

So let’s embrace the inspirational, amazing, fantastic exploits of our Paralympic heroes, perhaps then, through maintained or increased exposure, we’ll begin to experience the change in thinking that we want to see.

My Top Moments of the Paralympic Games So Far

The London 2012 Paralympic Games are now more than half done for another year. There have been a number of sensational performances including proimising results from up and coming competitors in the Paralympic arena. Australia stands fourth in the medal tally with 16 gold, thirteen silver and 19 bronze, behind China in 1st on 46 gold, Great Britain in 2nd on 19 and Russia in 3rd with 16 gold like Australia, but more silver. We look almost set for a top 5 finish which is excellent given the stiff competition we’ve faced, but we are certain to finish top 7 with Germany having to make up a significant gap without Australia winning anymore gold just to be on even terms.

The first amazing performance is actually an amazing effort across a number of events. Maddison Elliott in the Australian swimming team is competing in her first Paralympic Games and that’s just as well, given that she’s just 13 years old. The up and coming swimmer from the Hunter Valley has just claimed her first ever Paralympic gold medal as a part of the women’s 4x100m combined 34 point relay overnight London time. This comes after Maddison became the youngest ever Paralympic silver medallist and earlier claimed a bronze medal in the pool.

The next amazing moment comes from the relatively well-known three-time Paralympian, Matthew Cowdrey, for whom history beckons as the greatest ever Paralympian Australia has produced. Matthew Cowdrey yesterday equalled that mark in the men’s combined 34 point 4x100m freestyle relay, moving to 10 gold medals.

Next up, who could go past Jacqueline Freney who is the single biggest medal winner of any competitor at these 2012 Paralympics. The competitor from the S7 and SM 7 classification was the anchor leg of the women’s combined 34 point 4x100m freestyle relay and also just won gold in the 10om freestyle for her class.

Finally, to the most talked about and debated upset of the 2012 Paralympics. Yes, just about everyone on the planet has heard about it, Oscar Pistorius being beaten into 2nd in the T44 200m at the track. The hot favourite was beaten by Brazilian Alan Oliveira in the closing stages of the race with the relative unknown eclipsing the almost unbackable Pistorius. Immediately Oscar Pistorius questioned the win when interviewed for television and the win has sent the sporting world into a frenzied debate again over the use of the prosthetic blades.

Those are just four of the most interesting, exhilarating, inspiring and in the case of the last example, controversial moments. But there are still 6 days left which promise to bring more amazing performances including, hopefully from our wheelchair basketball teams, the wheelchair rugby team. Expect more gold medal exploits in the pool too, perhaps with Matt Cowdrey eclipsing Tim Sullivan’s combined Paralympic gold medal haul across his career. With that much time left, there is still plenty of opportunities for more gold, silver and bronze.

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