Friday, December 23, 2011

Santa, where's my ride?

Take part in our taxi survey - the link is at the end of this posting.

Folk tuning in to the South Australia media in the last few weeks will be aware of coverage on accessible taxis.  Once again stories emerged about people having to wait an age before their cab shows up, with Christmas again the number one hotspot where people have to join a waiting list to see if they can get to Christmas dinner with family and friends.

in response, South Australia Transport Services Minister Chloe Fox's office said there would be a few more accessible taxis available this Christmas compared to last, and that any one left on a waiting list will get their ride by ‘doubling up’, presumably with someone going roughly in the same direction.

This was followed up by an announcement that all available accessible taxis would be on duty on Christmas Day, together with accessible buses on all routes (though it wasn't clear from the announcement if this means every bus on every route will be accessible, or whether at least one bus on each route, at some point during the day, would be accessible), and four minibuses.

This is a helpful response to the concerns people have about Christmas Day this year, and I have little doubt that those in Government directly concerned with this issue will attempt, with every good intention, to reduce the risk of people having to miss out on Christmas festivities because there isn’t a spare access taxi.  However, these earnest efforts will not resolve matters properly, because the Christmas Day pressure is not the problem, merely the most extreme symptom of the problem.

The problem is straightforward - the taxi fleet in Adelaide is not accessible.  If it was, we wouldn’t have this issue on Christmas Day nor at other peak times (and there are peak times every business/school day).  There are over 1000 taxis licensed in the Adelaide metropolitan area.  Of these, 97 are licensed access taxis.  That’s less than 10%.  

The effect of this problem is simple.  Whereas a non-disabled passenger can use any one of the taxis in the fleet, including the access taxis, a person with mobility support needs cannot.  One can use 100%, the other can only use 10%.

If a flock of interstate visitors were stuck at Adelaide Airport all Christmas Day due to a lack of taxis there would be outrage at such slack treatment.  I imagine there would be a review, and measures taken.

Why should it be any different for people living with disability?

This unequal treatment of people is unacceptable.  Coincidentally I blogged on this a year ago (click here to read) and very little has changed.  The United Nations Convention on the Rights of Disabled Persons has Accessibility as one of its six core principles.  Accordingly, the Convention goes on to assert that parties (this includes Australia and by association its states and territories) undertake:

b) To take all appropriate measures, including legislation, to modify or abolish existing laws, regulations, customs and practices that constitute discrimination against persons with disabilities;

The current taxi arrangements in Adelaide (and, I assume, South Australia generally) are discriminatory.  Through ratifying the UN Convention our government has signed up to do something about it.  The periodic limited release of additional access taxi licenses will not resolve the underlying discrimination and therefore is not an adequate measure.  Nor is the suggestion that people ‘double-up’.  

If a city the size of London can achieve a fully accessible taxi fleet, then Adelaide, indeed any town or city in Australia, has absolutely no excuse.
Purple Orange has placed a survey online (you can click here to go to it) for people to give feedback on their experiences with taxis.  Please take the time to give us your feedback.  If the current system is fine and dandy, tell us that and we’ll pipe down.  But if it’s not, please share your story so that we can amplify the issues and seek a government commitment to a genuine solution.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Justice and Safeguards

This week has seen two stories emerge in the South Australia media relating to disability and justice.

One was about murder charges laid against a couple who are alleged to have intentionally neglected to death their adult daughter living with disability. The second story was about the dismissal of criminal charges against a bus driver accused of sexually assaulting two child passengers living with intellectual disability.

Both stories provoke concern about the safety of people living with disability, and invite the assertion 'something must be done', for example that the justice system be improved so that people living with disability get a fair go, or that police-checking be strengthened, or that mandatory reporting arrangements be introduced or improved, or that security cameras be introduced, or that there be stronger arrangements for professional intervention to reduce risk of 'within-family' assault or neglect.

While all such ideas are understandable, by themselves they will not have the critical impact that people might hope for. This is because we have to think beyond the strengthening of justice remedies, security arrangements and professional interventions.

We have to think about the underlying expectations that appear to drive how community sees its role in the lives of people living with disability. Who in this young woman's neighbourhood was asking about her wellbeing? This isn't a question merely about the availability and practice of professionals, or the involvement of official 'community visitors'. it is a question about a person's visibility in community life, and about neighbourly concern.

Our society has a longstanding history of providing disability support in a way that separates people from ordinary community life. In so doing, we inadvertently train the citizenry to believe that the welfare of people living with significant disability is someone else's concern, someone else's job. Yet we are all part of a species that has ancient traditions of hospitality and care, at least in part because of the interdependency we all experience; that's why we organise ourselves into communities in the first place.

And therein lies the irony. In the way we have organised formal responses to people's situations, we have diminished our instinctive capacity to be welcoming and hospitable.

We have to find ways to support our communities to reconnect with this instinctive capacity, otherwise these deeply troubling incidents will continue, regardless of the hoped-for attainment of well-tuned justice systems and professional nirvana.

One clear path we can take is to discontinue our unfortunate habit of spending public money on special, separate arrangements for people living with disability, be it a disability enterprise sheltered workshop, a special bus, a group home, or a special school.

In the context of our ancient traditions, these well-intentioned facilities seem to me artificial and, when you stop to think about it, odd.   And they do little to uphold and advance the inherent value of people living with disability as active, integrated members of community. They are ultimately counter-productive.

Rather, we need to orchestrate disability support in ways that connect people into community life, not separate them from it.  It may well be that for some people living with severe disability this will be a difficult endeavour, but it is an essential endeavour to achieve better natural safeguards in people's lives and to improve their life chances.

In addition, we need to hold properly accountable all the arenas of community life - schools, workplaces, public transportation, malls, and so on - for being authentically welcoming and engaging of all citizens.

It will take a concerted effort from all of us. We cannot solely rely on the introduction of the proposed National Disability Insurance Scheme, because by itself that scheme may not be successful in retraining community to exercise its ancient and instinctive capacity.  Also, the scheme may not successfully address a problem that many people living with disability and their families have, where as a result of their experiences of service recipiency, or service-waiting, they carry very low expectations of what may be possible in their lives.

Instead, it will be each of our personal and individual actions of welcome, assistance, solidarity and creativity - person by person, street by street, and neighbourhood by neighbourhood - that will deliver the true safeguards in people's lives.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Reality At Work

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Last week Purple Orange participated in an ABC television story about people living with disability moving into open employment (i.e. employment with mainstream employers). The story, which focused on some examples of success in mainstream work, was relatively brief, and our appearance more so. 

The ABC's interest in this topic prompted us to update our understanding of the world of employment. To place the ABC story into context, here is our story.

As highlighted in the recent Price Waterhouse Coopers (PwC) report Disability Expectations, people living with disability in Australia are 50% less likely than non-disabled people to find employment (with Australia ranked 21 of 27 OECD countries), and carry 2.7 times greater risk of poverty than non-disabled people (ranked last of 27 OECD countries).  45% of Australians living with disability are in poverty right now (double the OECD average).

These unsettling statistics suggest that there is much still to be done to support people living with disability to enter proper employment.  Many disability employment agencies around Australia are giving effort to get people into sustainable employment. This work is important because, just like other citizens, people living with disability have inherent value and potential, and therefore have a contribution to make to our economy; this can be made through ordinary workplaces for a fair wage.

While there are plenty of individual successes, the overall results are not encouraging. According to Australian government data to June this year, of the 145,867 people referred to Disability Employment Services only around 15% were making it into sustained employment (we understand this translates to holding on to a job for at least 26 weeks).  This means a massive 85% of people referred to these services (that's over 120,000 people) were not finding sustained employment.  

This must be so disappointing for the people concerned.  Also it must surely discourage employers who are involved. 

There are a number of possible explanations for the disappointing performance. It's not for me to speculate in this blog whether specific agencies are struggling in particular ways.  However, in general across disability support, we know there are a number of key areas where agencies can have issues. If we apply that to employment, these might include:
  • Degree of insight to the person's character, strengths, capacity and aspirations;
  • Degree of the agency's own imagination of what might be possible;
  • Methods of searching for mainstream employment opportunities;
  • The nature of the proposition marketed to potential employers;
  • Whether the person arrives 'job-ready', or is trained on-the-job with the employer as collaborator;
  • Quality of on-the-job capacity-building;
  • Quality and extent of post-placement follow-up;
  • Concerns about perceived impact on eligibility for disability related pensions.
It is really important that outcomes are improved.  Participation and opportunity are key expectations within the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.  Good outcomes are a clear expectation within the National Disability Standards.  Also, when a person is in waged employment there are the obvious benefits for the person, in terms of having receiving a fair wage for meaningful, valued work.  importantly, there are also critical benefits for society, because the person is contributing to the Common Good, not just in terms of their work contribution, but also in terms of their financial contributions – the person is paying taxes, saving through superannuation, and paying GST when spending disposable income. This represents a genuine return on investment for society, and makes so much more sense than having people living with disability languishing in non-work day services or in nominal-pay sheltered employment mainly alongside other people living with disability.

If designed and implemented effectively, the National Disability Insurance Scheme and the reformed Disability Support Pension arrangements could really help.  The Productivity Commission estimates an extra 320,000 people living with disability could enter employment, and by 2050 produce an additional $31 billion to Australia's Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

Such predicted gains are impressive and inspiring.  However, their arrival cannot be assumed without a number of other challenges also being met. These include:
  • how people living with disability are supported to imagine the possibility of an ordinary valued life, including fare paid work with a mainstream employer;
  • how people are supported to access the right information to make an informed choice;
  • how people are supported to access material resources that can increase the chances of sustained employment;
  • how people are supported to build social capital in support of sustained employment;
  • the nature of the relationship between disability employment services and the people they serve, so that the above elements are upheld and advance;
  • how mainstream employers are supported to deepen their understanding of the potential of employees living with disability, as contributors to the employers social capital (through workforce diversity) and to the employers profitability (through productivity)
  • how disability employment services develop their understanding of the relative costs and effectiveness of agency efforts so that they may evolve those practices that demonstrably help deliver sustained employment and discard those that don't (for example, we hear of an agency achieving a 75% success rate working with people living with significant disability, with job retention at 60% over five years.  If this is true, it is important to understand the practice underlying the success and to replicate it, so that a greater number of people living with disability may benefit).
For the sake of over 120,000 frustrated people, and counting, I hope the two lists of bullets in this blog posting provide a helpful framework for agencies and communities to reflect on current practice and future intent. 

Friday, December 2, 2011

Why I won't be observing International Day of People with Disability

First, apologies for the long absence.  I've been away, and now I'm back.

image from website
Tomorrow (3 December) is the annual International Day of People with Disability (IDPWD).   I won't be observing it.

IDPWD was established in 1992 by the United Nations General Assembly, at the conclusion of the United Nations’ Decade of Disabled Persons (1983-1992), to promote awareness of disability issues and the abilities of people with a disability.  In Australia its observance is coordinated by the Department of Families Housing Community Services and Indigenous Affairs (FaHCSIA). Their aim for the day is "promote an understanding of people with disability and encourage support for their dignity, rights and well-being. The day also seeks to increase awareness of the benefits of the integration of people with disability in every aspect of political, social, economic and cultural life".

So who should celebrate it?  People Living with Disability and the families in their lives?  Hardly.  There's not a lot to celebrate in Australia if you live with disability.    As reported most recently in PriceWaterhouseCooper's Disability Expectations; Investing In A Better Life, A Stronger Australia, people living with disability are half as likely as non-disabled people to be employed and we look particularly bad when compared to other OECD member countries (the OECD is the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development whose mission is "to promote policies that will improve the economic and social well-being of people around the world").  Poverty is a common experience for people living with disability. Across the OECD countries 22% of people living with disability are living in or near poverty.  In Australia it is double that.  In Australia the amount of money that is spent on long-term support for people under 65 is around half that spent in other countries like UK, Sweden and Denmark.  

Maybe service agencies?  I can imagine a lot of agencies will be hosting events, where they hope to raise awareness of disability.  I am sure there is plenty of good intention behind this, and the events will be appreciated by those involved.  However, because of the way most services are currently funded and arranged, chances are that individual people living with disability are not getting a full and fair opportunity to grow into a highly personalised  ordinary valued life.  Not enough to celebrate there.

How about the wider community?  I understand the sentiment of the day, which is to prick the conscience of the broader community, to raise awareness of people's circumstances.  The problem is when we do this on just one 'official' day we inadvertently train the community that they only have to think about disability once a year.  And maybe send a donation.

There is no point in having one day of the year where people make a fuss of your situation for it to then be placed in the unchanging shadows the rest of the time.  That is why I won't be observing it.

I was talking to an overseas colleague earlier this week, who sees Australia on the edge of a great opportunity, given the work of the Productivity Commission on a National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS).  If crafted and implemented well, an entitlement-based funding scheme could see Australia leap-frogging other nations in giving people living with disability authentic control of their lives, a fair go at funding support, and the chance to be part of community life as valued citizens.

It's all about If.  A small word with big consequences.  But if this happens, then Australia's observance of International Day of People With Disability would be a much more authentic celebration.

You can join the campaign for an entitlement-based funding scheme (NDIS) by clicking here