Public policy conversations about disability are many and varied at the moment, and perhaps like me, you are finding it a challenge to keep up. The Productivity Commission is continuing its work regarding the future arrangements for disability support, and hopefully you have had a chance to make your views known. Meanwhile the Labor government recently released its draft National Disability Strategy so there is a fair bit to digest there. The government is working on its draft report to the United Nations regarding Australia’s progress against the Convention on the Rights of Disabled Persons (another opportunity to make your views known), and in South Australia the Social Inclusion Board has released a discussion paper regarding the future of local disability support (and another opportunity to make your views known).
I will blog some thoughts on the above as soon as I can, but right now, in case you haven’t noticed, the country is in election mode, so I want to explore some of the announcements by the major parties, because at least some of them were easy to miss in the media. I found a bunch for the Australian Labor Party but so far only 1 from the Liberal Party of Australia. Let me know if you know of any others that I don't cover in this and the next blog.
On 17 July Labor announced an initiative involving the major cinema chains delivering more accessible cinema experiences to people living with disability. Click here for the announcement, which is at the FaHCSIA website so i guess it counts as “already going to happen” as opposed to “this is what we’ll do if we get in”.
It includes up to $470,000 over four years to the four major cinema chains to build technical capacity, fast tracking audio description and captioning, together with support for the Accessible Cinemas Advisory Group, which includes a number of disability voices.
This initiative is good news, especially for people like my Mum who is blind, and for whom the prospect of an audio description services that mean she can go out to the movies with the rest of us.
On the 24 July, Labor announced some measures to support people living with disability into community life. Click here for the announcement. These measures included: a $5m pool to match local money (up to $100,000 per grant) so that local councils can improve public amenities such as restrooms, town halls etc, and $1m for improving access to public library materials by people with particular types of disability.
These seem useful and sensible in terms of building accessibility of our communities. The question of course is whether the funding is enough. I like the expectation that local councils need to match the funding as this helps lock in local commitment. I hope that the grant information going to local councils also includes clear signals of local councils’ obligations under the UN Convention, among other things. Otherwise, the need to find local matched funds might put some local councils off if they are not sufficiently aware of the imperative for good access.
Now might be a good time to write to your local council to nominate the access improvement you would most like to see in your local community.
In the same breath, Labor announced a $3m leadership program for people living with disability, including access to mentors. Again, on the face of it I like this idea. The main considerations for me are (a) whether this program will genuinely deliver increased leadership capacity because that’s why the participants are there, and (b) whether it will be matched by government effort to ensure it is playing its part in creating formal leadership opportunities for people. There are plenty of opportunities coming up within government. Two obvious examples are the overseeing of the National Disability Strategy implementation, and the governing of any National Disability Insurance Scheme. Both of these absolutely positively definitely must have people living with disability in leadership roles.
Labor also announced $500k for an 'attitudes' disability website. In principle I like this because information is important. In terms of the cost, I would be very interested to learn more about how they see the $500,000 being spent, so that it has the best chance of getting the attention of its target audience. Essentially, this initiative is about raising the capacity of our communities to be welcoming and inclusive of people living with disability. A well-orchestrated public awareness website can make a contribution to this, but is unlikely by itself to result in a critical mass of change. It needs to happen alongside other elements that help grow community capacity. Much of this happens 'one person at a time' because if we are all committed to the notion of personalised supports then that also implies a highly personalised journey into community life. In which case, I hope that the incoming government, with whatever political persuasion they claim, make good investment into personalised supports including connecting into community life.
By the way, on 28 July, while opening a new accommodation service in Canberra for young people living with disability, Parliamentary Secretary Bill Shorten said “the benefits of age-appropriate and community-based accommodation and support are beyond question”. I'm pleased to hear that, because for people to get a life in community they need to be living in it. Bill Shorten’s comments offer a modicum of reassurance to those of us who are concerned about what happens to people living in institutional accommodation services. Click here for the announcement.
Next instalment of this blog topic 2010 Election Promises will arrive shortly.