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

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