The necessary restrictions that have been imposed on all of us during the COVID-19 pandemic have highlighted the challenges faced by Australians with disability, and the need for comprehensive and rigorously implemented disability policy.
Australia’s disability policy should have the flexibility to respond to disasters with an inherent understanding of human rights.
Framework for disability policy in Australia
Australia has been a party to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities since 2008.
In large part the obligations Australia has under the Convention and its associated Optional Protocol are in large part brought to life by the Disability Discrimination Act 1992 (Cth) (the DDA) and the National Disability Strategy.
The Commission plays an important role in supporting the operation of the DDA and the disability standards created under it.
Recently, the Commission produced the Equivalent Access Guidelines relating to the Disability Standards for Accessible Public Transport 2002 following a period of extensive consultation with people with disability, civil society, industry stakeholders and government.
The Guidelines aim to facilitate compliance with the standards, and the provision of accessible public transport in the community.
They are a small step in solving a critical need for accessible public transport.
National Disability Strategy
In 2011, the Commonwealth, state and territory governments developed the 2010-2020 National Disability Strategy, following the release of the report Shut Out: The Experience of People with Disabilities and their Families in Australia (2009).
The intention of the Strategy was to ensure all aspects of the lives of people with disability was considered in government policy, with human rights acknowledged and respected.
A transformative effect of the Strategy was the creation of the National Disability Insurance Scheme.
But what was also acknowledged in creating the Strategy was that people with disability are affected by a complex array of State and Commonwealth government policies, including health, education, employment and transport.
When government policies change for the community in these areas there can be unintended impacts on people with disability.
Ideally, before any change takes place people with disability will be consulted.
But it is important that all Australians recognise that good disability policy benefits us all – not just people who currently have disability.
It benefits all Australians now and in the future. It includes all Australians from when they are children to when they are elderly. It plans for global pandemics, emergencies or crises.
And it should seek to ensure that every person in Australia is respected and included irrespective of race, gender, education level, socio-economic status, ethnicity, age or sexual orientation.
This includes people who live alone, like the late Ann Marie Smith, or in Melbourne’s public housing towers.
In Australia, 4.4 million people have disability. The likelihood of a person having disability increases with age, and more than 50% of Australians over the age of 65 have disability.
Good disability policy ensures that we and our loved ones will be looked after over time, including in aged care or where full-time support is needed.
To be effective, good disability policy needs to promote the long-term inclusion of people with disability in society.
This means policies and laws constantly need to be reviewed and assessed and, on occasion, guidance needs to be given from institutions such as the Australian Human Rights Commission.
It is critically important people with disability be given the opportunity to comment on what is working well or poorly from the perspective of their lived experience.
Last week the Department of Social Services released its Position Paper seeking submissions to inform the new National Disability Strategy.
This is a unique opportunity to help shape the next ten years of disability policy in Australia.
The perspective of people with lived experience of disability is critical. The perspective will benefit all Australians. I encourage you to make a submission before 30 September.