The announcement this morning that Premier Colin Barnett had signed Western Australia to the NDIS (now called Disability Care Australia or DCA) was greeted by champions of disability in this state with considerable cheers of satisfaction.  But what does this all mean? Let me declare two positions that impact on my assessment of the DCA. Firstly, I am the President of the National Ethnic Disability alliance, the peak body of the various Ethnic Disability associations around Australia. Secondly, I am the CEO of the Epilepsy Association of WA and a Director of Epilepsy Australia. Given those positions I have had various discussions with the bureaucrats and political apparatchiks responsible for the rollout of the DCA.

On 6th March 2013 I wrote an article for The Stringer that said the following:

We have a lot to concern ourselves about in regard to the treatment of people with disabilities. Let’s just look at some of the issues that have arisen in recent times that cause me to raise some questions herein. Let us just list a few of these:

1.   A young girl who is vision impaired is asked to surrender her white cane at a rock concert. This caused the girl more than simply the physical angst that was associated but also caused a great deal of mental anguish to her.

2.   A young man who went to the cricket was asked to surrender his cutlery even though it was essential that he be able to cut his food into manageable bite size pieces.

3.   A doctor in Horsham who has been a 457 visa holder for a number of years is denied permanent residency in Australia because his son has a disability and in the words of the Department of Immigration and Citizenship, will be a ”burden” on Australian society if he was allowed to stay.

4.   Another doctor who had his visa application denied for ostensibly the same reason as above because of a diagnosis of cancer having been given to his wife.

5.   The provision by one of the WA Ministers of a letter to a blind colleague in a PDF format which was not able to be read by her “blind” software despite her indicating this to the staff at the ministerial office.

6.   A blind woman was refused service when she entered a cafe accompanied by her guide dog, and was told she would only be served if she sat outside.

7.   A lawyer’s application for income protection insurance was refused when she disclosed she had once experienced depression.  This refusal was despite the fact she had not taken any time off work because of her impairment in 10 years.

8.   A real estate agent refused the rental application of an accountant who used a wheelchair, because the agent believed she would not be able to pay the rent and maintain the property because of her impairment.

9.   The parents of a young boy complained their son had been discriminated against because shortly after being told he was autistic, his child care provider would no longer let him attend the crèche.

10.   An employee of a travel agency refused to accept a booking made on behalf of a person with a disability. She did this without asking the nature or extent of the disability.

The examples listed above from 6 to 10 are taken from the WA Equal Opportunity Commission’s website as the examples of impairment discrimination that have been brought to the attention of the commission.  In the most recent annual report of the Commission, discrimination on the grounds of impairment continues to be the most common closely followed by discrimination on the grounds of race.

The purpose of listing the occurrences above is not to highlight the particular issues that may have arisen in each of those cases but to emphasise that there is still considerable work to be done in the area. When you then overlay the misinformation and the prevailing attitudes of exclusion with a race or Non English Speaking Background (NESB) you are now presented with a person who may have two of the significant discrimination grounds listed above. Therefore the logical conclusion to be drawn from the above is that there is a considerable amount of educational work that remains to be done. Recognising that people with disabilities also have ABILITIES might be a good starting point. Of course, to bridge cultural factors that go to the issues of exclusion and ostracism is another skill set that very few in the upper echelons of government possess. This emphasises the very great need for intervention and education strategies that are culturally appropriate.

So in answering the question posed above about the disability strategies of the western Australian government and that of the NDIS, the conclusion that can be drawn is that there is much to be done in society to recognise the issues involved.  Until our attitudes to people with disability change neither of the two systems (the West Australian one and the NDIS) is going to be particularly successful.

At the risk of repeating myself so soon after that last article and the comments above, we are very appreciative of the WA government having signed up to DCA. There was a need for consistency of treatment across the nation and despite our regular calls for secession, the last time I looked WA was still a part of the Federation of Australia.

The major concern that I have consistently expressed in regard to the DCA is that there are societal attitudes that require shifting. Societal attitudes towards people with disabilities still require fundamental paradigm shifts. We have seen comments from the Premier and Prime Minister that have talked in terms of the “people who “suffer” from disabilities”. The focus of all of their rhetoric has been about the disability and seems to completely miss the point that people with disabilities also have abilities!

Even when the name of the organisation and system was being changed from NDIS to DCA, we understand that the involvement of people with disabilities was minimal at best. Not many people I know amongst my friends who have disabilities like the name change. However, the government has undertaken that change ignoring the wishes of these people. So much for Self Directed services, a cornerstone of the new system!

So let us be clear on the issue of DCA. It has potential to be a vast improvement on the systems that we have had in a piecemeal and fragmented and often inconsistent approach in the past. However, let us not kid ourselves that it is the panacea to all the problems. In the area of episodic disabilities such as Epilepsy inter alia, there is still need to examine the application of DCA. We hope that is able to be resolved in the near future.

In the meantime, we congratulate the Premier and Prime Minister on signing WA up to the DCA. We hope that the system is still able to be adapted to better suit the participants. Now they need to listen to people who will be participants in the system. And consider those who are excluded!


Suresh Rajan is a WikiLeaks Party Candidate for the Australian Senate.