Here in the state of New South Wales, Australia, we have an election coming up on 26 March, so help us all. The head of the state government, Premier Kristina Keneally of the Australian Labor Party, has pledged $30 million in disability services funding. She’s not going to be re-elected – I’ve never known an Australian government to be so widely despised – so it’s more of an exercise to maintain the last dregs of the public’s goodwill than anything. (If you’re wondering, her government has been plagued by so many scandals, ministerial resignations and schemes that fell through that it would be tempting to get out the popcorn and laugh were it not so serious.)
This is reminding me a bit of the federal election campaign last year, during which we had what I like to call “disability week”. Prime Minister Julia Gillard of Labor and Opposition Leader Tony Abbott of the Coalition both mysteriously started to promise money to disability services, after a few days of which the issue dropped off the radar again. It was all great and feel-good, but not much has actually been happening for disabled Australians. I’m a bit reluctant to take Australian politicians at their word about this sort of thing, having been around during the years in which John Howard (George W. Bush’s friend, remember him?) was Prime Minister and funding for services used by disabled schoolchildren was drastically cut. This was at heartbreaking expense to people I care about, and for the development of programs helping those kids engage with such frivolities as “learning to read” and “adding and subtracting”. Who ever would want to use those skills?
Yeah, I’m bitter.
If you had millions of dollars to put towards disability services in a given part of the world, what would you do with them? Here are some of the uses to which I’d like more funding directed where I live. I have a hard time imagining that these are the uses to which Keneally’s funding – which, as I’ve noted, won’t materialise anyway – would be directed, but a lady can dream. Hopefully the forthcoming Premier, Barry O’Farrell of the opposition, will step up.
1. Proper care: I wish that everyone in need would have access to proper care, and that there were strict measures in place so that disabled people wouldn’t be subject to abuse, neglect, and assault at the hands of those working in the care sector. That should not be happening, and it definitely shouldn’t be covered up by the system.
2. Fair treatment of disabled people in the criminal justice system: The existence of disabled people in Australian prisons has been largely ignored until recent years, with a lot of damage as a result. The conflation of disability and criminality and difficulties navigating the legal system while disabled are cherries on top of the lack-of-adequate-care pie. I’ve just written a piece on this subject for Global Comment, as a matter of fact.
3. Violence against women: I’d like some attention paid to domestic violence against disabled women and girls in particular. In spite of this being a population particularly subject to domestic violence, there aren’t a whole lot of accessible shelters, nor do government campaigns against violence against women discuss how disabled women and girls are affected. There is barely any data available on sexual violence against women and girls with disabilities, even though we know that the rates must be heinous. I can only find one report examining this, and that’s a 2008 report from the Australian Centre for the Study of Sexual Assault. It blows my mind that this extremely vulnerable group of women are largely ignored by so-called feminist or women’s groups, and that governments just don’t seem to care.
4. Education: Well, we know how I feel about this. There isn’t enough funding for teachers and aides. Disabled students are denied access to private schools. Australian policy on tackling literacy and numeracy issues has changed enough times in the past ten years to make one’s head spin. And if there’s anything worse than a bad educational program or policy, it’s an inconsistent one that doesn’t allow anyone to learn anything before it changes all around again. It’s ludicrously bad. I’d like a thorough inquiry as to the state of education for disabled students, and I’d like the government to take the results on board and address the issues. (Unlike that time in 2005 where there was a decent report into literacy, the resultant plans from which were scrapped after we got a new federal Education Minister. I’m bitter. Really, really bitter.)
What would you add?
In the mean time, there’s some good news: it looks like, after years of pushing, Australia’s disability support scheme is getting closer to a complete overhaul. Let’s hope!