Tag Archives: Disabilism

Taking her place

Look at this beautiful picture of MLA Kelly Vincent, sitting in the Upper House in the South Australian parliament.

Kelly’s tribute to a friend who stood tall

I could do without the heavy handed reference to her friend who used a wheelchair in the headline – couldn’t they have referred to a friend who travelled proud, or something like that? But putting that to one side, it is a great delight to see Vincent taking her seat in the house.

Making a difference, already

Kelly Vincent’s seat in the South Australian parliament was confirmed just 20 days ago, and already, she is making a difference. Vincent stood on the Dignity for Disability ticket, and she is both the youngest woman ever elected in Australia, and the first person with visible disabilities elected to the South Australian parliament. She uses a wheelchair, and she has first hand knowledge of just how long some people are forced to wait to get wheelchairs in South Australia; she waited for her own chair for two years, and some people have been on the waiting list for even longer. She says that there are about 600 South Australians waiting for wheel chairs. That’s 600 people who can’t go out, can’t move around their homes, can’t go shopping, can’t engage in the usual activities of everyday life, because the government can’t find the money in its budget to meet their needs.

But it seems that since Vincent was elected, the money and the motivation has been found.

Disability Minister Jennifer Rankine says Cabinet has approved $7.5 million of funding to help clear the waiting list.

“There are people requiring, if you like, pretty standard equipment and we’ll be issuing that as quickly as we can,” she said.

“Obviously when people need specialised, custom-built equipment that does take a little longer, but we’ll be rolling that out as quick as we can.”

First win for Vincent!

I’m sure her presence in the House has helped in a couple of ways. The first way is obvious; the ruling Labor party may need her vote. The second is the politics of presence. When there were no people with disabilities in the parliament, it was hard for their voices to be heard, hard to communicate their needs, hard for politicians to understand just how life might for for people with difficulties. Now Vincent is right there, in the House, and there as an advocate for people with difficulties. As each piece of legislation is formulated and debated, she is able to let other parliamentarians know how things really are experienced by people with disabilities. Their experiences and needs become salient in any policy making as something that is always acknowledged, always considered, always given due weight. That can only result in an improvement to policy making and legislation. It’s a long term victory for Vincent and the people she represents.

Yes, I know I’m a bit rosy-hued about this. There will be setbacks and challenges, and it will take plenty of time and hard work to effect long term change for people with disabilities. But what a tremendous start for Vincent.

Lessons in language

I work on a casual basis at a couple of the local universities (all going well, by the end of the first semester next year, I will have worked at all three major universities in town – nothing like spreading myself around / too thin). In the semester just ended, I taught a course in professional ethics for students working in disability. My expertise is on the ethics side of that course, and I have been very, very grateful for the knowledge I’ve picked up around about the place from people writing specifically about living with disability.

I ran into problems in the last couple of lectures, with defining autonomy. It’s a critical value in Western liberal democracies, and highly relevant to people working in disability. It can be a yardstick, a constant question that can guide practice – does my action enhance or compromise the autonomy of the person I am working with?

But the students in this course are completely new to ethical analysis, and often they aren’t even sure what autonomy is. So I needed to come up with definitions for them, and given that they are normally very applied workers and thinkers (c/f the philosophy and political theory students I normally work with), the definitions need to be structured in a way that helps the students to connect with them. This is a common issue in professional and business ethics courses; it’s usually the first time many of the students have engaged with any formal study of ethics. Often it’s simply a matter of providing words and a conceptual structure so the students can articulate knowledge they already have intuitively, but in order to do that, I find it easiest to flesh out the very conceptual definitions of autonomy with more applied definitions.

And that’s where I suddenly realised that all the imagery I customarily used when talking about autonomy was just … wrong.

Very formally, and in very bare bones fashion, autonomy is the capacity for self-government. It’s the freedom to make and to act on choices.

Whatever. Often the bare bones definition doesn’t give students a sense of why autonomy is important. So from there, I talk about the idea of people being autonomous adults, of being independent and recognised as independent operators, of having a sense of themselves as being independent and worthy of respect, of being equals who are able to stand tall and look the other in the eye.

Ouch. As I opened my mouth to utter this phrase, one that I’ve used for many years, I suddenly realised that it was just wrong, not only for that class in particular, but for use in general. I stood there gaping like a goldfish, and eventually told the students that I was lost for words, and explained why.

I’m not likely to be teaching that particular course again: I was filling in for a semester while the person who usually teaches the course was on study leave. But given my areas of study, I’m highly likely to be lecturing on the value of autonomy again. So right now I’m working hard on coming up with something better to say. Any suggestions will be gratefully received, and carefully considered.

Why hasn’t this man been charged with assault?

(Potentially triggering)

A man who worked in disabled care, Andrew Lambert, has been reinstated in his job by an employment tribunal, after he had been sacked for “inappropriate behaviour” towards two intellectually disabled women in his care. [link to Sydney Morning Herald story - may be triggering]

To the great good credit of the organisation which employs him, the NSW Department of Ageing, Disability and Homecare, he hasn’t actually been allowed to go back on the job, but he’s now collecting his full salary.

Continue reading

Pick up your pens – activism time

I’m guessing that most Australians who read my blog also read Hoyden about Town (the whole world ought to read Hoyden about Town), but just in case you don’t, head on over there and read Lauredhel’s post about the proposed harmonisation of accessible parking rules. Under the proposal, people who are mobile, but nevertheless can’t walk far, will be excluded from using accessibility parking. Lauredhel has details about the proposed rule changes, an account of what it would mean for people who have limited ability to walk, and importantly, what you can do to help.

Call to activism: many people with disabilities to be excluded from accessible parking under proposed scheme