Friday, February 16, 2018

Living on the 'outside!'

"We need to make every single thing accessible; to every single person with a disability."

~  Stevie Wonder

Australians with disabilities have long lived beside the rest of the community, some of us a visible others have disabilities that can't be seen. Our disabilities present us with challenges and obstacles others in the community do not have.  However it is not our impairments that disable us, but the way our society has been structured. 

Australians with disabilities and there families are resilient, resourceful and creative in the way they adapt to living in a non-disable world. 

Living on the Outside

Post institutional care makes us your neighbours, your co-workers, family members, classmates and community members. However this does not make a community socially inclusive.  To be inclusive every member of the community must be valued and accepted by the community. Thus the title 'living on the outside'.

We might live in the neighbourhood but the invisible institutional walls still lock people with some disabilities out of community activities.  To be come inclusive means giving people access to all areas.  This is not something I fully understood until I began to work in the disability arts sector.

When I begun access was about steps, toilets, lighting, transport and communication.  It wasn't until I found myself working in inclusive environments and people with disabilities different to my own, that the term 'access to all areas' began to mean, every single aspect of human life.  

Not every person with a disability can vote and where they can their are obstacles e.g. someone who is blind cannot read a ballot paper.  People with disabilities are treated differently under the Australian law, as someone living with epilepsy I can not be part of a jury. Other Australians due to their perceived intelligence can not testify in a court of law. 

Access to information remains one of the largest barriers for those living with disability, in the age of information and technology, being unable to read or write makes you disable and dependent on others to be able to access information, centerlink or any service which you need to complete forms.  If you are deaf, non-verbal or have a speech impairment you may need to access an interpreter through the National Relay Swervice to make a phone call. 

Some disabilities including invisible disabilities are more social isolating than others and communities such as the deaf community form specifically to provide a community in which conversations can take place.  There are many different misconceptions held by community members, just as not all people with cp have an intellectual disability not all deaf people can lip read. 

Living in the outside can be just as isolating as institutional living.  Providing services and programs for people with disabilities does not ensure inclusion. Programs and events exclusively for those with disabilities can affirm the invisible community barriers. Anything that excludes others is potentially segregating.  The formation of the pockets in the community can determine friends and activities which individuals with disabilities take part in, and fails to provide 'access to all areas'.     

Occasionally I may go out with the neighbours, but I do not do every single activity with them. Living on the outside in special housing can be like this but not always.  I know some people who live in supported accommodation to work and enjoy other activities outside the people who live in the house.  Limiting choice can be another way we isolate people. 

This is why providing choice is so critical to the success of the ndis.  The key reform under the ndis is to assist people with disabilities and their families to participate in life.  Full participation should include access to every aspect to life.  In the past people with disabilities who have worked have had their pay rates linked to their productivity rates.  Thus the slower you work the less you are paid. 

In the open workforce our productivity rates do not receive such security. This is another way society  has allowed separate laws to apply to people living with disabilities, because their contribution is less valued.  In a inclusive community all members are equally valued.  The same standards are applied to all members.  Each member is valued for the skills and talents.   

The arts industry is no exception when it comes to pay rates, sales and pricing on artwork. This gives a message that artists with disability that the standard of work is less.

Finding Solutions  

Building inclusive communities takes a multi-layered approach. The roll out of the ndis is one part of the puzzle. This scheme supports families and individuals living with disabilities to participate in the community.  Though providing a child with disability support before and after school, parents may be able to return to full-time work. When we're looking to increase participation rates we need to remember a families member with a disability makes impact on the whole family. 

A child with autism can mean family outings like going to the movies or a meal at a restaurant is impossible. To build a inclusive community needs to build public awareness of the challenges of people with disabilities and the range of disabilities their are. Disability awareness is something I've been focusing on this week as my art exhibition The Melting Pot continues at the Drawing Point Art Gallery.

My exhibition has allowed me to begin dialogue in the arts community and the wider arts community on social inclusion.  Social inclusion can only be achieve through acceptance of those who look and act differently.  Like me and my mate 'Danny Dare'.

In terms of disabilities local business can prepare a 'Disability Action Plan'.  This is how a business works towards enabling people with disabilities to be included in the services the offer. Naturally we live in a beautiful historical city, and we don't want to tear up our heritage to recreate accessible buildings.  However in terms of physical access there are affordable solutions.  

Portable ramps that enable customers to wheel over a small steps. This one cost me $300 and could be shared between a few business closely located.  Installing better lighting for the visual impaired. Print signs in fonts and colours so those with visual impairments can read them. Vision Australian have guidelines on their website.

Even building you website using Vision Australia's gudielines on their website can be one small step to can take towards building an inclusive community.  Next time you refurnish you could consider building a lower counter for wheelchair users.

You can make changes to make your business more inclusive through changing your policies, providing disability awareness training for staff. Training a member of staff to provide emotional first-aid or providing quiet areas and soft lighting for people with sensory disabilities. A Disability Action Plan may take 5 to 10 years to implement but having one means your committed to building an inclusive community. 

Your Disability Action Plan should outline how you intend to address access issues for staff and customers. Your plan may be about working towards employing someone with a disability.  The action plan needs to address all access issues include: physical access; intellectual access; communication access; addressing sensory needs and providing information in accessible formats.

There is something very simple you can start with to build inclusion. Be open to opportunities to learn about different types of disabilities and stop making assumptions about the abilities of those living with impairments. 

You never know what you can do until you try!

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