Issues of Disabled in Australian Society

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The Disabled

According to the human rights and equal opportunity commission act of 1986, the term “disabled persons” means any person unable to ensure by himself or herself, wholly or partly, the necessities of a normal individual and/or social life, as a result of deficiency, either congenital or not, in his or her physical or mental capabilities. Disabilities include hearing, sight, speaking, grasping, eating etc. In this discussion, an in-depth study will be conducted concerning aspects, which affect the well being of disabled persons. They are government regulations, i.e. the disability discrimination act, issues i.e. abuse, access to resources i.e. transport, positive contributions that disabled persons make to the community i.e. art and the extent of which community service groups assist in meeting the needs of specific groups. Areas of equity and inequity will be explored throughout the discussion concerning these aspects.

Government policies and regulations that relate to the disabled:

The Disability Discrimination Act 1992 is a federal law, which can be used to address discrimination in many areas of public life. The Disability Discrimination Act makes it against the law to treat someone unfairly due to a disability. This covers all types of disabilities, such as mental and physical disabilities.

The Disability Discrimination Act is used to get fair treatment in the work industry, for example seeking employment, the education system, for example enrolling to TAFE, accommodation, for example where you choose to live and community resources such as shops and banks. The Disability Discrimination Act is also put into use when an individual is being harassed or put down due to their disability.

The Disability Discrimination Act also states that a person with a disability must not be discriminated against is he/she has:

  1. An interpreter; or
  2. A reader; or
  3. An assistant; or
  4. A carer; or
  5. Is accompanied by a guide dog

The Commonwealth Disability Services Act 1986 has seven principles. These are:

1) Persons with disabilities are individuals who have the inherent right to respect for their human worth and dignity.

2) Persons with disabilities, whatever their origin, nature, type and degree of disability have the same fundamental right as all members of Australian society.

3) Every person with a disability has the same rights as other members of Australian society to realise his or her individual capacity for physical, social, emotional and intellectual development.

4) Persons with disabilities have the same rights as other members of Australian society to services, which will support their attaining an acceptable quality of life.

5) Persons with disabilities have the same rights as other members of Australian society to participate in the decisions, which will affect their lives.

6) Persons with disabilities have the same rights as other members of Australian society to the least restrictive alternative in the services they receive.

7) Persons with disabilities have the same rights of pursuit of any grievance as have other members of Australian society in relation to the services, which they receive.

The Anti-discrimination Act of 1977 covers past, future and presumed disabilities. In states that it is unlawful for an employer to discriminate against a person on the ground of disability when arranging employment, determining employment and on the terns which the employer offers employment. It is also unlawful for an employer to discriminate against an employee by denying them access to resources, opportunities for promotion, transfer or training or unfairly dismissing the individual due to their disability.

Not only does the Anti-discrimination act prevent discrimination in the workforce, but also in the sporting field and everyday chores such as shopping for groceries. The act states that people with disabilities must be included in all sports if they are capable of performing the actions required for the sport. It is unlawful to refuse to provide a disabled person with goods are services due to their disability or not paying the provider due to the reason that they have a disability.

The Community Welfare Act of 1987 is an act which:

  1. Provides assistance (including financial) for the relief of persons in need or distress.
  2. Provides home support services for the disabled (that is, assistance in the carrying out of work of a domestic or home-maintenance nature) to persons unable to carry out that work.
  3. Provide assistance (including assistance) to approved non-government organisations whose intentions include the provision or assistant services for the disabled.

Section 16 states that there shall be Disability Council of New South Wales. The functions of this council is to:

  • To monitor the implementation of government policy in relation to disabled persons and their family.
  • To advise the government on the effect of services provided to disabled persons and their families.
  • To promote the integration of disabled persons into the community and awareness of matters concerning the welfare of disabled persons and their families.

The Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission Act 1986 states that:

  • Disabled persons have the right to respect for human dignity and have the same civil and political rights as other human beings.
  • Disabled persons are entitled to the measures designed to become as self-reliant as possible and have the same right to medical, psychological and functional treatment. This also includes rehabilitation, education and counselling.
  • Disabled persons have the right to economic and social security and to a decent level of living and to be able to retain employment, They must also have their special needs taken into consideration at all stages of economic and social planning.
  • Disabled persons have the right to live with their families and to participate in social, creative or recreational activities and must not be subjected.
  • Disabled persons are protected against all exploitation and must be informed of the rights contained in this declaration.
  • Disabled persons shall be able to avail themselves of qualified legal aid and when such aid proves indispensable for the protection of their persons and property.

There are also special government allowances available to the disabled or a carer of a disabled person to pay for basic needs and support such as employment and mobility. The carer allowance helps parents or carers to care for children with a disability at home. The Disability Support Pension is a payment for people whose physical, intellectual, or psychiatric impairment prevents them from working, or people who are permanently blind. The Mobility Allowances provides assistance to people with disabilities who are paid employment, voluntary work, vocational training, or a combination of paid work and training and who are unable to use public transport without substantial assistance.

Issues of concern for the disabled:


Abuse if women with disabilities is one of the most complex, controversial and disturbing challenges facing the Australian community. Women with disabilities can be highly vulnerable to violence and abuse in their daily lives. Domestic violence can include physical and sexual violence, neglect, emotional violence, social isolation and financial abuse. A national hotline for reporting allegations of abuse and neglect of persons with disabilities, which is government, funded gets thousands of calls a year reporting abuse. The hotline receives reports of abuse and neglect and refers them to appropriate Commonwealth, State and Territory agencies for investigation. All staff working on the hotline is experienced in working with people with disabilities.


Even little things such as retrieving mail from the letterbox are seen as torment for people with disabilities. People with impaired mobility, wheelchair uses and blind persons have experienced problems with accessing Australia Post collection post box. In Perth, Australia Post trailed two collection post boxes at the kerbside so that people with mobility problems could drive up to the box to post outgoing mail, but proved unusable for many as they were unable to drive due to their disability. Australia Post has an unpublished home collection service where the postal delivery officer can collect prepaid mail from a person’s home. To do this however, the person must be waiting at the letterbox when the postie passes. This service is not advertised or promoted, and many Australia Post personnel do not know of its existence.


Having a disability can be a burden for artists, or patrons of art galleries. The current statistics state that one in five patrons at an art gallery have a disability, revealing the barriers that disabled persons have in cultural life. Most art galleries have a lack of ramps so that someone in a wheelchair or who is mobility impaired with have to use an alternative entrance. Additionally, signs and information in small print so someone with a visual impairment may have difficulties navigating the space.

For artists with disabilities, there are significant barriers both to receive formal training and to establishing a practice. Formal training institutes are notoriously inaccessible. These barriers can lead disabled artists to feel isolated and individuals being reluctant to disclosure their disability.


On the 13th October 2002, the National Council of Intellectual Disability (NCID) investigated a representative complaint under the Commonwealth Disability Discrimination Act (DDA 1992) against Australia’s universities.

Children with an intellectual disability are discriminated at every level of their education, as there is no formal national training for teachers on how to help students with disabilities. Teachers, psychologists and school administrators are failing to meet the needs of these students, leading to segregation.

Research shows that if students with an intellectual disability are included in schools with their peers they will learn more, have more friends, are more likely to be employed, literate, marry and enjoy lifestyles that are valued by others in the community.

Mr Pattison, Executive officer of NDID said, “We are seeking Australian universities to recognise their responsibility to train teachers how to teach all students, including students with an intellectual disability. We will be seeking to set up a cooperative and collaborative approach with the Universities to address this urgently so that students with intellectual disabilities and their families are assured that our teachers can teach without discrimination.”


The Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission (HREOC) has received complaints under the Disability Discrimination Act 1992 alleging discrimination by a number of television stations regarding captioning of television programming. Those who have profound hearing loss or are deaf use captioning. Section 24 of the Disability Discrimination Act makes discrimination unlawful regarding access to services. The Broadcasting Services Act states that the captioning service should be available for prime viewing hours (6:00pm to 10:30pm) and that the service should be provided for television news programs outside these viewing hours.


Intellectually disabled people are four times more likely to end up in jail than their numbers in the community suggest, a preliminary inquiry by the New South Wales Law Reform Commission has indicated that people with an intellectual disability are more likely than other members of the community to be arrested, denied bail, convicted and jail. The intellectually disabled also appear to receive longer sentences, to serve a greater percentage of their sentence before release and are also more likely to offend.

The report also found that the disabled are particularly vulnerable to crimes such as sexual assault and fraud as they often lack the communication skills and support necessary to identity the nature of the crime and to report it to the proper authorities.

The commission are now examining the issue whether there should be a new uniform statutory definition of “intellectual disability”, whether the intellectually disabled should be given different sentencing and police treatment of the intellectually disabled.

Access to resources:

The Disabled are disadvantaged, in many ways, accessing resources. A survey conducted by Advocacy Victorian found that 40% of basic needs were not met, and 5,700 people or 4% received accommodation support. This is due to the fact that there are many barriers, which exist, that prevent the disabled accessing resources. People who phoned the Human Rights and Equal Opportunities Hotline stated these barriers:

· Access to people with a disability.

· Attitudes to people with a disability.

· Communications in accessible mediums.

· Mobility within the community.

38% of callers complained of barriers in employment, 32% complained of barriers in accessing goods, services and facilities, and 11% complained of barriers in obtaining education and access to premises.

The Office of Disability also conducted research on barriers, which face the disabled community. Its major findings were:

· That there is a lack of awarness of the needs of people with disabilities.

· Lack of funded services.

· That people are ignorant of the talents of the disabled, and assuming that due to their disability, they are unable to perform a task.

In many homes, there are steps, which makes it hard for disabled persons to go inside. There are also hideous stairways, which makes it unable for the wheelchair to be carried inside. These experiences cam often be humiliating for the disabled person, and feelings of isolation lead to disabled persons confiding in their homes. A quote from the article featured in the Weekend Australian Review in 1999 sums up the feeling of a disabled person being unable to access a specific resource. “Often I don’t go somewhere if I know it is inaccessible.

The safety of people with a disability is very important. Disabled parking facilities, ramps in shopping centres and priority seating in public transport are all-important steps in satisfying this need.

Hospitals make sure that the disabled are able to access their resources by having large parking bays, sliding doors, smooth laminated floors for wheelchairs and disabled toilets. Schools also help disabled students by having ramps, instead of stairs for wheelchairs and disabled toilets. Streets and shopping centres now have wide footpaths to accommodate the disabled. Local swimming associations have attendants to help the disabled swim, and the beaches, such as Wollongong have buggies, which allow the disabled to swim.

Positive contributions of the disabled:

Research shows that when you employ persons with disabilities, assuming that they have the skills to due the job that employer satisfaction is very high. Jock Noble, executive officer of Central Marketing Services who runs a not-for-profit organization linking employers to specialise disability employment agencies says American studies have shown that persons with disabilities have above-average-safety and attendance records and that overall staff morale is improved when they take their place beside able-bodied colleagues. Victorian research reveals that few people require workplace adjustments or job redesign and, where they are required 80% cost less that $500 and are paid for by the government. H.M. Five Star Engines production manger Graham Smith, who was the recipient of the Prime Minister’s employer of the year awards for providing significant opportunities to workers with disabilities said “We have fantastic success with our program of employing workers with a disability and I would defy anyone to come in and do a better job than any of these employees”

Not only are the disabled a benefit in the workforce, but in the entertainment and arts industry. Close to one million Australians who develop, create and experience the arts have a disability. Australians who have a disability are active in all art forms. The Restless Dance Company features young dancers with and without an intellectual disability in partnership with professional dance artists, designers and musicians. The IHOS Opera is a Tasmanian-based contemporary opera/music theatre company, which works with artists with disabilities. Back to back Theatre is a company, which features actors with intellectual disabilities who are high profile advocates for people with disabilities. The company presented a new theatrical work soft, at the 2002 Melbourne International Festival of the arts.

There are also many famous Australians with a disability who excel in their field and raise awarness for people with disabilities. David Helgoff, a pianoist who was made famous from the movie “Shine” has thousands of appreciative fans around the world, and also has a mental disability. Alan Marshall is a disabled writer who wrote the book “I can jump puddles”. There are also many disabled athletes how achieve in their field such as Cindy Lu Fitzpatrick, a deaf swimmer who has competed in 6 Deaflympics and won 19 Gold, 4 Silver, 5 Bronze Deaflympics medals. Paul Mitchell is missing an arm, but that did not stop him from winning gold and creating a world record in Berlin in the 800m freestyle in Berlin.

Community Service Groups:

For every sort of disability, there is generally same kind of help offered. TADVIC is an organization whose volunteer members design, construct or modify equipment for people with disabilities, provided no commercially available product or service will meet their needs. Syd-West Personnel is a non-profit Federal Government funded organization with over 10 years experience in providing employers with eager, well trained employees to fill a range of full and part time positions. The Independent Living Centre of New South Wales has a comprehensive range of products and equipment to assist with daily living activities. HAND is a not for profit organization which supports people with intellectual disability by enhancing leisure and lifestyle opportunities. HAND organises the disabled to meet new people, make new friends, and become more independent and to get out more and try new things. The Community Friend Program also promotes friendships throughout Australia. People with a disability who are experiencing isolation are introduced to a volunteer from their local area with the aim of developing an ongoing friendship. Home and Community Care (HACC) aids the disabled around the home with chores and maintenance, personal nursing and health care for instance dressing, bathing, clothing etc. HACC also assists with shopping, meals and organising day groups.

Nevertheless, research conducted in 2000 by Advocacy Victoria found that 5,700 people or 4% of those in need, received accommodation support and 25,900 people with a profound disability did not participate in any community activity and spent the year within their home. Research in 1999 by the Australian Bureau of statistics found that 32% of persons with disabilities who could not move, go out, shower and dress did not have their needs met. Thus the organisations The Independent Living Centre of New South Wales, HAND, The Community Friend Program and HAND must not be serving the disabled community to the degree they aim too.

The House With No Steps is an association, which was established in 1965, which provides quality support services for people with disabilities. They are one of Australia’s leading organisations in the rehabilitation field. The House With No Steps assists with many needs of the disabled such as independent living, employment training services and day programs. These services increase the independence of the disabled, thus increasing self-esteem and well being by encouraging the disabled to live a normal life, where their handicap is not a burden. Organisations such as AMIDA are also fighting for fair treatment of the disabled. The organization works on getting better tenancy rights for persons with disabilities. Citizen Advocacy is a movement that seeks to promote, protect and defend the rights and interests of people who have an intellectual disability. This is an advantage to disabled persons, as in 2000 5,700 disabled persons did not have sufficient housing support.

The Guide Dog Association trains persons who are vision impaired to use guide dogs, canes and electronic aids. This improves a vision impaired persons quality of life as these devices assist the vision impaired to access resources such as transport and education. Last year alone, the associations instructors travelled over half a million kilometres, to make sure that, wherever possible, mobility skills are taught in the environment where they are to be used.

However, research from Advocacy Victoria recently found that 40% of persons identified as having a severe disability were not having their basic needs met. These people were left on waiting lists by the government for assistance. They include people with physical, sensory, intellectual or psychiatric disabilities. The group is calling for an annual increase of $1 billion in disability services funding, to be spent on housing, employment assistance and essential aids and equipment. The Federal Government had agreed to commit $295 million to address the unmet needs of people with profound disabilities. Research conducted by Advocacy Victoria found that the federal government’s contribution to disability services had decreased over the past 10 years.


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