Will disabled Australians get required rights?

The much-anticipated findings of the review of the national disability insurance scheme are likely to be announced this month, capping off a trying year for disabled Australians. The 12-volume report of the royal commission investigating assault, abuse, neglect, and exploitation of people with disability was just made public last week, and the conclusions of the review of the much-anticipated national disability insurance scheme are expected this month.

Both findings will be challenging to read, particularly for those with disabilities; nonetheless, they shed much-needed light on a variety of structural injustices that continue to flourish in the murk. The accounts and discoveries made by the royal commission have been particularly heartbreaking, and I will be forever grateful to all of the individuals with disabilities who had the courage to share their experience. I wasn’t brave enough to be one of them, but I hope that this article, even in its own little way, can help make a difference in the world.

To suggest that education is essential is not overstating the matter in any way. A higher level of education is directly correlated with lower rates of poverty, increased chances of employment, and less risk of injury. It is not a coincidence that people with disabilities are both overrepresented and underrepresented in these fields, which is to our detriment. This is at least partially due to the inequity in education systems that are available to disabled persons like myself.

One of the 222 suggestions that can be found in the report of the royal commission is a goal to reach the point where there are no kids with disabilities attending separate schools by the year 2052. That is a wait of 29 years. It will be Taylor Swift’s 63rd birthday, and it’s possible that the Rolling Stones have called it quits. I have high hopes that people living with disabilities in Australia will be in a considerably better position in 29 years than we are right now, just as significant progress has been accomplished in the past 29 years – at least in some domains.

When I first started elementary school 29 years ago, in 1994, my parents were forced to make a decision between prioritizing my scholastic outcomes at a mainstream school or sending me to the local special school for children with disabilities so that I might receive enough support for my handicap there. My parents had to persuade my primary school to construct an accessible bathroom, and they had to continue to campaign for a one-on-one integration assistant so that they could help me with scribing and other motor skills activities. The choice to send me to mainstream school was the more challenging option.

When I attended a regular school, I had to adjust my expectations and make certain concessions to fit in. My parents struggled with the choice of whether or not to deny me access to services such as physiotherapy in order to place a greater emphasis on my education in the areas of reading and mathematics. I don’t care if you think I’m greedy, but I like to think I deserved both of them. That was simply not an option in the year 1994, and in the year 2023, parents of children who have disabilities still had to make that trade-off.

Children who go to special developmental schools have a significantly increased risk of continuing their education along other segregated pathways due to the connections that exist across these pathways. This is something that is discussed by Inclusion Australia, national peak body for the intellectual disability in Australia. This includes easier entry into large-scale group homes and day centers that are exclusively for people with disabilities (via service providers sponsoring and speaking at school events), as well as streamlined access to Australian Disability Enterprises (paying less than the minimum wage) through work-experience programs offered at special development schools. Additionally, this includes streamlined access to Australian Disability Enterprises (paying less than the minimum wage) through work-experience programs offered at special development schools. What individuals with disabilities and their families ultimately want is equality of opportunity and access to everything that Australia has to offer. All of these segregated settings are the opposite of what people with disabilities and their families ultimately want.

I didn’t particularly enjoy going to school, nor did I despise it. Although there were times when it was challenging, one cannot expect school to always be enjoyable. I was never truly bullied because I had a close-knit group of friends and because all I wanted to do was play video games. My academic abilities were improved by receiving a mainstream education, and I was also given the opportunity to acquire the vitally crucial soft skills that are frequently lacking in educational settings designed for students receiving special education. On the other hand, I was only able to schedule appointments with a physiotherapist four times per year, and my occupational therapist would only visit me once every five years or so when I needed a new motorized wheelchair or commode. This was the price that needed to be paid in order to attend a traditional school.

At times, I find myself pondering what my life may have been like had I attended a specialized school for the developmentally disabled. It’s possible that my body might be a little more flexible or that I would be better able to grab squares of chocolate off my desk, but I seriously doubt that I would have graduated from college, established my own business, or been fortunate enough to have purchased my own home.

Unless it is given the opportunity to swim in a lake, the goldfish will not become resentful of the tank in which it is kept as its home.

In my opinion, wanting students to have access to both an excellent academic education and the proper help for their disabilities while they are in school does not constitute greed. We need to do better, and if governments commit to reallocating the financing for special developmental schools to provide adequate resources for teachers and staff at mainstream schools, then individuals with disabilities and their families won’t have to feel greedy and make these kinds of compromises.

My only desire is that we wouldn’t have to hold out until the year 2052.

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