By Kate Hood
Disabled people are not employed to speak for ourselves. We are rarely in leadership positions which allow us to drive the debate about what disabled people need during natural disasters. The truth is, we are being ignored, as usual, despite the efforts of some outstanding disabled activists, writes Kate Hood.
Disabled people don’t see ourselves represented across all parts of society. In 2020, we are still fighting for equal opportunity in education, work and recreation, and we are not represented in leadership positions advising government on disability.
We should be. We are the experts. We live with disability every day of our lives. We live in a world not designed for us, so we know how to ‘pivot’. We know how to deal with the isolation that a lack of access brings, and the poverty that comes with it too.
Since the lockdowns started, I’ve had many conversations with my disabled friends about the ‘Welcome to my World’ effect. For the first time, we don’t have to explain to non-disabled people what it is to be denied access to the world. They are experiencing it first-hand.
Still, we have not been asked to share our knowledge, or been included in the effort to provide support.
When the coronavirus caused thousands of able-bodied Australians to lose their jobs, the Morrison Government tacitly acknowledged that JobSeeker was not enough money to live on. They did this by establishing JobKeeper at $1,500 per fortnight, and increasing JobSeeker to $1,115 a fortnight. The Disability Support Pension sits at $944 per fortnight, and there has been zero conversation about the fact that disabled people have been living below the poverty line for years. Now is the time to talk about raising the Disability Support Pension.
Instead, we regularly see able-bodied people having ‘civilised’ conversations on television about who is important enough to keep alive, and who can die. We disabled people hear the media clearly when they say that the only people who will be affected by this virus are the elderly and those with underlying health conditions.
It is not okay to have an able-bodied economist sitting on a popular panel show on television, advocating we follow the example of Sweden, where they let the ‘weak’ people die.
That is Eugenics, and we have an obligation to name it publicly.
There is an aversion of gaze, amongst even the most socially aware able-bodied journalists, concerning the discrimination disabled people live with every day, which is a problem because, let’s face it, the able-bodied journalists are the ones we have to rely on for nuanced and just reporting of the truth. Disabled people are not employed to speak for ourselves. We are rarely in leadership positions which allow us to drive the debate about what disabled people need during natural disasters. The truth is, we are being ignored, as usual, despite the efforts of some outstanding disabled activists.
With that said, coronavirus has also brought us opportunities, and we need to grab them.
In my area of the Performing Arts, for example, those who are used to performing in live venues are now live-streaming, making performances accessible for those unable to physically get to venues. I recently heard about a disabled woman, who is permanently in a hospital bed, seeing the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra for the first time because, due to coronavirus, the performance was live-streamed. It was a revelation to her.
This should always have been done! We must now lock live-streaming down as normal practice, not just a temporary form of access for able-bodied people which disappears when coronavirus does.
Australia is a signatory to the Convention on the Rights of People with Disability, so according to International Law, the Australian Government has an obligation to treat us equally.
Coronavirus has made it obvious that (to quote George Orwell) some people are more equal than others.
Kate Hood was a well-known able-bodied actor for many years. She became a wheelchair-user thirteen years ago, and reinvented herself as a leading advocate and theatre-maker, passionate about seeing disabled artists across the performing arts in Australia. Her company, Raspberry Ripple makes theatre from the point of view of disability.