Thursday, December 26, 2013

Your Office Is Over There, Just Up That Flight Of Stairs - Australian Public Service

In the wake of recent, alarming media around employment of people with disability in the public sector, I started writing a press release.

It went something like this -

'A dramatic drop in the number of people with disability employed in the public service has sparked alarm amongst disability advocates, who are calling for effective measures to resolve the situation.

In 2011, 4.2% of all employees in the Western Australian Public Sector were people with a disability. In 2013, the number has plummeted to a scanty 2.6%...'

Then I sat back and looked at it for a while. Sparked alarm? There hasn't been an outcry from most disability groups, despite the fact that our State Government has announced further cuts in the wake of 1200 axed public service jobs. There hasn't been any detailed analysis around what the proposal to tighten up the Disability Support Pension will do to an already fraught issue, nor whether there's a correlation between the 2012 slashing of the Impairment Tables to land more people on Newstart.

And it's not just a WA issue - it's a national issue.

Before I'm nailed to a public service building by outraged disability groups, I'll point out the obvious - it's Christmas. Most people are on leave, and responding to bad (and badly timed) news from Government is a tricky thing to do at this time of year. We all understand that. But other than a robust response from one disability organisation and a few outraged squeaks from individual advocates, there's almost complete silence. And how, again, did we manage to drop our numbers to being so wholly unrepresented, not just in the media but in the public service?

Fact - Aboriginal people comprise 3.8% of the total population in Western Australia.

Fact - The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) estimates that there are 405,500 Western Australians that have reported to having a disability (20.6 per cent of the total population).

Yet the representation of Aboriginal people in the public sector has steadily increased to 3%, whilst people with disability lag far, far behind other diversity groups. People with disability rate at 2.6% - behind CALD representation, youth representation, representation of women and seniors. And the numbers are rapidly dropping.

I can tell you what the ever-defensive position of the WA State Government would be, if questioned on the topic. They'd tell you that they're aware of the issue - they'd probably use the word 'challenges', as though we were something incredibly tricky that needed to be resolved - and they've taken steps to address it. They'd point to the fact that they've legislated a very good piece of policy work, a mandatory requirement for public authorities to include Option 7 in their Disability Access and Inclusion Plans. Option 7 is an 'outcome' where public authorities will tell the government what measures they're taking to employ people with disability. And they'll point to the shiny new Public Sector Disability Employment Strategy.

But they won't mention the decommissioning of the Equal Opportunity Commission's Substantive Equality Unit, which will save the government a tidy 1.5 million. They won't talk about the new statistics that show people with a disability are more likely to resign from the public service than their colleagues without a disability, and are far less likely to retire. They certainly won't commit to doing anything that smacks of hard work - like having an audit mechanism so someone like an Auditor General can report directly to parliament to assess compliance.

As an embittered public servant with a current workplace fight on her hands, I trotted along to the launch of the Public Sector Disability Employment Strategy. It was the usual style of launch, very good conference sandwiches and a Minister and about 100 people who looked like they'd rather be anywhere but here. I looked around for other disabled people, and saw one in the room, and scooted over to ask her about the event.

'Are we the only people with disability in the room?' I asked. It was amusing, you see - we were under represented in an already under represented sector.

She laughed. 'The funny thing is, there's a guy with a disability coming to talk to us - but he nearly had to get uninvited, because someone forgot to order the ramp.'

That says it all, doesn't it?

Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It's not. - Dr Seuss, 'The Lorax'

Image text - a clenched fist is raised to the sky. The text says - Bolshy Divas Pop Quiz. Q: If December 3 is International Day for People with Disability, what happens during the rest of the year? A: Discrimination

Thursday, December 19, 2013

The Gimpled Table of Microaggressions

We sometimes 'discover' concepts and words and ideas that are transplant-able from one 'sector' to another, and here's a magnificent example.

There's a really cool project called 'The MicroAggression Project', where a photographer named Kiyun asked her friends to 'write down an instance of racial microaggression they have faced.'

The term 'microaggression' was used by Columbia professor Derald Sue to refer to 'brief and commonplace daily verbal, behavioral, or environmental indignities, whether intentional or unintentional, that communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative racial slights and insults toward people of color.' Sue borrowed the term from psychiatrist Dr. Chester Pierce who coined the term in the ’70s.

If you're disabled, you'll look at the project and shout 'yes!' I don't know too many people this wouldn't resonate with...I can think of hundreds of microaggressions that people with disability hear and experience every day.

They're so subtle, and it makes no sense at all (to most people) why they hurt so much.

Microaggressions have been defined as “the everyday slights, indignities, put downs and insults that people of color, women, LGBT populations or those who are marginalized experience in their day-to-day interactions with people. Microaggressions often times appear to be a compliment but contain a metacommunication or hidden insult to the target groups in which it is delivered.”

If you're disabled, you've no doubt been described as 'brave' or 'inspirational' a hundred times, especially if you are blind or Deaf or have a physical disability. If you have an intellectual disability, people will be surprised when you do something well or say something clever. Then there's the surprise that you have a job, that you have children, that you are a valued member of a group - followed by a cheery 'good for you'.

There are even subtler slights. Here's a good example.

We asked for an information pack from the school that my son is enrolling in, and this is what came home (via another boy). My lad, who is sixteen, said, 'If I was Aboriginal, would it have said 'Jake, 0400 890 571, Aboriginal?'

I can think of ten, twenty, a hundred more. The stolen, transplant-able terms - microaggressions, which are defined above. Microassaults, an explicit derogation characterised by an attack meant to hurt the intended victim through name calling, avoidant behaviour or purposeful discriminatory actions. And microinvalidation, characterised by communications that exclude, negate or nullify the psychological thoughts, feelings or experiential reality of a person. (You can read more here.)

I'd love to replicate this project for the disability sector, through the Disability Clothesline project. I can think of a bunch of the microaggressions I have experienced that have dented my thinking and impacted upon my psyche in a bunch of negative ways. And that is only over the past two years - the time that I have been using a wheelchair.

So, froods, don't be surprised if I suddenly snap at you when you ask me 'what happened to you?' in the first three seconds of a conversation - if you're a bloke, I'll probably ask if you're circumcised. If you're surprised that I have children, I won't be happy. And if you, like another rude young man this week, ask me if 'I like to fuck' - followed up by 'do cripples like to fuck?' - don't be surprised if the response you get isn't fit for general publication.

Here's the big question - how do we change the way people think about people with disability?

Text description - Image 1: A young Asian woman holds a sign saying 'No, where are you REALLY from?' Image 2: A folder from Northam Senior High School with a post it note which reads 'Jake Connor, 0400 890 571, Autism Spectrum Disorder' Image 3: Sign - she introduced me to the manager and he said 'we used to have a woman who used a wheelchair on our board once, she was great'. Image 4: Sign - What happened to you? Image 5: Oh, you have children? Good for you.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Why We're Not Married After All

It was the happiest day of my life. He got down on one knee and proposed to me. I couldn't say yes fast enough.

Well, almost the happiest day of my life. The happiest day might have come when we actually stood before the celebrant, saying our marriage vows. You know, just like everyone else.

I'd heard stories about others who had a different experience. People picketing at their wedding - did anyone picket at your wedding? And people holding their own views about me loving him - not in private, in public. Not whispered, but shouted. Even in a courtroom.

Planning a wedding is an expensive exercise, but we loved doing it. Picking out what to wear, who would photograph it. Where we would get married and how we would honeymoon. It was a stressful period of time - but we loved it anyway.

And on the Happiest Day, he looked into my eyes and said 'I do'.

A week later, we found out we weren't married after all, because the Federal Government intervened. They said we couldn't marry, because it wasn't right.

That story isn't true. The reason it isn't true is because I am a woman and my husband is a man. But for twenty Australian couples, their Happiest Day has been shot down in flames by the Federal Government. The ACT, our nations capital has ruled for marriage equality, and now the High Court has told those twenty couples that they are no longer married.

Peter and I have just celebrated our 22nd wedding anniversary. We have six children together.

We are no greater or less than any other Australian, and it offends me that we should consider people who are LGBTI 'lesser' - we should all be able to have the same rights and freedoms as other Australians.

So this is my commitment for 2014. I will do everything I can to ensure that all Australians are treated fairly. To remind me of my commitment, I will have the Inclusive Scouting Rainbow Reef knot etched somewhere on my body - to remind me what is worth fighting for.

If you agree, what are you going to do?

Write to a politican, once or every day. Get bolshy. Paint the streets rainbow. Tie dye the curtains at Parliament House. Go to Mardi Gras and show your support. Convert your minister. Tell your kids, tell your friends, shout and shout until people know that discriminatory and homophobic attitudes are not okay. But do something - and do it every day in 2014.

"All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing." - Edmund Burke

Friday, December 6, 2013

Just One of the Guys

I have this theory about language in the disability sector.

After a while, everything becomes a bad word.

Five years ago, 'retarded' was a commonly accepted term within the American disability community. Now it's regarded (rightly) as a slur - an awesome campaign, spread the word to end the word, has made people change their language and their attitudes.

But does everything become a bad word? And why?

I listen to service providers and community organisations talk about their - wait for it - clients, service users, participants - in either careful terms or in affectionate ones.

Invariably, they will talk about their (intellectually disabled) clientele as 'our guys'.

It got to the point where the term made me wince, and I wasn't sure why.

A couple of rules for the use of the term 'our guys'.

It's used indiscriminately, whether you're male or female.

It is usually only applied to people with an intellectual disability or people who are in congregate recreation or residential arrangements.

Your voice warms when you talk about 'our guys'. You're fond of them, of course. Our guys.

It's all a little patronising.

I remember when my husband's mother was very ill in hospital, near the time of her death. She was in her late seventies, and the nurse spoke loudly to her, calling her Alice. She corrected her quickly - 'It's Mrs Haydon-Wood.'

I think of that often when I hear older men and women with disability referred to as Pat or Shane or David or Irene. They are never given the title of Mr, Mrs or Ms, let alone entitled to the other dignities that we afford our other senior citizens.

Our guys.

What would happen if we changed our language? Why, we might have to change the way we do business.

No more separate lunch rooms with 'employees' and 'staff' if the employees at the sheltered workshop are all - well, employees.

What would happen if those 'recreation options' became membership based organisations? You know, like normal darts clubs and bowling clubs and youth organisations have. Real membership based organisations, with 'members' instead of 'participants', with people having direct input in the way they want their organisation run, with meetings and Chairpersons and agendas and governance.

I want 'our guys' to become 'that guy' or 'that lady', like anyone else. Don't all people deserve to be treated with the respect we give to other people?

Click here for the sound track.

I've got our guys on the bowling team

Every Thursday living the dream

I guess you'd say

What can make me feel this way?

Our guys (our guys, our guys)

Talkin' 'bout our guys (our guys).

They got wages, through the old BSWAT

Dollar sixty an hour, that’s how much they got

I guess you'd say

What can make me feel this way?

Our guys (our guys, our guys)

Talkin' 'bout our guys (our guys).

Hey hey hey

Hey hey hey


They don't need no money, fortune or fame.

Doing something every day, our only aim.

I guess you'd say

What can make me feel this way?

Our guys (our guys, our guys)

Talkin' 'bout our guys (our guys).

I've got our guys on a cloudy day

With our guys.

It is the same day after day…