Wednesday, 25 March 2015

National Disability Summit fails to provide access or inclusion for people with disability

The National Disability Summit has been the subject of a second round of negative social media attention after it was revealed that Deborah Haygarth, a speaker at the summit, who is a power-chair user had to be carried onto the stage as there was no ramp access. 
See later in this post for how people with disability were perviously excluded.

(Deborah Haygarth getting carried off the inaccessible stage. Photo credit: Jarrod Marrinon)

I was in the audience to witness this and as a wheelchair user myself I was appalled.

I watched as Deborah wheeled herself towards the stage and saw the four stairs up to the stage.  I expected a ramp to appear from somewhere. When one didn’t appear I waited for apologies from the summit organisers into the microphone. None were forthcoming.

Deborah was carried on stage by two people. She spoke eloquently about her experience of the NDIS in the Barwon trial site. Deborah was then carried off stage again at the end of the pannel.

Why was there no ramp access at a disability summit?!

This lack of access is a visual reminder that as people with disabilities we are not really thought of as important, that our needs are an after thought, which can be remedied by a ‘sorry we forgot’. This is not good enough.

There were 133 people who attended the summit this year.

7 of them were people with disability


5 were family members or carers 

12 people, 7 with disability, is not anywhere near an adequate amount of inclusion of people with disability as the issues which affect our lives are being discussed and decided upon.   

7 people with disability is not how many people Informa, the summit organisers promised would be allowed to attend.

Let me explain.

I was in the media in the lead up to the summit when I was denied attendance of the conference despite purchasing a ticket. 

My full post and outcome can be seen HERE

After my post gained some social media attention Informa released a statement saying:

''There is a limited number of tickets left, however the people with disabilities who have been placed on a 'waiting list' will receive tickets. The summit re-confirmed the attendance of speakers throughout the two days and some additional places have been made immediately available as a result. We are discussing options with the venue to increase the number of seats available.’’

I expected this to mean that more then 7 people with disability would get to attend. I thought we’d had a victory and would really be included both on and off stage.

I was to be disappointed.

The seating options for the people with disability at the summit were another area of exclusion, this was done so in such a way that we were made to feel as though we didn’t belong and were not part of the audience.

People with disabilities were seated off to the side at ‘special tables’ not with everyone else. When I pushed my way into the front row with everyone else, the organisers reluctantly removed chairs and looked uncomfortable.

The speakers might have to look at a person with a disability as they talk about people with disabilities.

Surely it is better for everyone if we are off to the side and out of the way?!

Other access issues which highlighted a lack of inclusion were:

The accessible toilet was filled with chairs and used as a storage space in the week leading up to the conference.

(photo credit: Jarrod Marrinon)

The food provided was up on really tall tables to us wheelchair users could not access it.

There was one speaker who has a disability, Professor Emeritus Ron McCallum AO as well as Deborah. 

No one else who lives the experience of disability directly was invited to give voice to our issues.

I am tired. 

I am tired of having to fight for my right to be able to have basic access and inclusion requirements met! That is occurred in 2015 at a disability summit is an outrage!

Its 2015. Its time for change.

Its suppose to be a new age of real inclusion for people with disability under the NDIS.  

I don’t want to hear your ‘we’re sorry, we forgot'. That’s just no longer good enough. I want to see action and real inclusion. This starts with being invited to attend and paid to speak at disability summits on issues which directly effect our lives as people with disability. It starts with ramp access to accessible stages!

It is these things which lead to a real change in attitudes towards people with disability.  We need to be included and provided full access to attend these important events! 

Nothing about us, without us!

What would an accessible and inclusive world for people with disability really look like?

Lets stop dreaming about it. Let’s demand it!

Disability rights means inclusion and access at every level. 

Its time for change. Its time for real inclusion. Not tomorrow. Now! 

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