There were some huge news events this year, making 2021 probably one of the busiest for people with disability and their advocates in particular.
While the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic continued to be felt, people with disability were still appearing before the Royal Commission and several Senate Committees.
To top it all off the Paralympics was also held safely and alongside it ran a campaign for inclusion.
Talking Disability has wrapped up all the top stories from 2021 into an end of year gift, so we hope you enjoy reading about the powerful advocacy which has been the highlight of the year, as well as the progress in overcoming COVID-19.
While Australia talked about the path out of the pandemic for months, vaccinations against COVID-19 were seen as the best way to protect people from the virus.
In January Talking Disability reported that disability accommodation staff and residents would be included in the high priority phase of the vaccine rollout, but it was later revealed the rollout was re-prioritised. This left people with disability calling out for more support to access the vaccine and protect their health.
Despite advocacy work by many disability representative organisations, the vaccination of disability support workers was not mandated for many months.
Finally, last month, the Federal Government formalised a mandate, which was already in place in many States, for support workers to have at least the first dose of a COVID-19 vaccination by the end of November. But this mandate only applied to registered NDIS providers.
Throughout the year, the Royal Commission into Violence, Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation of People with Disability has conducted hearings into the experiences of people with disability relating to employment, Australian law and policy, the justice system, disability services, family and domestic violence, and of First Nations children in out of home care.
In September, the Commission’s ability to hear the stories of people with disability and their friends and family was strengthened by a law which protected the confidentiality of witnesses for their entire lifetime, rather than just during the life of the Commission.
The Commission also released a report which slammed the Government over its handling of the COVID-19 vaccination roll out to people with disability, and recommended that States and Territories not lift restrictions until all people with disability had the opportunity to be vaccinated.
After a five year wait between games, our favourite athletes competed against the best in the world at the Paralympic Games in Tokyo. For the first time, they were paid equal medal bonuses to athletes who placed in the Olympic events, after the Government announced funding signalling a more inclusive future and recognition of the achievements of Paralympians.
The athletes all did Australia proud, and their uniforms, featuring First Nations artwork, were a powerful representation of inclusion which tied in with the theme of the Games.
A confidential draft proposal for legislative changes to the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) was leaked to the media in March. It caused tension and anger among people with disability as it suggested removing people with fetal alcohol syndrome disorder and reducing the avenues of appeal, among other concerning changes.
This shock came after the Government was criticised for its proposal of independent assessments, which disability representative organisations said would change the individualised nature of NDIS supports.
As disability advocates fought against any changes to the NDIS which would put people with disability in a worse position, another drafted set of changes to the NDIS was made. This draft became the topic of a Senate Committee hearing in November, in which representatives of people with disability expressed their relief that independent assessments were not included, but voiced new concerns over proposed powers which would allow a plan to be changed without consultation.
Meanwhile, a push to end age discrimination in the NDIS and get people over 65 with disability the support they need has been steadily gaining traction through an ongoing petition.
Disability support in Parliament
Earlier in the year there was an increase to the Disability Support Pension and Carer Payment, giving about one million Australians a little more money to put towards everyday cost of living pressures.
But the rate of the Disability Support Pension (DSP) was also a hot topic in Senate Committee hearings held from September to November, where people with disability and advocates told of the struggles of living below the poverty line on the DSP – if they could even access the pension at all.
Research, reports and rules
A report released by disability housing advocacy group the Summer Foundation at the start of the year showed the growth of Specialist Disability Accommodation options in Australia was promising, but still far behind demand.
In May, rules introduced into the National Construction Code promised to set a new base level of accessibility for all new houses built from mid next year. However, just last week three States confirmed they did not intend to enforce the new rules, leaving campaigners for universal accessible housing design disappointed and people with disability across SA, WA and NSW with less housing options than in other States going forward.
A major funding disparity in the NDIS also caused a stir when the Scheme’s quarterly report was released in August, as it highlighted participants with a higher socio-ecomonic status received more funding than those from lower socio-economic situations. Advocates said this was likely to be because participants with less financial backing didn’t have the same level of support to articulate their needs.
Top reader choices
The vaccination of disability support workers was the most read topic on Talking Disability this year, as the community waited for a mandate to arrive. In particular, people wanted to know why aged care staff were required to be vaccinated well before disability support workers were given a vaccine mandate.
However, readers were also interested in the Senate Committee of Community Affairs References as it held inquiries into the impact the Disability Support Pension is having on so many people struggling to access it.
While in the inclusive fashion space, there was interest in a new bra which is claimable through NDIS funding and helps women dress independently and with dignity.
Most recently, the concern of advocates and law experts over a new NDIS Bill which would give too much power to the head of the National Disability Insurance Agency (NDIA) was a popular read. The topic is likely to come up again in the new year, as the Government decides whether to amend the Bill or not.
Readers were also very interested in finding out about accommodation which is available to them, no doubt because of the tough housing market and lack of accessible housing built across Australia. Everything from renting with a disability to short-term accommodation and respite under the NDIS was in the most clicked list this year!
That sums up some of the biggest stories of the year for 2021! A big Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays and Happy New Year from the Talking Disability team.
What do you think were the biggest stories of 2021? Let us know in the comments below!