Disability rights and advocacy organisations are calling upon the Disability Royal Commission to fully investigate the negative impacts of segregation on people with disability.
Over 40 organisations have released a joint segregation paper outlining their concerns about existing law, policy and practice frameworks that maintain the segregation of people with disability from community life.
“What we have now is a system where children and young people with disability are not always welcome at their local school with their non-disabled peers, and are unable to access the supports and adjustments for an equitable education,” says Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Children and Young People with Disability Australia, Mary Sayers.
“Not only are we putting children and young people with disability at a disadvantage by failing to support them to reach their full potential, for many it’s the start of a pipeline to other segregated environments later in life, including workplaces where employers can legally hire people with disability to do real work, like packaging or gardening, for a fraction of the minimum wage.”
Despite Australia’s move away from institutionalisation over the last few decades, many people with disability remain in congregated living situations like group homes or hostels, where housing and support services are managed by the same organisation.
“Imagine your landlord also employs the person who helps you shower, and decides where you go for recreation and what you eat for lunch,” says Romola Hollywood, Director of Policy and Advocacy at People with Disability Australia (PWDA).
“This can lead to very dangerous situations if someone is experiencing violence, abuse or neglect in their home. It can make it very difficult for a person with disability to complain or change providers without putting their housing at risk. People with disability are still dramatically over-represented in homeless populations.”
Rights and advocacy organisations are urging the Disability Royal Commission to recognise that segregation of people with disabilities is discrimination and a breach of human rights under the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which Australia has signed.
“The Disability Royal Commission is tasked with making recommendations to prevent the violence, abuse, neglect and exploitation of disabled people,” says Carolyn Frohmader, CEO, Women with Disabilities Australia (WWDA).
“They have committed to doing this within a rights-based framework, but we have yet to see any real indication that they consider the segregation of disabled people to be a breach of our rights.”
Ms Frohmader says segregated systems are often justified by low expectations of people with disability and ableist ideas about what is ‘in our best interests’.
“It’s important to remember that there are well-established funding arrangements and vested interests in disability, education, mental health, aged care and other services,” she says.
“We need to be having a serious conversation about whose needs are really being met by the perpetuation of these systems.”
“People with disability fought long and hard for a Disability Royal Commission. Now we need them to push for real change.”
You can read the full position paper here.
You can also make a public endorsement by visiting the Disabled People’s Organisation Australia’s website and filling in the form at the bottom of the page.