Disability exclusion still commonplace says Tesch

A national plan aimed at driving action at all levels of government to improve the lives of people with disability was released on December 3 to help mark International Day for People with Disability.

The Australian Disability Strategy 2021-2031 outlines seven areas for action, including: employment and financial security, inclusive homes and communities, safety, rights and justice, personal and community sport, education and learning, health and wellbeing, and community attitudes.

The Strategy will employ its action areas by developing a series of targeted action plans that commit governments to specific actions and deliver public reports each year that will measure and show where more effort is needed.

An Advisory Council will also be established to allow people with disability to come forward and give their feedback on the Strategy.

The NSW Government welcomed its release with Minister for Families, Communities and Disability Services, Alister Henskens, saying the strategy builds on the State Government’s work to remove systemic and attitudinal barriers for people with disability through the NSW Disability Inclusion Plan but Member for Gosford Liesl Tesch said there should be “less talk and more action”.

Henskens said NSW leads the nation when it comes to supporting people with disability.

“We were the first state to implement a Disability Inclusion Plan and have been at the forefront of rolling out of the NDIS,” he said.

But Tesch said the “dire need for inclusion for people with disabilities” has been in the headlines for years.

“As a person with a disability, exclusion for us is still very commonplace, especially in the workplace,” she said.

“Every year I make submissions to Parliament’s Disability Inclusion Plan.

“This year I was asked for my input, but I found myself writing the same suggestions that I have been making for four years- with little confidence that the fundamental changes we desperately need will be taken seriously and acted upon.

“I hope all Parliamentarians believe the NSW Parliament should be the ‘People’s Parliament’ however without a serious determination to fix these issues, this sentiment is only lip service.

“It is hard to feel included when parts of your own workspace are inaccessible.

“This is the same battle being fought by people with disabilities in workplaces across our community.

“How can people who are disabled feel included when there are so many barriers?”

Tesch, who became an incomplete paraplegic after a mountain bike accident at 19-years-old, said the NSW Government has fallen short on its pledges to people with disabilities.

“Prior to the 2019 NSW election, then-Premier Gladys Berejiklian outlined a number of Premier’s Priorities which included the target of 5.6 per cent of people to be employed by the NSW Public Service by 2025,” she said.

“One year later, the State of the Public Sector 2020 report recorded a decrease in the percentage of people with disabilities and admitted they were likely to fall short of their goal.

“It is blatantly obvious one year on the ‘Premier’s Priority’ has been abandoned.

“The report instead pointed to their employees as the real source of the decrease, claiming that when people were given the opportunity to state their disability status anonymously the sector showed a higher rate of disability employment.

“This is plainly a cop out.”

The report also revealed that 24.2 per cent of people with disability reported being bullied at work in the previous 12 months, almost double the rate of bullying experienced by NSW public sector employees overall (13.9 per cent).

Regional areas experienced a higher rate of bullying for people with disability in the public sector, with 28 per cent of workers noting their experience of bullying.

“This only adds to the real concern of discrimination in the workplace, which is only pushing people with disability further out of the workforce,” Tesch said.

“I hope we are put at the heart of everything because that’s what we want – inclusion. Ms Berejiklian’s successor needs to take this ‘Priority’ more seriously.

“Disappointingly, governments across Australia fail to recognise and address disability employment gaps, with their own ambitious targets announced with fanfare often falling down the priority list.”

More information about the Australian Disability Strategy is available at disabilitygateway.gov.au

Maisy Rae

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