By Vicki Batten, Chief Executive Officer
In 1992 FSG Australia (FSG), 13 years old back then, was acutely aware, not only of the lack of services for people with a disability but also of the lack of regard for their needs and rights. The very small organisation of 10 dedicated people welcomed the introduction of the Disability Discrimination Act that year and, for them and those they served, there seemed to be some hope for a more equitable and less discriminating future.
I (Vicki Batten, now CEO) joined the then called Gold Coast Family Support Group in 1995. At that time, there was a desperate need for children with a disability to access main stream child cares.
I was brought in at a time when this was so far away from the ‘norm’ that I could, in fact, find only one child care centre on the Gold Coast who had agreed to include a child with a disability.
Within 12 months and with a team under me of 9 very committed child care inclusion workers we had turned that around and ended the 1995 year with 86 children fully included and another 45 ready to be ‘introduced’ to mainstream childcare. A triumph in so far as inclusion and human rights goes but more so in terms of the attitudes that were changed. Children went home to their parents and talked about ‘Amelia’ as a friend, only briefly mentioning that she ‘couldn’t walk’.
For FSG (which now stands for Freedom, Social Justice and Growth), that was the beginning of a move away from ‘caring for’ people with a disability and a move towards ‘caring about’ them by walking alongside people with a disability toward a better life.
A better life that included access to all public places, education, accommodation, clubs and leisure activities of choice, goods and services and employment.
25 years on, have we achieved anything? This year we are celebrating 25 years of the Disability Discrimination Act. To what extend can we celebrate?
I have been working in the field of disability for almost 40 years and I believe I can honestly say that without the Disability Discrimination Act we would be a lot worse off. There are, however, definitely still many discriminations that people ‘put up with’ every day.
Supported accommodation still presents little choice, people live with people they have never met and may never like in areas they do not wish to live in; employment is still a ‘privilege’ rather than a ‘right’; physical accessibility is still a design feature rather than standard; education and sport still separate their cohorts.
We have a way to go to fully understand and embrace what the words ‘full regard’ for all people mean. We have a way to go before we fully embrace the ‘rights’ of all people to be given options to reach their full potential, and that does not just touch people with a disability, it touches all people young or old who have discontented from their community.
FSG has ’grown up’ with a mandate to ‘regard all people as equal’ and understanding that given the right options and opportunities people can live an ‘extraordinary life’.
Whilst there is no argument that in 1992 a Disability Discrimination Act had to be set in place, it is my fervent hope that in the very near future we recognise that people with a disability are people, and therefore subject to the same human rights as anyone else and don’t need their own ‘act’. Human Rights are for all people.