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Picture is still bleak for people with disability

  • 15 August 2019


Disabled people in Australia are being locked up, dying young and living in poverty, according to a new report — because they are disabled, and particularly if they are Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

'I am homeless to trying to meet costs of healthcare, the stress exacerbates my condition,' said one disabled man. 'I could be contributing and doing so much more if I could afford support, and people treated me fairly and well. I feel excluded and are constantly fighting,' said another disabled women.

The report, out this week and titled Disability Rights Now 2019, was developed by a coalition of disabled peoples' organisations in preparation for the review of Australia's progress towards implementing the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), which Australia ratified in 2008. This is the second time Australia has been reviewed on our progress towards implementing the treaty, and the report was written alongside a survey of nearly 900 disabled people who were asked about our lives. 

The picture the report and survey paint is bleak: disabled people feel, and are, excluded from much of mainstream, non-disabled life. Work, healthcare, sport and recreation are all filled with barriers that make it hard for disabled people to be included. These barriers can be attitudinal, but also financial.

A majority of survey respondents (61 per cent) did not have access to all the support services they need, with 60 per cent unable to afford them. 76 per cent of disabled people said they had been discriminated against because of their disability, and 82 per cent said that there isn't a good understanding of disability in the wider community. This sense of exclusion is widespread throughout the report, and backed up by the survey. We are so very far from being equal to non-disabled people, and included in the mainstream. 

One of the key issues in the report is how many disabled people are in prison, charged with offences, on remand, or found 'unfit to plea'. The report says that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander disabled people are 14 times more likely to be in prison than other people. Disabled people are up to half of those in prison, including people with psychosocial disability.

Often disabled people end up behind bars simply because they are disabled. Our behaviour, our very disability is criminalised; racism intersects with ableism so that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island disabled people end up in prison, even when they