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Zoomkwondo and other lessons from the pandemic

  • 17 June 2021
Early last year, when the world was turned on its head, I was amazed by the speed with which people found new ways of doing almost everything. In the blink of an eye, schools and universities moved online, as did workplaces, doctor’s surgeries, psychology practices, yoga studios, bookclubs, and family gatherings. Even my taekwondo club moved online. Indeed, to combat the isolation and weirdness of the pandemic, we met even more frequently via Zoom for classes that we nicknamed ‘Zoomkwondo’. These adjustments weren’t easy for everyone, or even ideal, but the sheer creativity and innovation that everyone displayed in finding ways to make things work was incredible.

For many people, however, this mass display of flexibility and adaptability was bittersweet. About 1 in 6 Australians (18 per cent) live with disability, and many of these 4.4 million people face daily barriers to their full inclusion in education, work, services, activities, etc, not because of their disability, but because access has been structured around the needs, capacities and preferences of people who do not live with disability. Exclusion has always been a choice, but the pandemic has laid this reality bare.

Under discrimination law, including the Disability Discrimination Act 1992 (Cth), a failure to make ‘reasonable adjustments’ to support the full inclusion of a person with disability is defined as unlawful discrimination. Theoretically, there is a fairly high bar for considering such adjustments ‘unreasonable’ — in that they would need to impose an ‘unjustifiable hardship’ on the person being asked to make them. However, discrimination law is not self-executing.

If you’ve ever tried to request a reasonable adjustment, you’ll be keenly aware of the fact that a person (or organisation) can very easily obfuscate, delay or subtly refuse your request in ways that are difficult to pin down, let alone challenge. And this doesn’t even deal with the fact that making a formal complaint is a highly unappealing option for most people. Not only does such a process cost you time, money and energy, but it is fraught with risk — the risk of an unsuccessful outcome and, perhaps more significantly, the risk of damaging relationships (some of which you may rely on for inclusion within the community).

A 2018 Report on ‘Improving Educational Outcomes for Children with Disability in Victoria’ by Castan Centre for Human Rights, for example, found that children were being turned away from government schools in informal ways, such