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Launch of disparity: a journal of policy, practice and argument

Disability Disability Rights

Launch of disparity:
a journal of policy, practice and argument

Dr Sev Ozdowski OAM
Disability Discrimination Commissioner

Australian War Memorial
22 May 2002

Sev Ozdowski


Allow me to commence by acknowledging the traditional custodians of the
land on which we meet.

I also acknowledge ACROD Chief Executive Ken Baker; my fellow editorial
advisory board members; Felicity Purdy, who I am delighted to see being
recognised this evening with life membership; other distinguished guests,
and all of you my fellow Australians.

ACROD has played a key role in and for the disability sector in Australia
from its inception in the 1960s. When I joined the Australian Public Service
in the 1980s, working in the Departments of the Attorney-General and of
the Prime Minister and Cabinet, ACROD was well established as a major
body to look to for well considered policy advice.

The roles of a peak disability service industry body such as ACROD, and
organisations directly representing people with disabilities, are perhaps
more distinct now than they were even in the early 1990s when ACROD played
a leading role in working towards the introduction of the Disability Discrimination

But I want to say publicly that the Human Rights Commission continues
to value the expertise represented by ACROD and I hope we can find opportunities
to work more closely together into the future - in particular in relation
to employment issues.

I was very pleased to be asked to say a few words of congratulation tonight
on the launch of the first edition of disparity.

But it occurs to me now that, as a member of the editorial advisory board,
congratulations may seem too much like self-congratulations.

In my defence let me say at once that all the real work on this first
issue was done by other people.

Diversity of views represented within disparity

I want to commend ACROD for the conception and delivery of this journal:
a journal of policy, practice and argument, as the title says.

Referring to "conception" and "delivery" may seem
a bit risky, at the inauguration of a journal whose first article of its
first edition deals with "wrongful life" cases. Particularly
when the editor openly admits in his first editorial to have knowingly
set out to cause "disagreement", "even at times offence",
"argument" and "annoyance".

You would not think it, just to look at the editor, Dr Sean Regan, would
you? He seems such a nice fellow at first …

Seriously, I very much endorse the aims of presenting diverse and challenging
viewpoints rather than a single "party line".

Australia needs public debate, on disability issues and more generally,
which is sharp, which addresses real issues, and which is honest rather
than taking the form of "proxy wars" - where slogans for or
against simple positions take the place of proper analysis and debate.

This journal disparity has not been intended as a journal to push the
position of ACROD, or of its members, at the expense of other perspectives
on disability issues from within the disability sector or beyond.

As the editorial of this first edition says, the aim is to encourage
informed debate by providing a forum for all shades of opinion.

I really think the first edition makes an excellent start in this respect.
I look forward to the range and depth of debate expanding even further
into the future, as a forum within the disability community and as a means
for attracting wider public and political interest in disability policy.

Looking at the first collection of articles, we have views from

  • a priest and social justice campaigner,
  • a professional ethicist and academic,
  • a technology expert,
  • a community leader and activist,
  • a person with a disability, and more

- and all of that is just Christopher Newell!

Other authors share some of the same qualifications and others besides.
Each brings their own distinctive perspectives and expertise.

Disability and technology

I am not going to tell you which bits, if any, of this issue provoked
me to disagreement, or annoyance, or even offence. But for a moment I
want to abuse my privilege as speaker by singling out one article in the
first issue - not to criticise but to praise.

I was particularly struck by Margaret Verick's article on the contribution
of disability to major inventions and technology. Some of the examples
given I already knew about and in fact we have referred to them in speeches
published on the Commission's own website. Another instance I found interesting
when I was in the United States recently is the two wheeled, computer
and gyroscope controlled "segway human transporter", being promoted
as something which may replace cars for inner urban use - which originated
with work on improved electric wheelchairs.

Other examples given in Margaret Verick's article were news to me.

I do not know whether this history is taught as part of engineering,
design and related courses to emphasise the benefits of universal design.
I would like to see it taught as broadly as possible because I think it
might convince more people that disability really is an essential part
of the diversity which makes for our success as the human species.

As discussed in the editorial, the view of much of the Deaf community
of deafness as a positive, as part of cultural identity, may be too tough
a concept for many people to chew on.

But consider this list of technologies developed in response to disability
needs or using disability expertise: the typewriter; the telephone; text
messaging including email. Or - one I was not aware of before - that the
transistor which makes all modern computing and other digital technologies
possible was developed at least in part as part of a search for a more
efficient hearing aid.

Disability and human diversity

Disability issues occupy a different place in public perceptions to other
issues which we are concerned with at the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity
Commission - racial discrimination, indigenous social justice, other human
rights issues such as those regarding asylum seekers, even sex discrimination.

Compared with these issues, there seems to be broader public acceptance
of the legitimacy of at least some measures to address the needs of people
with disabilities. We have seen evidence of this in the strength of public
reaction to current federal Budget discussions, and the recognition by
the government of a need for further consideration in this area.

But the high moral ground and an appeal to needs is often not enough.

In the racial discrimination area, one of the positive sides of the anti-racist
coin is the point that our diversity as a nation makes us stronger.

It is almost unheard of, though, in public debate to hear that kind of
argument about disability as part of our diversity.

Disability is often discussed as an economic burden on society if it
is discussed at all. But you could buy a vast number of disability pensions,
and more besides, with even a tiny fraction of a percent as royalties
on the economic benefits of any of those technologies just mentioned.

I don't expect that royalties like that will actually start being paid
any time soon.

But I think that stories like this can help us to persuade governments
and society that every person with a disability really does have a unique
contribution to make which is worth valuing and supporting - and to remind
us to believe that ourselves.

Thank you for allowing me to speak here and to be part of the enterprise
of this journal, disparity. I declare it launched.

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