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Speeches: DON'T JUDGE WHAT I CAN DO BY WHAT YOU THINK I CAN'T

Disability Disability Rights

DON'T JUDGE WHAT I CAN DO BY WHAT YOU THINK I CAN'T:

Ten years of achievements using Australia's Disability Discrimination Act

Dr Sev Ozdowski OAM,
Acting Disability Discrimination Commissioner

March 2003

Sev Ozdowski

(These are speaking notes used by the Commissioner at a series of events
in all Australian capitals as well as Alice Spings through March 2003.
Speeches as delivered included acknowledgement of State and Territory
anti-discrimination colleauges co-hosting forums in each case as well
as guests from the disability community including those presenting personal
accounts of use of the DDA.)

Allow me to commence by acknowledging the traditional owners of the land
on which we meet. I also acknowledge the assistance provided by our State
colleagues here today in co-hosting this event. I thank the Attorney-General
of Australia for the message of support which you have already heard.

Ten years ago virtually no-one using a wheelchair would have even considered
coming to this forum using public transport. Today, whilst public transport
systems have much to do, more and more people have that choice.

Ten years ago many of those of us who are deaf would not have been able
to communicate on an equal footing using the telephone system. Today,
all deaf people can do this.

Five years ago those of us who use screenreaders to access the internet
would have found almost every internet site inaccessible. Today, this
is not the case.

And ten years ago, many children with disabilities would have been excluded
from mainstream education. The percentage of children excluded today has
markedly decreased.

These are all reasons for celebration, because what they signify is the
removal of barriers preventing Australians with disabilities from participating
independently in their daily lives, and in the daily lives of their families,
their friends and the community.

But this is not just a celebration for the anniversary of the DDA. Because
these changes - and for that matter the DDA itself - only occurred after
demands by people with disabilities to the right to be part of their community.

And the recognition by legislators and policy-makers - in Government
and in business - that to exclude 18% of the population was not just morally
wrong, but a waste of the valuable contribution people with disabilities
can and do make to our community.

Many people and organisations have contributed to the growing change
in our society.

This is why we are combining this launch with our State and Territory
colleagues, and why our publication recognises so many areas of broader
achievement.

During these ten years, thousands of individuals and organisations have
used the DDA to create change, either by making complaints of discrimination,
using the law as a basis for negotiating broad social change or educating
organisations on their responsibilities.

There is no doubt there have been many achievements in the decade.

  • Thousands of disability discrimination complaints have been dealt
    with.
  • Standards for accessible public transport have been adopted and already
    widely implemented.
  • Telecommunications access has improved for deaf people and other people
    with disabilities.
  • Negotiations on standards for improved access to buildings and education
    are in their final stages, and there are many practical instances of
    improved access in these areas.
  • Captioning of television programs has increased, with further increases
    being negotiated.
  • There has been widespread adoption by the banking and financial service
    industry of standards for disability access to ATM'S, internet banking,
    EFTPOS and phone banking.
  • Hundreds of service providers, particularly local governments and
    universities, have developed voluntary action plans for improved disability
    access.

It also has to be acknowledged that there are areas where individuals
and advocates have expressed concern and frustration over the limits to
the law, and where progress has been more difficult than was hoped when
the legislation was passed.

There is clearly still a long way to go towards an equal and accessible
Australia that enables people with disabilities to participate fully in
the life of our nation. But, as with any long journey, it is useful and
encouraging to look at what progress we have made so far, before returning
our attention to the road ahead.

The publication I am launching today presents an overview of the history
and aims of the DDA, along with the Commission's view of how the different
mechanisms within the DDA have worked over the past 10 years to achieve
change.

It is not a formal review of the effectiveness of the DDA or the Commission's
work, but an attempt to highlight changes worthy of recognition.

There are examples of achievements so far in each of the main areas of
DDA coverage.

There are also a number of personal accounts from individuals who have
used the different mechanisms within the DDA to achieve change for themselves
or on behalf of others.

In fact, you have just heard one such account.

Further material on the DDA and its implementation is available on our
website, www.humanrights.gov.au/disability_rights .

I encourage anyone who is interested in disability discrimination issues
to visit this site.

I would like to acknowledge the work of current and former colleagues
and staff at the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission towards
these results.

In particular, the late Elizabeth Hastings, Disability Discrimination
Commissioner from 1992 to 1997, and Susan Halliday and Chris Sidoti who
acted as Disability Discrimination Commissioner before me.

Of course, many achievements have also involved our colleagues in State
and Territory equal opportunity bodies, other areas of government, business
and the non-government and Community Legal Centre sectors, particularly
the Disability Discrimination legal services.

Most of all, however, I would like to acknowledge those individuals and
organisations in the disability community who have seen the value of using
the DDA as a tool for achieving equality and those who have contributed
to change by their actions.

Without all of you, we would not have the reasons to celebrate that we
do today.

You have all either received a copy of the publication today in your
preferred formats, or will have it sent to you in the next few days.

I trust that you will become more aware of what has been achieved in
the last decade from its pages, and that it will become an ongoing resource
for you and others.

The Objects of the DDA aim to achieve a society that is free of discrimination
on the grounds of disability, and in which Australians with disabilities
achieve much greater equality.

Such a society will be far more beneficial to all of its members.

I am therefore pleased to launch this publication, which takes us further
on the road to those objectives.

I would now like to invite you to join me for a light lunch and invite
those of you who can to participate in the Forum on Achievements and Challenges.