Wednesday 9 February 2011


Graeme Innes AM, Disability Discrimination Commissioner


The following opinion pieces have been published by the President and Commissioners. Reproduction of the opinion pieces must include reference to where the opinion piece was originally published.

Smart and perceptive? Don't bank on it.

Author: Graeme Innes AM, Disability Discrimination Commissioner at the Australian Human Rights Commission

Published in ABC Ramp Up, Thursday 9 February 2011

Much of my job as Australia's Disability Discrimination Commissioner involves meeting with senior executives - from the government and private sector - to encourage/persuade them to have their organisations comply with the Disability Discrimination Act. It has its rewards, and its frustrations.

Following one such meeting with some senior bank executives, I was travelling by lift - with my guide dog - from the ethereal heights of an executive suite to the street level far below.

As I stepped into the lift someone else walked in behind me.

I turned to him - I assumed it was a man from his heavy footfall, his after-shave, and the knowledge that the number of women breaking the glass ceiling is still very low - and said,

"Excuse me, would you please press the button for the ground floor?"

I suppose I could have checked to see if the lift buttons were labelled in Braille, but such labelling is about as rare as a female glass ceiling breaker.

My request received no response, in either words or action.

Thinking - as a disability aware person - that my silent lift buddy may have a hearing impairment, I repeated my request a little more loudly, and looked straight at him so that he could lip-read.

The result was the same.

My mother taught me that "if at first you don't succeed, try and try again". It's a maxim which has stuck with me all of my life. It causes me to be described as determined by some; stubborn by others, depending on whether they are annoyed or pleased with my persistence.

Putting my maxim into practise, I reached out and touched my lift buddy on the shoulder, confirming from his suiting that my assumption of his gender had been correct.

"Excuse me," I reiterated, "Would you please press the button for the ground floor?"

"Oh, are you talking to me," he finally replied. "I thought you were talking to the guide dog."

I considered explaining that my guide dog had failed reading classes, and thus would be unable to find which button was marked with G. But my patience, and our lift journey, had come to an end. So I simply shook my head, made like Elvis, and left the building.

Graeme Innes is Australia’s Disability Discrimination Commissioner.