Thursday 23 February 2017

Disability Discrimination Commissioner Alastair McEwin today addressed more than 600 staff from disability service organisations, about the incredible opportunities the NDIS offers and the challenges many people with disability face on a daily basis.

Below is some of what Commissioner McEwin shared at the National Disability Services NSW state conference.

There is no doubt that we are currently in the middle of the greatest transformation for disability rights in Australia.  And, if all goes well, there will never be another time like this because there should not be the need for it. And the reasons for this go far beyond today’s conference and its theme of turning plans into outcomes.

For the first time in Australian history, governments and the community are starting to recognise the value in investing in respecting, protecting and ensuring the rights of people with a disability. For me, as Disability Discrimination Commissioner, my job is to ensure we see this investment produces results for people with disability.

I’ve heard the NDIS described in a lot of ways by a lot of different people over the past few months.  A lot of people are still unclear on what the NDIS really is and what it can mean for their lives.  I commend the NDIA for their community engagement work, however I think there is still much more to be done in developing community awareness.  This can be illustrated by a comment by the NDIS I heard in my travels around the country. The NDIS has been likened to going to a French restaurant. There’s a menu and you can understand what a few of the things on the menu are, but not everything, and you ask the waiter for help but they are pressuring you to order so you order something that sounds familiar and hope for the best.

Whatever way you describe it; the important thing is that the NDIS is real and it is here. It acknowledges that it is not a person’s disability that prevents them from accessing opportunities to study, work and participate in the community, but rather the barriers imposed by discrimination, lack of understanding and insufficient supports and services.  It targets the circumstances that have caused the disempowerment, inequality and disadvantage of people with disability to date and aims to change them so that people with disability can live lives characterised by opportunity, equality and the full enjoyment of their human rights. 

Already we are seeing how the NDIS is enabling people with disability to get out and about, get an education and be part of the workforce, and empowering them to be in control over what supports they receive and who provides them. We are seeing how the NDIS is making dreams a reality for some of the most marginalised and vulnerable people in our society, and contributing to the realisation of the human rights of people with disability. And the stories are the best reminder we have that the NDIS is not about plans, but outcomes.

Last year very early in my term as Disability Discrimination Commissioner, I met a young woman named Vanessa at a national conference. Vanessa is an avid cheerleader, and is now in her second year of Journalism at Edith Cowan University in Western Australia. She is passionate about human rights and wants to travel the world, get a job as a journalist and continue to compete as a cheerleader.

Vanessa also happens to be deafblind. She is able to participate in her lectures at university and learn her cheerleading routines because her NDIS plan includes funding for the support of tactile Auslan interpreters and communication guides. She also has a Braillenote device with a keyboard attached that helps others to communicate with her.

On paper, she is the sum of specified amounts of money for improved daily living, increased social and community participation and core supports. But for Vanessa, those dollars allow her to be a regular 19 year old - socialising with friends at the Uni bar, cheerleading -  attending a few lectures and tutorials too.

And in late 2016, Vanessa was named Western Australia’s young person of the year.

We see through this example how an individual plan can turn into outcomes for individuals and their communities – when that plan is a true reflection of the supports a person needs to achieve their goals. And this is just one example, of many that show us how the NDIS is empowering people to do things they never thought were possible.

I would like to thank you again for the opportunity to speak with you today. I encourage you to stay true to your responsibility to ensuring a successful and sustainable NDIS – and this starts by listening to the people who receive and rely on your services. As the Founder of Microsoft Bill Gates once said – “your most unhappy customers are your greatest source of learning.” Learn from those you support, be flexible and creative and embrace the change that we all know we need.

> Read the full speech