Stella Young is a comedian, broadcaster and disability activist. She is editor of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation's disability website, Ramp Up which went live on 3 December 2010.
Survival comes before disability rights in Australia
I've always wanted to go to the UK. It started as a fondness for Press Gang and a desperate desire to work alongside Spike and Linda at the Junior Gazette. But then tetraplegic teen Billy Homer joined the gang and I realised the position of token disabled staff member had been filled.
I soon found an arguably more noble reason to long for your shores. I started to talk to disabled people from the UK. Some in person, some just on the internet, but they were all telling me the same thing.
They spoke of how most restaurants they went to had a disabled toilet. They spoke of being able to choose who provided them with care and assistance. They told stories of their workplaces making reasonable adjustments to allow them better access, of having their wheelchairs funded and their support needs met.
The most impressive part was that these people were absolutely convinced that all this was their right.
In Australia, we don't have those things. And because we don't, we've traditionally had less of a focus on rights and more of a focus on survival.
If you need minimal support, you can probably live in your own home.
If your needs are significant, then you're more likely to be living in supported accommodation with other disabled people, not of your choosing. If you require very high levels of support, you might be living in an aged-care home, even if you're 18 years old.
If you're a disabled person who is able to work more than 15 hours per week and does so, you can't claim the pension. There is no recognition that it costs more to be a disabled person in the way your Disability Living Allowance does.
So, for example, I have a lady who comes to my house to do the big-ticket housework tasks that I can't do; I have to pay for her out of my regular wages, even though I really only require that kind of support because I'm a wheelchair user.
A disabled person in Australia who requires assistance for things like showering and dressing can have a funded personal care worker visit them no more than twice a week. I'm not sure if that's a common experience in the UK, but when I injured myself last year and inquired about having some assistance at home, that's what I discovered: I was allowed two showers a week.
As someone who normally lives independently, I had no idea that this was the reality for a lot of my friends.
The UK is the accessible land of appropriately-supported hope and glory. Many disabled people I know have moved there. Families with disabled kids have relocated entirely because their children will get a better education, better equipment and better opportunities.
We've heard about the proposed cuts to the British system we so admire, and I sincerely hope it doesn't cause the kind of difficulties I've seen speculation about. It's probably the first time disabled people have hoped their government is all talk and no action.
That kind of talk is heard over here occasionally too. You might have heard about the natural disasters we've faced in Australia already this year. We had a major flood and a big scary cyclone. The estimated damage bill is $1.8 billion and our government proposed a 'flood levy' whereby we'd all pay a little bit extra in tax for a year to meet that cost.
Disabled people in Australia didn't really pay a great deal of attention to him. Unlike you guys, for whom the currently proposed cuts could make a huge lifestyle difference, big business and government really can't hurt us with threats like that. We have, after all, nothing to cut.
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