Exclusion is still commonplace for people with disability
This year's theme of International Day of Persons with Disabilities. is "Leadership and participation of persons with disabilities towards an inclusive, accessible and sustained post-Covid-19 world".
The dire need for inclusion for people with disabilities has been in the headlines for years with media stories of discrimination and bullying peppering our newspapers and social feeds.
As a person with a disability, exclusion for us is still very commonplace, especially in the workplace.
The barriers, both physically and socially, placed in front of people with disabilities are in reality a barrier to Australia's potential. It's time Australia had an examination of our relationship with people with disabilities.
The Royal Commission into Violence, Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation of People with Disability has been running since 2019 and has offered people with disability a real moment to express the sheer extent of discrimination we encounter every day.
Recently the Commission heard about the barriers faced by people with disabilities when they seek the right to work.
As a Labor Member, I believe work is so important to our identity. Being employed not only says to someone that their time is worth something - it says their contributions are valued by society.
As a person with a disability work provides a symbol of inclusion in a world determined to sideline you.
Recently, Olivia Sidhu a 22-year-old Sydney woman with Down Syndrome shared her story about getting a job. She describes receiving a proper wage is her "greatest achievement".
This is the power of employment for people with disabilities.
Disappointingly, Government's across Australia fail to recognise and address disability employment gaps, with their own ambitious targets announced with fanfare often falling down the priority list.
For example, prior to the 2019 NSW election, then-Premier Gladys Berejiklian outlined a number of Premier's Priorities which included the target of 5.6% of people to be employed by the NSW Public Service by 2025.
One year later, the State of the Public Sector 2020 report recorded a decrease in the percentage of people with disabilities and admitted they were likely to fall short of their goal. It is blatantly obvious one year on the "Premier's Priority" has been abandoned.
The report instead pointed to their employees as the real source of the decrease, claiming that when people were given the opportunity to state their disability status anonymously the sector showed a higher rate of disability employment.
This is plainly a cop out.
The former Disability Discrimination Commissioner, Dr Graeme Innes argued powerfully to the Disabilities Royal Commission that the onus isn't on people with disabilities to identify themselves to their employers; the onus should be on employers to create an inclusive environment which encourages people who have a disability to identify without fear or bullying from their workplace.
Because as Dr Innes pointed out "...employers need to show us that that situation is changing, and that we will be welcomed in the workplace, not discriminated against."
The same NSW Public Sector report also found that those who do work for the NSW Public Service have reported high levels of bullying, with 24.2% of people living with a disability reporting they had been bullied at work within the 12 month period. That's almost double the rate of the bullying that was experienced by public sector employees overall in NSW.
With regional areas experiencing an even higher rate of bullying for people with disability in the public sector, jumping to 28% this only adds to the real concern of discrimination in the workplace, which is only pushing people with disability further out of the workforce.
When Premier Berejiklian made the target to employ more people with disabilities she proudly stated that as the biggest employer in the southern hemisphere, the NSW Government was uniquely placed to make a lasting difference if they could put people at "the heart of everything we do".
I hope we are put at the heart of everything because that's what we want - inclusion. Ms Berejiklian's successor needs to take this "Priority" more seriously.
One priority the Government could not deny was the Australian Paralympian athletes success at the Tokyo 2020 Paralympics held this year, where they brought home a total of 80 medals, with 21 gold, 29 silver and 30 bronze.
In 2021 this incredible result and media outcry led to the recognition and equal pay for Olympians and Paralympians alike.
As a former Paralympian, I know the powerful message this sends to those who have competed past, present and into the future. We are valued as highly as our Olympian brothers and sisters.
Discrimination in our workplaces is still a constant. Even as a Parliamentarian the barriers remain.
In 2017 I was elected as the Member for Gosford. As I was forced to take the back entrance on my first day of work the silent discrimination was louder than ever before.
When I first arrived I was reminded regularly that "this is the oldest Parliament in Australia" as though this is a license to discriminate against people with disabilities. The inaccessibility of Parliament was obvious and there were parts of my workplace I couldn't dream of getting to.
After four years of meetings and letter-writing, this year ramps were finally built in the Speaker's Garden and the north side of the building.
I was wheeled out for the opening of one of these ramps but the emotions I felt were very mixed; on the one hand I was very happy that people with various physical disabilities can now access that beautiful garden and one side of the building - but I was bitterly disappointed, and I still am, that this kind of infrastructure has taken four years to install and there are still many areas within the building which are still so hard for people like me to reach.
Since I arrived in Macquarie Street, the ongoing conversations with both the Parliament and the Government about the accessibility to our workplace have been tiresome.
Every year I make submissions to Parliament's Disability Inclusion Plan. This year I was asked for my input but I found myself writing the same suggestions that I have been making for four years- with little confidence that the fundamental changes we desperately need will be taken seriously and acted upon.
I hope all Parliamentarians believe the NSW Parliament should be the "People's Parliament" however without a serious determination to fix these issues, this sentiment is only lip service.
It is hard to feel included when parts of your own workspace are inaccessible. This is the same battle being fought by people with disabilities in workplaces across our community.
How can people who are disabled feel included when there are so many barriers?
Media release, 3 Dec 2021
Liesl Tesch, Member for Gosford
Ms Liesl Tesch AM MP is an incomplete paraplegic who lives in Woy Woy, and for the last 20 years has taught students at local public schools including Brisbane Water Secondary College until she was elected to the Parliament of New South Wales as the Member for Gosford in April 2017.
Ms Tesch has represented Australia proudly at seven Paralympic Games, bringing home two gold medals in sailing.
Between teaching and the Paralympics, Ms Tesch established the not-for-profit Sport Matters to bring targeted development assistance to people with disability in Australia, the Pacific, Asia and Africa.