Monday, 27 June 2011

The headline read "Justice disabled..."

and the article in this morning's paper goes on to say the usual things about people with severe intellectual disabilities being sexually assaulted and the problems of getting the perpetrators to face justice.
I am getting tired of this - and angry. The issue is raised every so often. People get righteously angry for a short while and then forget the issue again until someone decides to give it another airing in the media.
Communication for people with disabilities does not matter. I have been getting that message loud and clear ever since I began working with people who have disabilities. My career began as a school student working as a volunteer in a residential nursery school for children with profound hearing losses. Back then sign language was a no, no, no. I was told I was not to sign to the children under any circumstances. If I did that, I was told, they would never learn to lip read and become "normal" members of the community. The reality was they were not going to become hearing membres of the community but they were going to become completely normal members of the community of the deaf who just happen to have a separate language. Yes, it is a language in its own right. It has its own syntax and grammar and vocabulary. The local deaf community has a name-sign for me - as does a similar group in England. I do not know a great deal of sign language. My deaf friends are always trying to teach me more but I do not have the necessary manual dexterity to be a fluent user. At least, they tell me, I know some of their language. I do but it is not nearly enough and I feel lost in their world.
But there are far too many other people with disabilities who are lost in this world. They have communication impairments which are hidden from understanding by the rest of the community.
A depressed ability to read and write is not always seen as a communication impairment but it is one. It reduces access to information - information which can be critical to the understanding of rights, of services, of contracts, of where to go or what to do or how to get the information needed to exist in an increasingly complex world. If someone can struggle through the process of filling out a form however few would say they have any sort of disability.
At the other end of the scale there are people I know whose communication ability is limited to using their eyes. They will look up for "yes" and down for "no". Everything they communicate must be done by means of questions to which they can respond in this way. When they also have a very limited understanding of the world the questions also have to be framed in a very precise way. Few people can consistently frame questions in this way. They also see it as taking time they do not have. It takes training, patience and understanding.
Reading the article in the paper this morning I tried to work out how many submissions I have made to inquiries over the years. There have been multiple submissions to the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission, the Productivity Commission, the Social Inclusion Board, government departments, advocacy organisations, Senate inquiries and other organisations - and that is just the Australian submissions. I have helped with submissions in the United Kingdom, in the European Union, North America, South America, Asia and Africa. All of them have tried to say the same thing, "the most important thing a human being learns to do is communicate - to hear, to listen and to respond". It is also the message which is most often ignored. Communication is not seen as an issue in a world of wheelchairs, accommodation, education, employment, transport and a myriad of other issues. It is a basic to access all these things but it is still ignored.
The sexual and other abuse of people with disabilities is not to be tolerated under any circumstances but until we recognise the communication needs of people with disabilities it will be a matter of - justice disabled.


Katherine Langrish said...

Well said, Cat!

Anonymous said...

Yes, well said Cat! Is anyone listening?