into the Violence, Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation of People with a Disability had a preliminary session in my home city yesterday. I went along for two reasons. The first of those was to provide communication assistance for two other people. The second was because I have put a short submission in.
The first reason became unnecessary when one person was not able to get there - for the very reasons the inquiry is being held - and the other came with someone who had thought she might not be able to get there.
The second reason allowed me to introduce myself to the senior member of the commission's staff - and thus to one or two others I will need to meet again in the future. I was told that, at some point, I will be called on to give evidence with respect to my submission.
My submission concerned the voting rights of people with disabilities.
Those of you who do not live here may not be aware that it is compulsory to be on the electoral roll and compulsory to "attend the ballot box". There is no actual requirement to vote although the term "mark the ballot paper" is usually seen as meaning that.
It is when people cannot mark their own ballot papers and/or do not understand the process that problems arise. It is those problems I want to see, at very least, acknowledged. If possible I would like to see them addressed at least for some people.
There are ways in which people who do not have the concept of choice can be excluded from the electoral roll. Before you say "but everyone has the right to vote" consider a person with severe dementia who can no longer read or write and for whom a ballot paper means nothing. Is their vote meaningful and is putting them under the stress of "voting" desirable?
What about someone with such a severe degree of mental retardation that they have no idea what it means to choose anything over something else? It was this which set me on the path of doing a piece of research I never intended to do. A parent had discovered that her child, living in group housing in the community, had been placed on the electoral roll by one of the "carers". This was despite the fact that the mother had written to the electoral commission with all the necessary information. The "carer" sounded very convincing and very concerned that this person should have a vote. In reality what had happened was that the carer had used that vote. Another person was refused permission to leave her group house on polling day. She later discovered that one of her "carers" had voted in her name. Yes, this is abuse and exploitation. It isn't the first time something like this has happened - and it won't be the last.
Many people with disabilities are highly vulnerable. Some are dependent on other people for their most basic needs. Everyone is dependent at times but dependence on other people for the ability to get out of bed, bathe, get dressed and eat makes you incredibly vulnerable. The most vulnerable of all are those who are unable to make themselves readily understood, those who cannot independently make a phone call.
That was barely touched on yesterday but it was there in the first story - "he can't tell us what happened".
This Royal Commission is costing millions - and if it changes the life of just one person for the better it will be worth every cent.