When I was 16 I broke my neck. I was messing around with friends and dived into a shallow pool with my hands behind my back. I broke my first vertebra in three places. By some miracle, the three pieces of C1 stayed in place despite me massaging and stretching the whiplash that kept me stiff for three days. And by some other miracle, six weeks later, I was able to walk away from that injury without any long term adverse effects.
Yesterday, for the first time, I actually grasped what my life might have become, should have become, had I not been so incredibly lucky. And I cried.
I am still crying.
At the time I had a vague concept of what the life of someone confined to a wheel chair might be like and I thought myself lucky to have escaped that fate, but today I listened to real stories and I realised just how much my ideas had been shaped by prejudice, stereotype and incomplete information.
Until yesterday, my relative ignorance had never really concerned me – after all, disability does not affect me directly in any way. Until yesterday, the most regular interaction I have had with disability has been driving past the disabled parking spaces at my local shopping centre. Until yesterday I thought that being scathing of people who park in those spaces illegally made me a compassionate, understanding member of society.
But today I have been humbled. Today I have heard stories that the whole world needs to hear – stories of basic human rights being denied, stories of beurocratic red tape strangling the provision of desperately needed support, stories of illogical decision-making and buck-passing by governments and support agencies, stories of injustice, stories of the financial burden and the day-to-day battle for a normal life that slowly grinds away at the spirit of the disabled and their carers.
Today, without a hint of self-pity, I heard what life is really like from the people who live disability 24hour a day. There was no call for special treatment. There was no request for sympathy. There was no suggestion that mainstream Australia should feel sorry for their plight. There was only a powerful, dignified call for a system that will ensure that their needs be met so that they and their families might get on with the business of living a productive and happy life.
A National Disability Insurance Scheme is precisely what is needed and, according to the draft report from the Productivity Commission, it is a scheme that is not only feasible, it is a scheme that is essential. It is essential to ensure that needs are met in an individualised, fair and sustainable way. It is essential to ensure that the future of those with a disability will be secure even after their parents are no longer around to care for them. It is essential to give those with a disability a degree of autonomy and choice with regard to service providers, support plans and personal aspirations. It is essential to ensure that people with a disability have the chance to enjoy so many of the freedoms that you and I in mainstream Australia take for granted – the freedom to live where we want with whomever we choose; the freedom to buy our basic needs from wherever we like; the freedom to study, to work, to contribute to our local communities; the freedom to travel, to play, to go out all night if we want… the freedom to be who we are.
You can help make this happen.
Go to the Every Australian Counts website and click on the link to join the campaign. It doesn’t require a donation. It doesn’t require a commitment to act. All it takes is for you to type in your email address and to say “Count me in”.
Your voice will strengthen the message that we, inAustralia, will no longer tolerate the marginalisation experienced by the people in our communities who happen to have been born with or have acquired a disability.
We are all people, we are all Australians. And Every Australian Counts.