Today is International Day for People with a Disability, and there have been various events around Australia to mark the occasion, including the Special Olympics 2013 Asia Pacific Games in Newcastle, Awards, art shows, a radio program and a sausage sizzle. No doubt politicians will be photographed at these or other events as they promote the new National Disability Insurance Scheme which is already under fire for delays in processing and inadequate funding.
The Day was launched 21 years ago by the United Nations at the end of Decade of Disabled Persons, with the aim of moving towards a series of goals towards full accessibility in all areas of life for all people. Like all such lofty goals, the steps have been small and much remains to be done.
The idea of disability encompasses so much: physical, intellectual, emotional/psychological/psychiatric often compounded by social factors like family structure, income, religious beliefs etc. Degree of disability is also an issue. Some people, of course, have multiple disabilities with very complex needs.
There is no united disability community as all these areas of disability tend to have different needs and interpretations of goals like inclusion and accessibility, and are often in competition for funding to further the cause of their own particular needs. Divisions exist, for example, within the deaf community about cochlear implants with some arguing that this technology undermines and devalues those who have managed their disability by creating their own parallel community with its own (sign) language and activities. It is also not unusual to hear people with a particular disability claiming to less or more disabled than those with another. And I was always amazed when a disabled friend used to criticise another girl in a wheelchair as being 'someone who gives disabled people a bad name.'
I have previously written about the impact on a family of having a baby born with a disability, but disabilities can become gradually apparent over a period of time, happen as the result of accidents, other injuries or illnesses. While the disabled person is the one who bears the primary consequences, other people like parents, partners, children and friends can also find their lives changed as a result. A young woman I know, Susie, has written a blog about her life and that of her son Ollie, since he was diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder. I hope she will write for us soon telling the story of the early stages of their story as she tells powerfully of her feelings as the diagnosis was made. A few days ago, however, she wrote a summary of what she and her family have gained over the past year. She doesn't gloss over the hard parts but instead celebrates the positive. Perhaps this should be what we all do on this International Day of People with a Disability.