Content warning: abuse, violence, neglect, murder of disabled people
Today the findings were handed down from the Disability Royal Commission to the Governor General, and tomorrow they will be made public. I, like many disabled people I know, are on tenterhooks. It’s all I can think about. A Minister says the report will “make for disturbing reading”.
The Disability Royal Commission looked into Violence, Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation of People with Disability. More than ten thousand disabled people, our families, disability advocates and disability organisations have given evidence in private hearings, artwork, written submissions and public hearings at the Disability Royal Commission over the last four years.
What I want to see to come out of the Disability Royal Commission:
- For human rights to be upheld.
- A Disability Ministry focused on the holistic experience of being disabled. Disability is not just limited to the NDIS. This Ministry must be led by a disabled person. The Ministry could be an avenue for disabled people to report abuse, partake in leadership programs, submit queries about the NDIS, Job Access and Disability Support Pension etc. (“Senator Steele-John hopes to see a specific disability ministry established.
“We need a coordinated response not only to the royal commission recommendations, but to all of the events and policy areas that impact disabled people,” he says.”)
- Better employment outcomes – not just at entry level; and not just focused on attracting job seekers, but developing, nurturing and rewarding disabled people once employed.
- Sheltered workshops to be phased out – meaningful jobs for meaningful, lawful and ethical pay. It should not be legal to pay people at $2.50 an hour, or to do undignified work that I am sure non disabled people would not do.
- To fix the NDIS – for it to be seen as an investment in disabled people and the economy, not a cost burden.
- End to segregated schools. Disabled students belong in mainstream schools – with adequate support.
- Penalties for individuals and organisations who perpetuate abuse – including monetary fines, jail time, closure of organisations and lifetime bans on working in the field.
- Complaints processes to be smooth. I want them to be consistent and simple; for us to be listened to and for the enormous burden of proof not to fall solely on disabled people. I’d also like there to be productive complaint outcomes—like penalties and improvements made in line with enforceable legislation and standards.
- The Disability Discrimination Act to be modernised and to have power.
- An end to physical restraint to manage disability symptoms, like we saw in the Careless 4 Corners episode.
- Disability hate crime and hate speech to be recognised, taken seriously and penalised.
- For new businesses moving into buildings having to comply with building accessibility standards.
- For the eSafety Commissioner to hold more power and take all online trolling abuse seriously. It shouldn’t take a nude photo to be leaked, someone to be suicidal or to die by suicide for action to be taken.
- Improved media representation – and for ableism in media to be acted on.
- For disabled people to be safe and have dignity in all aspects of life, for us to lead ordinary, and extraordinary lives.
Last year I gave a testimony at the Disability Royal Commission public hearing 28. You can watch the video on YouTube
My topic was on abuse in public spaces. I did so alongside several brave disabled people who also talked about the horrific abuse they receive, mostly in the street and at events. A short news clip summarising day 5 is here.
I talked about online and in person abuse in a lengthy written submission and a verbal testimony in person in Brisbane. Working on my testimony took eight months. It entailed many meetings with Disability Royal Commission staff, lawyers and psychologists. I repeatedly had to relive trauma – much of which I have written and spoken about at length previously. I saw abuse directed at me that I had not encountered until I read the draft testimony. And I did lots of media. It was all unpaid.
Since I gave my testimony, the trolling has exacerbated quite severely. I was even disbelieved. I have suffered. I don’t want to draw attention to it, but I’m tired of hearing that nothing can be done by lawyers or police.
I was promised protection, support and action by the Disability Royal Commission – and I can’t say they’ve delivered. In fact, after my testimony, they told me the abuse targeted at me in relation to the Disability Royal Commission was not covered by the protections in their Act, despite being told many times that it would be. I wrote an email to those I worked with, and had a meeting with them, and I did receive a very robust and sincere apology and commitment to protection, but I still don’t feel safe or fully supported.
The process was a lot of work and while I’m proud to have contributed to such a monumental and potentially world changing inquiry, I am not hopeful that things will change with respect to public abuse. We need to retire the expectation that for change to occur, disabled people must reveal our trauma publicly.
This week, 4 Corners aired an investigation into abuse in residential homes and by service providers. What they showed was horrific – both the levels of abuse endured, and the government and service providers not taking responsibility.
And this isn’t new. It continues to happen, as the Disability Royal Commission revealed.
In 2020, Anne Marie Smith was found dead in her home, after years of neglect and abuse by her so called carers. A few months after that, two young disabled men were found to be living in squalor. In 2016, a father killed his wife and disabled children in Sydney. The media, particularly ABC and SBS has done report after report on abuse of disabled people – I can think of many watershed stories in the last decade, including a joint investigation into Yooralla between Fairfax and ABC, and a report into institutional sexual abuse by Ginger Gorman – to name just two.
The bulk of the Disability Royal Commission reporting was done by actually disabled people, some of whom exposed their own experiences of abuse and violence in their stories. This is a lot for journalists to bear – there is no separating the personal from political when it comes to disability. We live it all the time.
Nothing seems to change.
Disability activist, policy and media specialist and writer, El Gibbs, writes that she she received inappropriate requests from media during the Disability Royal Commission, and like me, saw an absence of reporting by many outlets, and the stories ignored by many politicians. We are still considered as unimportant, not newsworthy, unpalatable, disbelieved and burdens.
“Disabled people are not valued. We are not seen as equal to you, or that we have the right to belong in your world. All too often, you think we belong over there, in that disabled place, where you don’t have to think about us, or wonder what is happening to us….”
“Every word in every volume of the Disability Royal Commission’s final report, to be released on Friday, is written in the pain and tears of disabled people.”
“This time let your discomfort mean something.
“This cannot be the end of listening but it’s beginning”
This final report belongs to us, and we deserve respect, attention and change. Those of us who told our stories to the Disability Royal Commission have shared some of the worst moments of our lives. We have shared traumas, secrets and shame. We have shone a light on unforgivable – but preventable – violence. Don’t let this be for nothing.
Sending love and solidarity to everyone who gave evidence at the Disability Royal Commission, to those whose voices aren’t so public, and to every disabled victim and survivor. Thanks to the journalists who reported on it – especially the disabled journalists. And thank you to the advocates who fought for the Disability Royal Commission and fought through it. You matter.