Monday 24th November 2014 has been a big day for standing up for the equal rights of people with intellectual disability.
First, the Senate rejected the Government’s bill to introduce the BSWAT Payment Scheme Bill. This Bill was an unjust remedy by the Government to address the discrimination in how the wages of thousands of people with intellectual disability in Australian Disability Enterprises (formerly sheltered workshops) are determined. A discrimination brought to light by two men with disability.
Second, the Australian Law Reform Commission proposed reform to Commonwealth and State laws to ensure that supported decision making is encouraged with the right support; and that representative decision-makers are appointed only as a last resort. The need to be supported in making decisions has never been more pertinent given the NDIS and the emphasis on choice and control.
Third, ABC 4 Corners exposed sexual abuses of people with disability by carers employed by Yooralla, and a governance culture that was inadequate to protect people with disability from this abuse.
The 4 Corners program highlight a number of characteristics of people with significant disability which are apparent. Characteristics that are under-recognised but common across the events of the day.
1. People with significant disability are vulnerable to abuse, neglect and discrimination . . be it physical, sexual abuse or abuse of equal rights in employment.
2. People with significant disability are “easily led”. People with disability can be used and abused to meet the needs of others at the expense of their rights.
3. People with significant disability are sometimes unable to give valid consent – even after the best supported decision making support.
4. People with significant intellectual disability in segregated employment or accommodation services may have heightened vulnerability because “those who are watching” are just as vulnerable as the people targeted for abuse.
4. People with significant disability often have great difficulty in reporting abuse on their own.
When these “facts” or “characteristics” are considered carefully, there is a strong basis for accommodations and safeguards that are put in place rather than reliance on typical due processes or governance that may be acceptable in other circumstances.
For example, many employees with intellectual disability in ADEs are highly vulnerable to the interests of ADE staff and employers. Many employees in ADEs are easily led to vote for a certified agreement when valid consent is questionable. It is not a coincidence that people with intellectual disability are subject to discriminatory employment practices in how award wages are assessed.
The Senate decision to reject the BSWAT Bill will ensure that the independence of the Federal Court will ensure that people with intellectual disability – discriminated by the Commonwealth and ADEs – are properly compensated. In other words, why would we let the “discriminator” determine the quantum of compensation and the process or redress. We must also note that some of the sexual abuse identified by 4 Corners involved employees in ADEs. This is not to suggest a juxtaposition between ADEs and abuse – but to point out that people with intellectual disability are vulnerable and this is vulnerability is heightened when grouped with others people with disability in segregated places.
We must also begin to recognise that Australia spends substantial amounts of money on disability support services – and this will only increase under the NDIS. As we saw in the 4 Corners report, there was evidence of “scamming” with clients that did not exist. I have also listened to families who are heavily marketed by disability services competing for the cash families bring to providers when they register for support. This means that – more than ever – advocacy and safeguards against abuse are important(!)
Unfortunately the “angelic” image of disability services is naive.
As 4 Corners point out, there are clearly service providers and staff who are impeccable in their competence and fidelity with the rights and dignity of people with intellectual disability. While addressing the very serious issues of abuse across all disability services we must support those services and staff who are doing ‘the right thing’.