By Alastair McEwin, Disability Discrimination Commissioner Originally published in Sydney Morning Herald 5 October 2016.
Getting a morning coffee on the way to work is a ritual many of us take for granted. Not Jeremy, who is a young man with a communication disability.
The thought of not only being able to order coffee, but run a business, was a pipe dream. Until the National Disability Insurance Scheme arrived in Lake Macquarie.
Jeremy had the opportunity to start communicating for the first time with an iPad app. He now does a local coffee run where he takes coffee orders from local business people, fulfils them and makes the deliveries. And six months ago he was unable to communicate with the wider community.
The NDIS is a major social reform in Australia. The last time we saw something on a similar scale was the introduction of universal health care for all Australians in 1975 – Medicare. The introduction of Medicare was not without its challenges, but universal healthcare is now considered a fundamental and essential part of our lives.
The NDIS is about ensuring people with disability can get out and about in the community – it’s about getting them to work, to school and to cafes and restaurants so they can catch up with family and friends. It’s about getting people with disability being able to be part of the workforce, getting an education and spending money on food and drinks – in other words, being part of the economic, social and cultural fabric of our lives.
It isn’t just making life equitable for people with disability. It’s also making it possible for them to participate in every-day life with their families. In the Hunter region, a family has used the NDIS package to take a support worker for their family member with disability with them on family holidays. This gives real meaning to the term “family holiday” – it’s hardly that if the person with disability cannot go away with their family.
And the NDIS is even allowing parents of children with disability to work full-time. One family, through the NDIS, now has support after school and during the school holidays for their daughter with disability, which allows both parents to keep working full-time; in doing so, they are able to contribute to the economy through paid employment and paying taxes. And their daughter gets to spend her holidays doing things she loves like hydro therapy.
Given its scale, there will be implementation issues for the NDIS. There will be challenges in rolling this out across the country. And there will be doubts. Yet we have had other massive social reforms that are now so embedded in our society that we cannot imagine life without them (the conversion in 1966 from metric to decimal anyone?). The NDIS needs to be seen in this light – it needs time to become a part of our lives and, more importantly, to provide the equity of access to people with disability that has been denied to them for so long.