Australia Lags Behind UK in Disability Access

Australia can do better for people with disability as poor access to housing, education and transport prevents them from flourishing, says a visiting UK disability expert.

Professor Tom Shakespeare, after public talks in Melbourne and Sydney, spoke to Pro Bono News about Australia’s disability infrastructure and the National Disability Insurance Scheme.

The University of East Anglia researcher said the NDIS would not solve all the issues for people with disability.

“The NDIS will reach only 10 per cent of disabled Australians. There is a real need for improvement in infrastructure in Australia,” Shakespeare said.

“This is in transport and housing in particular, but also in services and education and so forth. This is really needed to enable all disabled Australians to flourish.”

Tom Shakespeare.

Shakespeare himself had lived experience with disability and said Australia lagged behind the UK in providing accessibility for people with disability.

While in the UK people with disability could use most trains, buses or taxis, this was not the case in Australia, he said.

“I’ve been in Melbourne and I’d love to have gone somewhere on the tram. I don’t know how many tram stops are accessible but most of them are not. So I’m left with a taxi, which is more expensive,” Shakespeare said.

“In Britain, I can pretty much go on any train, any taxi and any bus. I can’t go on every Tube station in London, but more and more I can, and all the new ones I can.

“I’m not saying the UK’s got it right, we have all sorts of problems. But I think Australia could do better by its disabled citizens.”

Shakespeare’s recent University of Sydney talk examined achieving choice and control for people with disabilities.

He said they needed to be empowered, which was about more than spending their personalised NDIS support budgets.

“They need to know they’re entitled to choices and what that might mean in their lives,” he said.

“It’s not just about spending your personal budget. In Britain because of cuts, we had personal budgets. We had everything that you are now having, but we don’t get to use those budgets in a way that we want to do.

“So there has to be enough money… but there also has to be support and empowerment to enable people to make choices that fit with their lifestyles and desires.”

Shakespeare also warned that the NDIS needed to protect people with disability from the threat of violence.

“We have to be careful, because – not all – but many disabled people are vulnerable,” he said.

“So I hope that vigilance about risk of violence and abuse is part of the system. Not for scaremongering or anything but just to ensure people have somebody looking out for them and a fallback if things go wrong.”

This comes as after a recent Australian Human Rights Commission report said people with disability were at greater risk of violence during the NDIS transition until certain ambiguities were resolved.

This article was originally published on Pro Bono News, 23 July 2018 and written by Luke Michael.