The Guardian • Issue #2074

Respect my ability

  • by Anna Pha
  • The Guardian
  • Issue #2074
Child on swing living with disability.


It took years of struggle by disability advocacy groups and PWD (people with disabilities) and their supporters before the Royal Commission into Violence, Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation of PWD was announced in April 2019.

The Commission’s report called for “transformational change” to the way in which PWD are treated. For PWD the demand is “respect.”

As the title of their report, Voices of PWD, suggests the final report does air their voices; the harrowing experiences of PWD are not easy reading. Almost 10,000 voices were heard from PWD, their family, friends, supporters, advocates and others. The report makes 222 comprehensive recommendations.

It heard horrendous stories of how PWD are subjected to horrifying violence, abuse, neglect, and exploitation perpetrated by disability support staff, prison guards, in hospitals and schools, by police and others.

The recommendations are wide-ranging including anti-discrimination; the human rights of PWD; enabling autonomy and access to support; recognition of informal supporters and advocates; inclusive education, employment and housing; treatment in the criminal justice system; measures for First Nations people; disability services; and independent oversight and complaint mechanisms.

The report calls for “major reforms to mainstream systems” that will remove barriers that PWD face when attempting to access inclusive education; open employment; and accessible, appropriate and safe housing.


The recommendations include the introduction of an Australian Disability Rights Act, a new disability government portfolio, a Minister for Disability Inclusion, and a department of disability equality and inclusion. There should be an independent National Disability Commission and major reforms to dismantle barriers to inclusive education, open employment, and accessible, appropriate and safe housing, the report says.

The Disability Rights Act is to recognise the human rights of PWD, and give effect to Australia’s obligations under the principles set out in the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

“The Disability Rights Act should recognise all human beings are equal in worth and dignity and every person with disability:

  • has the right to enjoy their human rights without discrimination …
  • is equal before the law, is entitled to equal protection of the law without discrimination and has the right to equal and effective protection against discrimination.”

These rights include the right to live free from all forms of exploitation; violence and abuse; and access to protection services that promote health, welfare, dignity, and autonomy.


Evidence before the Commission provided horrifying stories of abuse in group homes, isolation of residents with no way of escape. A key factor in the neglect and abuse in group homes is that many people are segregated from the rest of society. All six Commissioners agreed major improvements are needed when it comes to group homes.

Four Commissioners – including those with disability – recommended that governments implement a roadmap to phase group homes out within the next 15 years with improvements in oversight in the interim period. PWD should have greater choice and control during this transition period.

PWD should be a priority group in the development of housing supply and homelessness strategies.

“Third line forcing” which means a single organisation can be both the landlord and the support provider in group homes under the NDIS, should cease. “Stopping this will help prevent the ‘commodification’ of some of the most vulnerable NDIS participants.”

The report emphasises the importance of working with PWD and giving them the support to understand their rights to housing and support options and enable them to exercise real choice about where they live and who they live with.


Governments should facilitate, to the maximum extent feasible, participation by students as fully as possible in an age-appropriate manner in decision-making concerning their educational programs and the adjustments they require.

Three of the six Commissioners called for the end of special schools by 2051 and no new enrolments from 2032. The Commissioners said segregated education contributes to the devaluing of PWD, “a root cause of the violence, abuse, neglect and exploitation [they] experience in education and beyond.” This has been confirmed by research.

Wherever practicable, any new non-mainstream schools should be relocated within or in close proximity to mainstream schools to facilitate, to the maximum extent feasible, participation by individual students and groups of students enrolled in non-mainstream schools in educational, cultural, and other activities.

Again, participation in an age-appropriate manner in decision-making regarding educational programs and the adjustments they require is important.

This will require needs-based funding and training of staff if students with disability are to participate in education on an equal basis with their peers.

The question is whether governments are prepared to provide the resources.

Some organisations feel waiting until 2051 is far too long. It means another two generations of students will be educated in special schools, contrary to the need for inclusivity.


Resources for education and training should be co-designed by PWD and involve consultation with advocates, employers, and Disability Employment Services providers.

Particular attention is given to the role the public sector could play in the employment of PWD.

The development of employment goals in participants’ NDIS plans should consider employment in open and integrated employment settings as a first option.

Four of the Commissioners recommended the Department of Social Services develop and implement a National Inclusive Employment Roadmap to transform Australian Disability Enterprises (ADEs) and eliminate subminimum wages for PWD by 2034.

At present some employees in ADEs are being paid as little as $2.90 an hour.


WA Greens Senator Jordon Steele-John said, “We know that most of the experiences of violence, abuse, neglect, and exploitation that have been reported to the Commission, occurred in segregated settings.

“That’s why it’s so important that we have far quicker timelines for the recommendations around education and employment. And it’s why it’s absolutely critical that the recommendation for a Disability Minister, supporting department and portfolio to be implemented.”

For decades, advocacy groups have been campaigning for PWD to be seen as equal, to live and work alongside the rest of the community.

The federal government says it will set up a task force to look at the implementation of the report’s recommendations and make all decisions concerning their lives, if necessary through advocacy.

The report did not directly cover the NDIS. A separate review into the NDIS will report soon.

As El Gibbs wrote in Crikey, “We are hurt and harmed in the hidden places, in the dark, and by the systems and people who want to keep us there. The disability royal commission has been clear about what needs to change so we can be free from this scourge of abuse and violence. The work now begins to realise those changes.”

Belle Owen from Adelaide-based disability advocacy organisation JFA Purple Orange said she wants to see a “disability-led response” to the report.

“Consultation isn’t enough, we need to be co-designing responses and new policies and every element of the way we need community to be front and centre,” she said.

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