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Let's talk about access and inclusion... or lack of


It is 2023 and we live in a world where we are constantly challenged to be inclusive. We don’t need to scratch the surface too hard to see that discrimination against people with disabilities is all around us.

I often still get out of the office to work with clients and also listen to their feedback as well as the feedback of our amazing staff - what I see and hear horrifies me.


A recent experience of mine, and a story relayed to me by one of our DSWs today, cause a variety of emotions, anger, hurt, and dismay. I have the determination to write this in the hope one person reads it and makes a change. I can’t imagine how incidents like these make people with disabilities feel.


I accompanied a client to a medical diagnostic appointment, she is unable to lie down due to respiratory problems and uses an electric wheelchair. It all started upon entering the facility, which was a gorgeous early 20th-century house with stairs at the entrance. There was a disability lift located at the side of the building, it required extreme precision driving as the rubbish bins were placed outside the lift. This welcome was a less-than-perfect welcome and we were quickly faced with more challenges; the lift only had room for the wheelchair and the button to go to the next level required constant pressure. This was really difficult for my client. After negotiating a very tight turning circle we then needed to request a ramp to access the facility which only added to the embarrassment for my client.



Unfortunately, this was not the worst part of the visit as the health professional was less than professional. They started talking loudly as though the client had a hearing impairment whilst she was still in the hallway asking her if she was able to get out of the chair. The health professional’s manner and complaints about having to alter her practice because of the client’s disabilities were beyond belief. She even complained about her own pain a number of times during the procedure. There was no respect for the client’s dignity or abilities.


 

The story that was relayed to me today from our DSW was about her trying to provide support to her client who is sometimes unable to speak in a manner that is easily understood. Her client needed to pay a bill with a major Australian company. As he has difficulty with fine motor skills she was asked to assist him in doing so using the prompts on the phone. After trying this a number of times it continued to be unsuccessful, so they pressed the button to speak to a customer service staff member. Our DSW then explained the situation and asked if she could speak on the client’s behalf. She was not allowed to speak on his behalf even though they could clearly hear that he could not. It was explained that his speech was difficult to understand, and all the best they could come up with was “we will get an interpreter”. I don’t know if I am missing something but I didn’t know stroke was a language that required an interpreter.

The issue was unresolved, the client was in tears, and our DSW was so upset that he was treated that way that she called for support.


Inclusion and accessibility are not hard. All you have to do is look at it through different lenses. When you are providing services we need to put the focus on compassion and understand who your users could be, will they be able to successfully use your service? It is easy to make someone with a disability Australian of The Year but what we need to do is change how we are treating people every single day.

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