Creating a better community for everyone

| December 2, 2013

Today is the International Day of People with Disability. The Patron of this event, Emeritus Professor Ron McCallum, urges us as a community to become more aware of persons with disabilities.

Reaching 21 is all about milestones. Reflecting and celebrating what has happened over the past 21 years and excitement for the potential of what can be achieved over the next 21.

Today, International Day of People with Disability comes of age. What this means to me as a person who was born blind and has lived my life not letting my disability impact my ability, is significant.

Life was very different for people with disabilities 21 years ago. When I was very young, I have vivid memories of my mother reading to me and my older brothers and explaining to me that I would never be able to read the print on a page.

I thought to myself that is exactly what I wanted to do, but never imagined in my lifetime that would happen.

Thankfully, I was proved wrong. The changes in access to technology over the last 21 years have been phenomenal and allowed people like me access to the written word. In 1989, I was amongst the first blind people on the planet who had capacity – through downloading material on the internet and using scanning equipment to read a book.

This changed my life dramatically and helped me in my journey to becoming the first totally blind person in Australia or New Zealand to be appointed as Dean of a University Faculty – a position which I cherished as a tertiary teacher for 41 years.

But technology is just one area that we have seen access improvements for people with disabilities over the last two decades.  We’ve seen a massive sentiment shift in the Australian community in recent times, a shift which is best exemplified through bipartisan commitment to the National Disability Insurance Scheme.

What this has all meant in real terms is the true Australian ethos of giving people a fair go. We are seeing more people with disabilities in education – universities and high schools. While our labour participation rate is only about 52%, focus has been on greater opportunities for people with all types of disabilities to have access to good jobs.

We want to work, we want to contribute and we want to be part of the community.

And part of the celebrations today should be to reflect on how far we have come to break down barriers. In looking to the future over the next 21 years – in 2034 I hope that the lives of the 4 million Australians living with a disability will be much improved.

I would like people on this International Day to take a number of actions and make several resolutions. Go and meet a person with a disability – talk to them. Find out that they are exactly like you and me – with loves, fears, hopes and dreams.

Think about persons with a disability in your workplace – do they get the right sort of treatment? Think about persons with disability when you get on a train – can they get access? Think about persons with disabilities that may have a mental illness – do you treat them differently?

If we all become more aware, we will together become a better community.



  1. irischeng

    November 28, 2014 at 5:04 am

    It is urgent to improve Mental Health Services

    Yes, our community will be beter if we all become more aware. It is very sad to know that another teenager committed suicide while she was still on the waiting list of the mental health service. The girl had a six-month waiting time for a place at the Mental Health Centre. Her mother is a client at the Wacol youth mental health facility. According to the information from the victim’s mother, the girl had been unwell for two years before committing suicide. That girl started having psychotic signs and symptoms and panic attacks and refused to go to school after being physically and psychologically bullied by her peers at school. However, this high-risk and severe case with family history of mental illnesses is still given a six-month waiting period. In fact, this accident may probably be prevented if the government can respond to the research result, which shows that there is an urgent need for suicide prevention programs. The 2010 report “Hidden Toll of Australia” suggested that funding for the national suicide prevention is severely inadequate (Department of Health, 2014). In the report “Commonwealth Response to the Hidden Toll: Suicide in Australia”, the Senate Community Affairs Reference Committee also recommended the Commonwealth government to at least double the funding of the National Suicide Prevention Strategy. However, although Coalition also made a promise to increase funding for the suicide prevention program, it voted against the motion of funding a national suicide prevention and awareness campaign (Barbour, 2014). The effect of this vote can be severe, as shown by like that teenager who committed suicide before she can get professional help at the Barrett Adolescent Centre (Moore, 2012). Therefore, there should be funding for a national suicide prevention and awareness campaign, especially for high-risk people in the regional area of Australia (Barbour, 2014). In addition, the waiting time for those seeking professional mental health services in rural areas is at least six months which is too long. A lot of youth said that it was extremely frustrating, as after they struggle for a long period of time and decide to seek medical help, they still needed to wait for six months (MacBean, 2010; Department of Health, 2009). Therefore, there should be more funding for social workers to provide therapy for teenagers in rural and regional Australia (MacBean, 2010). References Barbour L. (2014, Aug 29). Coalition accused of ignoring suicide prevention policy after failing to implement report's recommendations. ABC Rural. Retrieved from Moore T. (2012, November 22). Youth commits suicide on mental health wait list. Procter, N., Papadopoulos, I., & McEvoy, M. (2010). Global economic crises and mental health. Advances in Mental Health, 9(3), 210-214. Governmental Website Department of Health(2014). Commonwealth response to 'The hidden toll: suicide in Australia'. Retrieved from The Department of Health(2014). Mental health of young people in Australia. Retrieved from The Department of Health(2014). National mental health policy 2008. Retrieved from