Federal Politics

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Disabled have ordinary needs

'Mainstreaming'' is the new buzz word in the disability field these days, by which they mean that disability issues should be included in general services, systems and policies, rather than always dealt with separately.

The problem is that folks think the answer for people with disabilities is to provide something ''special'', which in the disability field usually means ''segregated'' and sadly often means ''worse''.

As someone who has a disability and one who has spent the past 25 years researching the area, I think mainstreaming makes perfect sense. Because we are not really so different. Our minds or bodies may not work in the same way as yours, but we are still human beings.

Saturday was International Day of Persons with Disabilities. According to the World Report on Disability, published this year by the World Health Organisation and the World Bank, there are one billion people with disabilities in the world - that's 15 per cent of the population. Rather than talking about our ''special needs'', I prefer to think about our ordinary needs - needs for health, for education, for housing, for a job. The only extraordinary thing about the needs of people with disabilities is that our ordinary needs are not normally met.

And the reason for this is simple: services, systems and policies are not accessible to us. People with disabilities face barriers: barriers of access, barriers of negative attitudes, barriers of inadequate provision. So that's why many of us are excited and hopeful about the trend towards disability mainstreaming.

Countries and regions have developed innovative projects in inclusive education, where kids with disabilities go to schools alongside their non-disabled mates - for example, there are some great projects in Viet Nam.


Transport provision has been designed with the variety of human beings in mind - old folks, parents with babies, disabled people - for example Delhi Metro, or the Bus Rapid Transport system in Curtiba, Brazil.

In particular, the recent AusAid policy on disability and development was a very welcome example of mainstreaming, even though the policy avoided using the word - an example of a government document preferring to avoid jargon for once. Instead, the Access For All policy focused on what they called ''disability-inclusive development'', which means exactly what it says.

I am impressed to see Australia taking the global lead on ensuring development assistance is accessible to people with disabilities.

With such a big number, it is clear that creating separate provision is not feasible or cost effective in low and middle-income countries.

So mainstreaming makes economic sense, as well as fulfilling the human rights of people with disabilities. When we remove physical and information barriers, when we train professionals to respect and include people with disabilities, when we ensure our work is relevant to people with disabilities, then we are already most of the way there.

In this way, we'll be implementing the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, and more importantly, improving the lives of those billion disabled people across the globe.