The 2020 Human Rights Day Oration was delivered by leading disability rights advocate Rosemary Kayess, winner of the 2019 Human Rights Medal, and a contributor to the drafting of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD). Ms Kayess discussed the social transformation of CRPD and the impact it has had on the community as well as her work with the Disability Royal Commission, in conversation with ABC’s disability affairs reporter, Nas Campanella.
A transcript of the conversation, with an introduction by Human Rights Commission President Emeritus Professor Rosalind Croucher AM, follows.
Rosalind Croucher: Hi, I'm Rosalind Croucher, President of the Australian Human Rights Commission. It is my very great honour to welcome you all to the Human Rights Day Oration 2020.
The tenth of December is one of the most significant days in the human rights calendar because it was on this day in 1948, borne in the aftermath of the horrors of the Second World War, that the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Each year that day, the 10th of December, is commemorated as Human Rights Day.
To begin our proceedings, I would like to invite Yvonne Weldon for the Welcome to Country. Thank you, Yvonne.
Yvonne Weldon: Thank you. And good morning, ladies, gentlemen, sisters and brothers. As I said, my name is Yvonne Weldon. I am a Wiradjuri from Cowra in NSW. I am from the waters of the Kalare, which later became known as the Lachlan, and of the Murrumbidgee Rivers.
I am the elected Chairperson of the Metropolitan Local Aboriginal Land Council, who are the cultural authority under the Aboriginal Land Rights Act for the land that I am on. I would like to pay my respects to all Elders past and present. To all First Nations and to you and the many nations that are represented here and online today.
It's always a humbling privilege to provide a Welcome to Country. For me, it is a profound honour and a luxury of time. Time given by you and time of the many warriors that started the traditions for all of us.
A welcome isn't just words. It is a reflection of where we are. Not our modern-day places but the continuous link of life lessons, purpose and nurturing supplies. The boundaries of our traditional owners are not through the man-made landmarks or the lines that are drawn by hand and by pen, but through the natural landscapes of the earth.
They are our nation's country covers; the Hawkesbury River in the North, the Nepean in the West, and the Georges River in the South. On behalf of the Metropolitan Local Aboriginal Land Council, the Elders and the members, I welcome everyone to the land of the Gadigal.
I acknowledge the Gadigal people whose spirits and ancestors will always remain with this land, our mother earth. Wherever you travel across this beautiful continent of ours, understand you are entering the lands of nations, tribes and clans that have existed here for over sixty thousand years.
The First Nations of this land are the most resilient, unique and sustainable people on this planet. We are the oldest living culture of the world. Traditionally across the lands and the waterways we traded, and we shared for necessity and not for empires. Our sharing and trading brought our people together. It created our sustainability, encouraging our innovation and keeping our ancient practices alive for our future and for everyone's future.
There are many Aboriginal warriors that have crossed this land before all of us, creating pathways before there were any. And to give respect and honour could you please pause for a moment to remember the many sacrifices that have been made along the way. The ones we will continue to make, and the ones that should never happen.
As you connect, learn and share - today, tomorrow and beyond, continue to learn from my people’s ancient practices and continue your important work through your representation and being the voice for the rights of others that are often told they don’t have any.
Never losing sight of the important work that still needs to be done to bring my people, your people and all our people together. But let us not live regretting what we should have done but create the legacy of what must be done. Make real changes and not just symbolic ones. Working in partnerships equally.
All of us can make positive changes for this country, now and into the future. And in these times, in this pandemic, don't let the social distance make us socially absent. We must maintain physical distancing but not creating barriers to our social connections. We need to be connected even more so today than ever.
So, whether it's for your work, your family or your networks, creating an inclusion an acceptance and a resilience. All of us together can bring about positive changes to multiple generations. We are in this together.
Last month it was the deferred week of NAIDOC with the theme Always Was, Always Will Be. So, whether you think about the land, our culture, our history, devastating impacts of past and current times, or the resilience of my people, know that the answers to the questions for everyone in this country should always commence with the voice of Aboriginal people first, because we are the first people of this country.
So, with that said, let us all draw upon my people's spirits as we continue on our journey. May my people's spirits walk with you and guide you as we strive forward for us all. Again, on behalf of the Metropolitan Local Aboriginal Land Council, welcome to Gadigal land.
This always was, always will be, Aboriginal land. Thank you and have a wonderful day.
Rosalind Croucher: Thank you, Yvonne, for as ever your warm Welcome to Country. Today I am speaking from the Gadigal lands of the Eora nation, where the Commission’s office is based and I would like to thank you again, Yvonne, for your welcome and add to it my personal respect on behalf of the Commission to Elders past, present and emerging. I would also like to acknowledge any Indigenous guests joining us online, and particularly, people with disability.
The 2020 Human Rights Day Oration is being given by leading disability rights advocate Rosemary Kayess, the winner of our prestigious Human Rights Medal in 2019. Rosemary will be introduced formally later, but I wanted to acknowledge my deep admiration and respect for Rosemary and say how delighted I was that she won the medal last year, but also that Rosemary will be giving the oration today.
A contributor to the drafting of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities, Rosemary will discuss the transformation of the convention and the impact it has had on the community, as well as discussing her work with the Disability Royal Commission.
I would also like to thank in advance our Auslan interpreters, Kerry Kristy and Rhonda Ryde. Thank you.
Our moderator today is Nas Campanella. She will be in conversation with Rosemary. Nas is the ABC's Disability Affairs reporter, having started her career at the ABC as a cadet journalist in Sydney 2011, before working regionally in Bega in NSW the South Coast, then spending time as a news reader, reporter and senior producer for Triple J and other ABC platforms. She has also undertaken projects with ABC International Development and initiatives for people living with disability across the Pacific.
Today's event is our first fully online. We hope this will enable people wherever you are in Australia to join us at the Commission's biggest human rights celebration of the year. It is also being recorded. The event is sponsored by Konica Minolta and King & Wood Mallesons and I thank both for their long time support, and particularly for today's event.
Human rights, as set out in the universal declaration, begin with the essential proposition that all people are born free and equal in dignity and rights. This is a vision that transcends politics and reaches across all societies and all nations.
Today as we celebrate Human Rights Day, we embrace the aspirations of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and is its vision of a freer, fairer and more equal world. Now I would like to invite Konica Minolta Chief Marketing and Innovation Officer Shane Blandford to provide some opening remarks and I hope you all have a wonderful Human Rights Day and are inspired by the conversation that provides our Human Rights Day Oration for 2020. Thank you. And I'll hand over to you now, Shane.
Shane Blandford: Thank you, Rosalind, for your kind introduction. I'd also like to acknowledge the Boon wurrung people of the Kulin nation as the traditional custodians of the land where I'm speaking from today in Melbourne, and pay my respects to their Elders past, present and emerging.
As we approach Christmas and the end of the year, we'll all look back and use various adjectives to describe what has been an extraordinary year. Most businesses have been forced to pivot and like many of us the Australian Human Rights Commission has adopted virtualisation and shifted focus from awards to highlighting heroes working on the ground. In times like this we see the human spirit and endeavour, rise to the occasion.
I'm constantly amazed by what we can do and achieve when we come together for the common cause, and this is where heroes are defined. Whether it's bushfires, COVID or the eradication of modern slavery in our supply chains, we can make a difference to the lives of others. Always in these situations it's the most marginalised people or groups in society that are impacted the most and this is why the work being done by many amazing organisations, such as the Australian Human Rights Commission, is more important now than ever before.
This is also where corporates come in. It's not just our sponsorship funding that enables organisations like AHRC to run these important events and programs, like the theme for this year's Human Rights Day, recover better, stand up for human rights. It's also about corporate culture.
Two years ago, when Konica Minolta was recognised as the winner of the AHRC award in the business category, it was a culmination of vision by our global President Shoei Yamana and our recent Australian Managing Director, Dr David Cooke, to develop Konica Minolta as a company that cares. Cares for our customers, cares for our staff and cares for the communities in which we operate in all 147 countries throughout the world.
To achieve this, we have to create opportunities for our employees to be involved and this is through our important CSR activities. It is through employer involvement we can recognise our own heroes for living our values. What we've found is that almost certainly those employees will continue their good work as individuals in their communities.
Konica Minolta is proud to be sponsoring today's human rights oration featuring Rosemary Kayess and we hope you can join us in celebrating her work. Thank you very much. I'll now hand over to Nas Campanella.
Nas Campanella: Thank you very much and can I also please pay my respects to the Gadigal people of the Eora nation which is the land on which I am on today and pay my respects to Elders past, present and emerging.
Well, let me introduce Rosemary. Rosemary Kayess is the recipient of the 2019 Human Rights Medal as we all know. Rosemary is a leading disability rights advocate. She's a teaching fellow at the University of New South Wales law and a senior research fellow at UNSW Social Policy research centre. She's serving a three-year term on the United Nations Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Rosemary is the first Australian woman to be elected to that committee.
Rosemary is an accomplished human rights lawyer, researcher and academic. She's currently Chair of the Australian Centre for Disability Law and was the expert member of the Australian Government delegation to the UN negotiations for the convention. She's advised on the implementation of that convention in Australia, the Asia Pacific and Europe.
Welcome, Rosemary. Thank you so much for being with us today. Can we start off by, I guess, something that many people have started to talk about in the disability space is that word ‘ableism’. For the uninitiated, can you take us through what does that mean and the concrete examples of that?
Rosemary Kayess: Good morning, Nas. Thank you for your introductions and I too would like to acknowledge the traditional owners of the land on which I'm on and the lands of which people are on in their various locations. I am currently on Gadigal land of the nation of the Eora people, and I also pay my respects to Elders past, present and emerging and would like to acknowledge all Aboriginal people who are watching today. But especially pay tribute to Aboriginal colleagues with disabilities.
Ableism frames the way society thinks about who's a member of society. Ableism drives a conception that there is a norm. That there is an ableist norm that is the human condition. And that that norm has a certain repertoire of abilities and that our societies are structured around that norm. That conceptualisation. That ableist norm.
And so, anybody with an impairment that sits outside that norm finds they encounter barriers to be able to participate within the social structures that we as a society create. And so those barriers create disadvantage for people with impairments that sit outside that very narrow definition of what it is to be human.
Now, ableism, it's seen as natural. It's benign. And so, we don't recognise it for anything malicious and it's not. It's a by-product of what is seen as every day but what is does is it slowly alienates people and creates barriers to their participation, which keeps them at a point of disadvantage to where they've got no power to be able to challenge those ableist norms. So, it becomes entrenched.
Those ableist norms set up a divide; a binary between people with disability and people without disability. So, people with impairments are seen as different. They're seen as other. And so, what society does is it sets up notions of care treatment and protection that people with impairments need to be either cured, they need to be treated in special ways, in special facilities, and that they need to be somehow seen as different to the rest of society and treated differently to the rest of society.
And that disadvantage is embedded, not just within the social psyche, it's embedded in legislation, and it's embedded in structural society around us. And so, ableism creates a society where people with impairments are not included. They're not seen part of the human family.
Nas Campanella: You mention the divides and not being included. Something that especially has come up in the Disability Royal Commission for example recently, is this idea of segregation and that we still have segregated settings across many aspects of life for people with disability. Can you talk to us where we might spot those?
Rosemary Kayess: Segregation permeates many aspects of our society. I know people will go no, really but it does. Some in very obvious ways but some in much more subtle ways.
So segregated education is probably the first one that people will think of. It was highlighted through the Royal Commission. It's discussed in the interim report. They've had public hearings on education and segregated education was talked about extensively during that hearing process. Segregated education sees people with disability educated in separate facilities, completely external to the mainstream system, but increasingly in specialised units within mainstream education.
Now, both of those segregate students with disabilities from the mainstream population of the education system. So, people with disabilities, students with disabilities, are continually seen as different and in some ways they are seen as inferior. So, they're seen as lacking. They're seen as not capable and, you know, it reinforces this notion of other and of difference.
And so, if kids are growing up in school and people with disability it is reinforced to them on a daily basis that people with disability are different and don't have the same abilities and need to be treated in special ways, in different ways. Then that is reinforced in what they expect to see when they come out of school and are in the workforce and in society and so that continues to perpetuate this notion of difference and of other.
And the data shows that segregated settings in education lead to lower academic achievement, lower social development opportunities and so it also separates siblings from going to school together. It separates kids from going to school with their peers so that the full development of the individual is compromised, let alone their academic ability to develop is compromised.
Advocates of segregated education say, you know, deaf kids need to be able to communicate with deaf kids and blind kids need to be able to learn alternative scripts and that's best done in segregated settings. But there's no reason that others wouldn't benefit from learning those skills as well. I mean, Braille is just an alternative script. There is no reason that other people may not benefit from having the ability to read numbers in dark lifts.
It's not inconceivable that we need and find useful a broad repertoire of skills and knowledge. Just because it is something that is developed for a group of people with a certain impairment, doesn't mean that it's off limits for everybody else. Sign language can only be strengthened by the more people being able to speak inside language. I mean, there is nothing that is critical that it needs to be done only by people with a certain impairment.
Nas Campanella: And education is really the foundation for so many other things in life. We still see segregation even in employment.
Rosemary Kayess: Employment is very worrying, just because of the discriminatory process that that sets up. Not only as it's segregated from mainstream community, it also segregates them in terms of rights, in terms of wages and industrial relations conditions.
It's a false business case that has led to what courts have described as discriminatory wage exploitation and so we also saw during the COVID crisis earlier this year where people with disability were still going to sheltered workshops when physical distancing was problematic and, again, increasing their risk of virus transfer, transmission.
So not only were they living in segregated settings, they were being employed in segregated settings.
Nas Campanella: For people who don't know, some of these workshops might have hundreds of people in some.
Rosemary Kayess: Yep.
Nas Campanella: I mean, what are we talking about in terms of wage exploitation here?
Rosemary Kayess: Wage exploitation. There was the famous case about the way productivity-based wages are judged. People with disability were being held to a much higher standard of knowledge that was required to be able to have certain levels of wages.
And so, people with disability were earning much lower rates of pay per day because of standards that no other employee without a disability would ever be asked to be able to maintain. So, you know, it was unrealistic that people would be able to meet that standard yet workers with disability were being asked to meet that standard.
But we also see segregation in where people can live. I mean, group homes are just growing. They're not actually - we're not de-institutionalising. I mean, the whole idea was in the 80s to move out. To get people out of the large residential institutions.
But we find that all we're doing is moving people from large residential institutions into smaller residential institutions and people in some cases do not have the choice of where and with whom they live and sometimes it's a false choice. I mean, the NDIS has created the ability to, in the most part, sever that nexus between service provision and accommodation, but there are still incidences and there are still mechanisms within the legislation that allow that to be broken down and so people lose the choice of who comes into their house to support them, and they in many instances to be able to ensure that they have an accessible place to live and have access to daily care they have to forego that autonomy of choice of where and with whom they live.
Nas Campanella: Let's turn to the Convention now. How well do you think this has been implemented in a practical sense in Australia?
Rosemary Kayess: Look, Australia's been reviewed twice by the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in their periodic reviews. The convention sets up a four-year cycle of reviews for countries that are ratified. The convention, and Australia was first reviewed in 2013. They were reviewed again in September 2019.
One of the things that the Committee highlighted was the fact that Australia had made a good start, in terms of developing policies and frameworks for the implementation of CRPD. They acknowledged the NDIS as ground-breaking and they acknowledged that the development of the national disability strategy had the potential to guide the implementation of CRPD. Go forwards six years from 2013 to 2019, and not much had changed. In fact, the committee's comments in several areas were, well, we're here six years later and not much has changed.
Now, what the Convention puts forward is quite a significant social transformation. It's about reconceptualising the way we as a society view the human condition. And what is the human norm and how we structure society around that conceptualisation and understanding.
We need to break it down and understand that no human has the complete repertoire of abilities suitable of all permutations of a social and physical environment that we need to structure education and meet the needs of all students, not just students that meet a very strict able norm. We need to be able to have an employment system that is structured so people of all types can work effectively together and not be segregated due to concepts of impairment.
And we need to have a system that recognises that we can experience periods of emotional distress and that we need to be supported through that in a way that doesn't demonise people. No, so it's not a quick fix. It is a significant social transformation, and it will need planning and it will need leadership.
Now, I think in 2013 the committee said, these policies and these strategies put you in a good place to start. What you need now is the leadership and the evidence base to take it and the commitment to take it forward.
But you need to actually take those steps. We're now 10 years down the track with the National Disability Strategy which is to set out the national plan of how we implement the convention. Yet we're just about to embark on a new plan and the review of the last plan is really quite damning in its ability to actually have achieved anything. That's really quite disappointing.
Nas Campanella: You've acknowledged there that this takes time and that a real plan is needed. I mean, what have we achieved? You mentioned the National Disability Insurance Scheme. What other aspects can you point to?
Rosemary Kayess: Really, it's around the National Disability Insurance Scheme. There are small little elements around the side that can be seen as achievements but there's nothing that suggests that we're taking the leadership steps that are necessary to have significant change. We need recognition in some of the big stuff and some planning behind that and some leverage behind that.
That makes us take some significant steps. At the moment tinkering around the edges and looking at service systems and ways to improve them will not necessarily get us any further advanced because it leaves in place in lots of ways, the structural disadvantage that's embedded. So, if we continue to just try and fix service systems, we're really not going to get anywhere.
We need at some point to break and say, this doesn't work and we need to go back and look at how alternatives can be framed. So why do we continue with group homes? Why are we not putting leadership and effort into accessible and affordable accommodation? Accessible and affordable housing?
Affordable housing is an issue for lots of the population. Not just people with disability. But let's make it for everybody and break some of that nexus between housing disadvantage for people with disability and segregation in group homes for people with disability.
It's been shown time and again that closed congregate environments are enablers of violence and abuse. If we continue to foster segregated living situations, we're continuing to foster violence and abuse.
Nas Campanella: Group homes was just one of the many topics that was explored or that has been explored at the Disability Royal Commission. You've been one of the witnesses. Can you talk us through some of the things that might have surprised or shocked you or is this all stuff that you already know?
Rosemary Kayess: Sadly, it's stuff that we were expecting. It's stuff that's been known and experiences that have been around for a very, very long time. And, I mean, the call for a Royal Commission into violence and abuse was a long time coming.
The disability movement were really quite active around this for a long time. But it took ages for us to get traction but - and I mean I don't put myself in that group of people. I was one of the academics that called for the Royal Commission. But we came to the party late in the piece. It was the true advocates that did all the fighting. It was the experiences they were railing against. They wanted a sense of justice and they wanted it to stop.
Sadly, the data is really quite damning and really quite sad. I didn't know that so many people with disability have experienced violence and abuse. Sometimes on a daily basis in their own homes and it's a home not of their choosing and lots of times not with staff of their choosing. It's just sad that they're in that powerless situation. And it's damning on our society that they are in that situation.
Nas Campanella: Let's turn to the impact of COVID-19 now. You have said before that in times you have felt dispensable during this pandemic. Can you talk us through that and through some of the things that you know have been experienced by people in the disability community?
Rosemary Kayess: COVID has been a very interesting time for everybody, as Shane pointed out. The adjectives for 2020 will be many various, hilarious and poignant, I would say.
For me COVID was an interesting experience, and I don't say this lightly or tritely but I'm extremely privileged in my situation. I have my own home. I have people, a very loyal support team around me. People who work for me only work for me. So, I was actually really lucky that, you know, my transmission risks were fairly low.
But, you know, I still couldn't get access to PPE for various reasons. I also, because of my paralysis, have a weakness in terms of respiratory illness. And so, the idea of something that is going to affect my lungs and give me pneumonia scares the daylights out of me. So, I was deeply concerned during COVID.
I spent, you know, the first few weeks being extremely worried, but I got over that. We got a plan together, and things were fine. Like, I'm an academic. Transferring on to the online world was not a problem. I could work from home. I was reasonably comfortable in that. I missed the corridor conversation of work but, you know, we coped. And then I was asked to be part of the development of a statement of concern around responses from various countries around the world to people with disability and access to critical care and the use of disability as a trigger for not receiving critical care.
So having access to intensive care units and ventilators. Some of these responses were around listing diagnostic groups. So, it wasn't being based on a clinical assessment. It was being just based on an arbitrary diagnostic group. That was really confronting. That was very confronting. I mean, I knew. I'm not a silly person. I'm actually quite an educated person. And so, you know, I vaguely knew if I got it and I got a decent dose of it, things weren't going to be pretty. But I sort of had this sense that I'd at least be given a chance.
But seeing some of the drafts and the stuff that was coming from overseas, you know, Canada, Spain usually, the UK, it was really quite frightening. It was basically saying that if I got it, I wouldn't get a chance at ICU. I wouldn't get a chance at getting through it. That really did highlight to me that disability is seen as something that's not really valued within our society. That we should, you know, be prepared because we are not the same as everybody else, to not be able to access services when there is a higher need for other more valued groups in the community. That's exactly how it came across to me.
And I normally - my disability is a frustration for me. I am well paid. I live very well. I have a loving family that I have access to. I've got a great social life. My disability is a frustration more than a, you know, torment to me. But this is where my disability was, you know, up front in my face. You would not be considered worthy of saving.
Nas Campanella: There was obviously so much that can be learnt from the experience of the pandemic and the UN seem, for example, for International Day of People with Disability last week was building back, you know, better future beyond COVID. How can we do that in a human rights way?
Rosemary Kayess: People with disabilities are very often just labelled vulnerable. They're lumped into this vulnerable group. When people with disability aren't necessarily inherently vulnerable.
It's the inequality and the discrimination that they experience that leads to that vulnerability. It's the discrimination in education, it’s the discrimination and inequality in economic life that leaves 45% of the Australian population of people with a disability living in poverty.
It's the legal structures that keep people with disability separated from being able to get out of situations of inequality and discrimination. So legislative frameworks that, you know, keep people in managed finances and also in certain living situations.
And also, congregate care leaves people vulnerable to A, it was vulnerable to risk of transmission during the virus. We've seen that congregate care leaves people vulnerable to violence, abuse, expectation and neglect.
It is those mechanisms of inequality and disadvantage and discrimination that make people with disability vulnerable. They're not necessarily inherently vulnerable. And so, if we want to build that better we have to address that inherent inequality and discrimination. If we want an equitable, sustainable, and resilient society then we all need to be safe.
We all need to be participating and have access to society. And be able to engage and be part of any responses to any situation that threatens our society. And COVID just demonstrated that that's not the case for people with disability. Congregate care was highlighted with the break outs within aged care homes. Also, within disability facilities during the second wave in Victoria. In a psychiatric facility in Victoria as well.
So, the various mechanisms that segregate people with disability were also the mechanisms that increase their risk of COVID. So, if we want to build that better, we've got to break down that inequality and discrimination.
Nas Campanella: I mean, it's fair to say the thing we've been asking for out of COVID are things we've been asking for, for a very long time. Perhaps COVID might shine a light on some of that.
Rosemary Kayess: Yeah. All COVID did was expose that inequality and discrimination. It didn't create it. It was already there. People with disability were already experiencing that disadvantage. What COVID did was shine a spotlight on it. But also shine a spotlight on the risks that that then posed for the rest of society.
Nas Campanella: I guess really demonstrating to many people that, you know, we haven't been in this together, whether it be a pandemic or whether it be bushfires or whatever comes our way as a society. We're not all equal.
Rosemary Kayess: No, no. If we can't respond to the whole society and, I mean, that was so evident in the response to COVID. People with disability were a risk group. They were definitely a risk group, but they were not part of the initial response.
Disability was not effectively dealt with until mid to late April. Now, the initial response was back in February. You know, that's two months later when you're talking about a virus that's got the transmission rate that COVID-19 has got. That's a significant time lag.
Nas Campanella: If individuals want to be good allies to people with disability and, you know, a lot when we talk about human rights and the convention it's all, sort of, on a large scale, but as individuals what can people do? How can they do that?
Rosemary Kayess: Recognise people with disability as human beings. Take us at face value. Accept us for our positives and our flaws. Don't expect us to be super humans. I don't know.
Allies are about being partners and one of the hardest things for people with disability is the recognition that disability doesn't define us. I mean, my disability is not the be all and end all of my life. I mean, I don't know whether you agree with me, Nas. You know, I'm a woman. I'm also pretty lazy. I'm a horrible - look, I'm a real chatty drunk. Disability is not my entire life. It is not who I am.
And so don't define us by our disability. Don't segregate us in legislation. We are women too. We are Aboriginal as well. We come from Muslim backgrounds. We come from Chinese backgrounds. You know, but disability, we get lumped into this disability pile and never shall we be part of anything else. Heaven forbid, you know, we want to be heterosexual or bisexual or asexual.
Nas Campanella: Or a mum or carer to someone else.
Rosemary Kayess: Yeah. So, you know, we get gender neutral policy in disability. We get disability neutral policy in women's legislation and policy. You know, in Aboriginal policy we get disability neutral policy. It just defies belief that disability has to be the all-consuming element of a person's life.
So, we need to put you in these, you know, special disability things because you have a disability. Well, you know, there are other aspects to a person's life and so it's about embracing disability. You know, as just one part of the human condition. Impairment is not abnormal. Impairment is just one element of the human condition. The variety that is what it is to be a human being.
Nas Campanella: I guess in a sense it's also - I mean, I personally agree with everything you've said. It would just be great for people to stop seeing disability for the deficits, which is all anyone ever seems to focus on.
Rosemary Kayess: Yeah. I mean, disability has to equate with deficit. What we do is we focus on that deficit and that deficit - impairment is a really, really funny thing. When I teach sometimes, I will do, you know, ask the students in the lecture or the seminar, you know, who identifies as being somebody with an impairment.
You know, I don't want your gory details or anything like that. I just want to know if you're a person with an impairment. There's generally always about a third of the class that's in denial. They sit there with their glasses on their face, and they haven't got a clue. But, I mean, that's just it. We normalise some deficits quite easily. We normalise eye care and eye health into our society where people who wear glasses don't recognise the impairment that they have.
Now, you take those same people to Zimbabwe and take their glasses away from them. A colleague of mine lost his glasses in Zimbabwe and getting them replaced was a nightmare. It took him four weeks when he was working over there. He literally became very disabled while he was there because he couldn't access his papers. He couldn't negotiate transport easily or money easily or anything like that.
So, it really does write home that social structures can really, really change whether a person has a deficit or not. So, a deficit isn't necessarily in the individual. A deficit is in the society that we just haven't made us - built a society that can cope with the individual impairments that the full repertoire of the human condition throws up.
Nas Campanella: And what, if anything, gives you hope for the future?
Rosemary Kayess: That we're doing this, Nas! You know, bright young thing ABC, I'm going to get credit points for Triple J person chatting with me. Look, 15 years ago it would have been unlikely that I would have been in conversation with a young journalist of your calibre with a disability. 20 years ago, it's highly unlikely that I would have had the level of academic position that I do have within the UNSW. Things are progressing.
So, I have actually quite a positive outlook for the future. I think there's some really, really fabulous people out there doing some really hard work and things are changing slowly. It would be good if we could get some good strategic leadership that commits us to breaking down some of those core structures that hold people back. And that we don't have to be superheroes to make it. We can just be ourselves. Like me, highly disorganised. A little bit lazy.
But, you know, you get there in the end if you don't have to fight the system as well. So, there is hope and I think if you and I can be having this conversation today then who knows what the conversation will be in five years’ time, and how easily it will be done, and disability will be only one small aspect of the conversation.
Nas Campanella: Rosemary, thank you so much for your time. Congratulations, again, on the medal. It has been a huge pleasure to talk to you today. Thank you very much.
Rosemary Kayess: Thank you so much, Nas. NAS: Can I also thank our sponsors for today, Konica Minolta, and King & Wood Mallesons. Thank you very much.