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Rosemary Kayess: Human Rights Day Oration 2020

Rights and Freedoms

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Watch Human Rights Medal winner Rosemary Kayess present the 2020 Human Rights Day Oration.

Rosemary Kayess is a leading human rights advocate for people with disability in Australia and worldwide. Rosemary contributed to drafting the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) and successfully lobbied for its ratification in Australia. Last year, Rosemary was awarded the prestigious 2019 Human Rights Medal in recognition of her work in international human rights law for people with disability.

Rosemary was in conversation with ABC’s disability affairs reporter, Nas Campanella, as they discussed Rosemary’s work with the Disability Royal Commission, as well as the social transformation of CRPD and the impact it has had on the community.

The event began with a discussion of the concept of 'Ableism' and how it manifests in Australia. 

"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 so anybody who sits outside that norm finds they encounter barriers to be able to participate within our social structures that we as a society create," said Rosemary Kayess.

"And so those barriers create disadvantage for people with impairments that sit outside that very narrow definition of what it is to be human."

Rosemary explored the legacy of segregation and how that has affected, and continues to affect, people with disability - and also those without disability - from a young age, starting with the education system. 

"We need to structure education and meet the needs of all students, not just students that meet a very strict able norm," said Rosemary Kayess.

"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."

"It's not a quick fix. It is a significant social transformation and it will need planning and it will need leadership."

Rosemary talked about the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on her personally, and on other people with disability, and the need for structural and systemic, rather than incremental change - and also her hopes for the future post-COVID-19.

"Fifteen years ago it would have been unlikely that I would have been in conversation with a young journalist of your calibre with a disability," Rosemary said to Nas Campanella, the ABC's disability affairs reporter.

"Twenty 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." 

The 2020 Human Rights Day Oration is co-sponsored by Konica Minolta and King & Wood Mallesons.  

Konica Minolta is a market-leading provider of integrated solutions and managed services with the power to transform business environments. Our vision is to be a global company that is vital to society, and we were proud to have been awarded the Human Rights Award 2018 for showing leadership in human rights in business.

Recognised as one of the world’s most innovative law firms, King & Wood Mallesons offers a different perspective to commercial thinking and the client experience. With access to a global platform, a team of over 2400 lawyers in 28 locations around the world works with clients to help them understand local challenges, navigate through regional complexity, and to find commercial solutions that deliver a competitive advantage for our clients.

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