by Christina Ryan, DLI CEO
In the wake of the Disability Royal Commission, many Disability Leadership Institute (DLI) members have been asking “what now?” Further conversations have recognised that the status quo is not an option, and that disability leadership is vital to the way forward.
The federal government has declared its intention to establish a task force to examine the Royal Commission recommendations and develop a government response to them, but what will that look like?
Had the Royal Commission report been released more than five years ago, things would be different, but a shift has since occurred, and we now know that disability leadership is widespread, available, and capable of leading the response and implementation processes.
Disability Leadership Institute members have been discussing what disability leadership must look like during this critical period and have determined two key areas of focus for the disability community:
- Expect to be at the forefront
Historically, disabled people have been pushed into politely asking to be included. Disabled people have tapped delicately on doors and waited to be allowed entry to decision making and agenda setting rooms. Often those rooms haven’t even been accessible.
Beyond the Royal Commission it is now time to move towards “expecting” positions of decision making and leadership, including the expectation that the government task force is led by a disabled person and most of its staff are also disabled people.
This expectation extends to other governments and their responses, plus a wider expectation that disability services and other industries (like health and education) also have disability leadership guiding implementation processes. For many this will involve building levels of disability leadership as an urgent priority.
Centuries of conditioning have told disabled people that anything beyond politely asking is aggressive or rude. These are deliberate mechanisms used by those in power to prevent marginalised voices from gaining access to the centre of things – to preserve the status quo. It is now time to turn to expecting to be in the room as we disrupt the status quo and design our own future.
One major theme of Royal Commission recommendations centres on ending segregation.
Many conversations, opinion pieces and lobbying efforts in the public domain since the Royal Commission report was released have attempted to qualify what segregation is and have justified retaining it in some form. DLI members, alongside many in the disability community, have been clear about the importance of ending segregation and ensuring that this pivotal moment to do so is not lost. Some DLI members have formed action groups and others have used their public profiles to raise awareness about this central aspect of ableism. Noticeable for its absence in these circles has been any argument to continue segregating disabled people.
A key plank in the segregation of disabled people has been the historical development of an entire lexicon of euphemisms designed to soften segregation’s harsh reality, to make its continuation more palatable to those who wield it. Words like special, specialist, and sheltered have become synonymous with disability services. Those words must now disappear.
Now is the time to cease euphemising segregation and start calling it what it is – deliberate separation that keeps disabled people away from mainstream communities and which perpetuates damaging attitudes and fear of those who are different. It is one of the root causes of ableism.
Disability leaders have a role to play in using the language of truth and being unafraid to do so. Its time to cease protecting the sensibilities of those who have created and perpetuated separation, and the world of patronising protectionism, and start naming the ableism that it represents.
Disabled people have a right to be in the world alongside everyone else. Disability leaders expect to take the lead and must be in the forefront in building the implementation of the Royal Commission’s findings. Given that many have suggested the Royal Commission’s recommendations might be viewed as conservative, as they stem largely from non-disabled voices, they should also be seen as a baseline rather than something that needs further negotiation.
The time for disability leadership is now as we move into expecting outcomes and expecting disability leadership. Our days of tapping politely on the door and asking for permission are over.
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Christina Ryan is the CEO of the Disability Leadership Institute, which provides professional development and support for disability leaders. She identifies as a disabled person.