Assistance Dogs 101

My Assistance Dog is medical equipment
If you wouldn’t freak out when someone went past you in a wheelchair, don’t freak out when I go past you with my dog. He may be the only dog you see that day, but you won’t be the only person who makes a scene over him. Every time you call out to a Service Dog, they get distracted from the job they’re doing. Depending on what service the dog provides, that distraction is at best an inconvenience, and at worst deadly.

Speak to the handler not the dog 
If you encounter a service dog team, please speak to the handler not the dog! Basically, treat the handler as you would any other person – if you wouldn’t interrupt someone without a dog in that situation, don’t do it just because they have a service dog with them. Sometimes I just want to get a coffee without having twenty people ask me what breed he is. Animated gif

Not speaking to an Assistance Dog includes things like making kissing noises or anything else like that at them. My dog is trained to perform a lot of tasks and behaviours in response to both verbal and physical cues. That can be as small as me clicking my tongue to let him know that we’re working, or as big as gesturing that it’s playtime. That means that when you make noises or gesture at him, he thinks you’re asking him to do something and starts focusing on you instead of his job.

There’s nothing quite as distracting when I’m trying to get to work as my dog suddenly playing dead because he thinks that’s what the person next to him in the elevator is asking for.

Don’t ask what assistance the dog provides
If my Assistance Dog and I are entering your venue, you have the right to ask us to identify ourselves, but that does not include any information about my medical conditions or what services my dog provides. We are obliged to show my identity card, and my dog has to be wearing an identifying coat/harness, but that’s it. It is incredibly invasive to ask what my dog does for me, and even beyond that, it is really inconvenient when people are constantly stopping me to talk about my dog.

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Save the touching for dogs who aren’t wearing vests please! And always ask before touching a strange dog.

My Assistance Dog is a no-touch zone
My Assistance Dog is an extension of me in many ways, so just like you shouldn’t go around touching strangers, you shouldn’t touch my Assistance Dog. He gets lots of time to be a regular dog, and make friends with both humans and other dogs, but the time for that is not when he is in his vest. Just like speaking to them, touching an Assistance Dog is a huge distraction. I might be on my way to a meeting when I need my dog to lie quietly next to me, but if you make him think it is playtime neither he nor I will be able to sit through that meeting.

Please don’t ask if you can have a pat or cuddle, because it is exhausting to have to reject these requests. If it is time for him to have cuddles with my friends, family, or strangers on the street, I will take his vest off (just like when he goes to the dog off leash area!). Animated gif 

Don’t feed the gremlin after midnight
Actually, just don’t feed an Assistance Dog ever, no matter how much cuter than a gremlin it may be. Food is just about the biggest distraction you could offer my Assistance Dog, so please don’t. He’s like a toddler with candy, and already gets plenty of food at home!

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I just really wish I was cute enough to get away with napping on the job like this little guy.

A napping dog is not necessarily off duty
One of the first and most important tasks an Assistance Dog will learn is to relax next to its handler. If I could nap at work and still do my job I totally would, so why shouldn’t my Assistance Dog? He is still ready to respond as soon as he hears one of his cues, so if you take his nap as an opportunity to interact with him, we run into all of those same problems from earlier.

Inform the handler if the dog approaches you
An essential pre-requisite of any Assistance Dog is that it enjoys human companionship. While some prefer the company of their handler, many are intensely social creatures. That means that sometimes, even when you are doing everything right, they might get distracted and approach you. If that happens, please alert their handler if they have not already noticed, as they will usually need to ask their dog to focus back on them and the task at hand.Animated gif

Every Assistance Dog is different 
Just like every person is unique, no two Assistance Dogs are the same. Each one has its own personality, tasks, and relationship with its handler. My Assistance Dog wakes me up by 7am every morning because he wants to watch the birds from the front deck before it gets too hot. I know another Assistance Dog that loves sleep so much his handler has to wake him up three stops before theirs so that he’s ready to lead her off the bus. Neither of those behaviours makes them any less capable of doing their jobs extremely well.

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Every dog is…different. So why not every Assistance Dog?

I’d rather not need a service dog but having one increases my independence, and means that I can now do things that I couldn’t do without him. He’s so much more than just a pet that I happen to take to work with me, and it’s so important that he is allowed to do his job to the best of his ability. By following this advice, you’re helping to make that possible.

Author’s note: Assistance Dog laws (and even terminology!) vary from state to state in Australia – especially ID requirements – but the basic etiquette for being around Assistance Dogs is generally the same. To find out more about the legal differences from state to state, you can check out more information here: www.humanrights.gov.au/our-work/disability-rights/projects/assistance-animals-and-disability-discrimination-act-1992-cth

Dear Parking Referees

You see a person walking away from parking their car in a disabled parking space. They look perfectly healthy. What do you do?

Generally, it seems like people take up one of three options. It’s like a choose-your-own-adventure flashes before their eyes.

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People, presumably. Hint: the answer is at the end of this post.
  1. Confront them – it’s outrageous that a healthy person is taking up that car space!
  2. Loudly  comment on their selfishness – you don’t want to get into an argument but at least they’ll know that they’re in the wrong, and hopefully they’ll think twice before doing that again. What would their grandmother think??
  3. Say nothing – it’s none of your business.

On a purely anecdotal front I feel like most people choose one of the first two, even if realistically I know that I don’t notice the people who notice me but don’t do anything. But I do have cause to feel this way. Mostly because I am harassed frequently enough that my mother doesn’t like me leaving the car without a mobility aid. Not because she is worried about people’s perception of me. She is scared for me. And for good reason.

Most people just have a few sharp comments for me and calm down once I explain that I have a genetic condition that effects my heart and joints, or see my wheelchair. But it doesn’t stop there.

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Times when I wish I had my dog to back me up: always.

I have been verbally assaulted so aggressively that I was too afraid to get out of the car and had to drive away. It wasn’t until I got home and was asked whether I called the police that I realised that was even an option. I could not stop shaking for hours. I cried unexpectedly for days. And this tirade was from someone who acknowledged that I had a wheelchair and crutches in the back of my car, and that I was trying to attend an important medical appointment, and still thought I didn’t have the right to use that car space.

I didn’t want to write about this issue, because it has been talked about so much in disability advocacy circles that I felt like it was tired. I thought that I was over it, but it turns out I am not.

Animated gif from 'Easy A' with Olive saying "I'm not judging you or anything but oh my god"
Literally what strangers do.

I am used to walking through the judgemental looks and sharp whispers on my way to pull my wheelchair out of the boot of my car. I am used to calmly providing strangers with more information about my medical history than they have a right to (hint: they don’t have a right to any of it). I am used to people assuming a lot about me.

But every now and again something happens that throws me, that brings me back to the world that the people who love me live in. The one where people are scared or outraged by the way that people behave towards me. Things that push me beyond being able to just laugh it off.

Today it was a group of teenage boys calling out about whether I was a fake cripple. But there is no telling what it will be tomorrow, or next week, or next year.

It is not okay. And I shouldn’t feel like it is already talked about enough because it is still happening. By definition, that means we are not talking about it enough.

If you can’t see a Disabled Parking Permit on display, don’t freak out. A simple “Hey mate, sorry to interrupt you, I was just wondering if you have a disabled parking permit?” is the way to go.

If you can see a permit on display, it’s even easier. Leave them alone.

 

An Open Letter to the Department of Transport and Main Roads…Part 2

Australian Disability Parking Permit

 

A scroll through the Queensland government website would inform you that after applying for an Australian Disability Parking Permit, “You will receive notification by post of approval or refusal of an Australian permit within approximately 28 days from when your application is received”. But don’t be deceived.

Having waited 56 days and multiple phone calls before receiving it last year (more on that experience in part one of this letter), I planned ahead this year.

With my permit set to expire on 20 March, I went to the Chermside Department of Main Roads and Transport customer service centre, and applied for a renewal of my permit on 1 February 2016. On 10 February I received a letter (curiously dated 25 January 2016) stating that although the application had been received, it could not be processed as it should have been accompanied by a processing fee. I returned to the Chermside centre on 12 February, processed the payment, and was assured that my application would now be processed.
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(Interestingly, your website says that when renewing a permit you don’t have to pay the processing fee again, but I have since been informed that only applies to five year permits. Your words on why I wasn’t charged the fee when I went to the customer centre and my application was ‘processed’? It is a confusing system and staff don’t always know what the rules are. How reassuring.)

Having heard nothing further, I phoned the department on 30 March, and was told that processing had not begun as they hadn’t realised that payment had been received. The supervisor had already left for the day, but would call me the next day to discuss it more. Said supervisor phoned on 31 March to confirm that processing had been completed and the permit sent to the printers, and I would receive the permit in 7-10 days.
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Now 60 days after lodging my application, with my permit having expired eleven days ago, I was starting to feel a little desperate, and asked whether there was any interim system that would mean I could leave the house independently while I waited for the permit. The only advice he could offer me was that next year I ensure my doctor writes “five years/permanent” instead of “1-2 years”, so I would not have to navigate this process annually.
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I did not expect my doctor’s optimism that the last five years of chronic illness and disability would not stretch into a seventh to be such a barrier to my right to access society.

With my permit expired and university mid-semester break over, I am left with the unfortunate reality that I will not be physically able to attend my classes at university without use of the disabled car spaces I usually rely on throughout the campus. With such a comprehensive system as the Australian Disability Parking Permits in place, UQ no longer offers its own short term permits.

I don’t know what makes one month the period of time which it is appropriate for someone to be deprived access to society. Maybe it’s how long it takes for taxi money to run out? Or for our friends and relatives to become sick of ferrying us from doorstep to doorstep? Maybe it really does take a whole 28 days to ensure the doctor that said the permit was required is a real and qualified person and pack a piece of paper into an envelope?

Maybe it’s just that 28 days is the longest they think they can set while still sounding reasonable. But there is no point in setting a timeframe if people can’t rely on it. Last year it was 56 days. This year it is 65 days and counting.
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In just the last 14 months, I’ve spent a third of a year waiting for the department to get their act together. I’ve nearly collapsed twice because you called me, my crutches, and my numbered ticket to discuss a disability parking permit, up to a standing-only desk, and then having to crane up from my wheelchair at that same desk a third time.

It’s time to take responsibility and treat the people with disabilities who come to you with respect and consideration. Be upfront about your waiting periods, train your staff on the correct procedures, and put mechanisms in place to track and follow up the process of applications to ensure you meet the 28 day waiting period.

Telling me I’m simply unlucky and will just have to be patient isn’t good enough.


 

Have you or someone you know had a bad experience applying for you permit? Get in touch!

Choosing Mobility Aids

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I’ve had a few questions about how to chose a mobility aid or how to know when it is time to get one (or a new one), so I thought I’d put a summary of my experience here.

Before I say any of this, there are a few obvious caveats – maintaining muscle tone and mobilising regularly is really important for ongoing maintenance of health. Advice from a medical professional who understands your condition and its ongoing management is definitely worthwhile. As with any treatment option, you make the decision, but it’s worth at least getting their perspective first if possible. It might even come with some assistance getting funding for whatever aid you go for.

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There’s a lot to choose from, and it’s confusing.

In my experience, and talking to others who have gone through this process, if you are thinking about a new mobility aid, it’s probably because you need it. The thing about aids is that our society is so inaccessible that if you find it easier to get around with whatever aid you use than without it, you probably need it.

The main argument against my getting mobility aids was definitely loss of muscle tone caused by relying on them instead of exercising normally. The thing is, I wasn’t leaving the house because I literally couldn’t do that ‘normal’ walking. So I wasn’t getting that exercise and muscle tone anyway.

Cane/Walking Stick

These are definitely the easiest and cheapest mobility aid to try out. We’re talking a collapsable cane with a fun pattern for less than $30.

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This could be you!

Pros:

  • They’re pretty good if your problems mostly occur in one leg at a time, or are usually worse in one leg at a time;
  • Can help with balance;
  • Can help with using stairs;
  • Provides a visible reason that you need a seat in public (e.g. on public transport) or when you’re about to have an unscheduled floor meeting.

Cons:

  • They’re not super helpful if you are having bad problems with both legs, or when you can’t weight bear at all on one leg for a long period of time;
  • They put a lot of pressure on your wrist, even if you get one with an ergonomic grip to help your hands.

Crutches

There are three main types of crutches: axillary, forearm, and gutter.

  1. Axillary crutches are the ones you get if you have a sympathetic doctor when you sprain your ankle – most of your weight is borne on your underarms, which can cause some serious problems particularly in the long term.
  2. Forearm crutches are used for more chronic conditions or longer term rehabilitation – the idea is similar to a walking stick, but with a loose plastic band around your forearm for extra stability.
  3. Gutter crutches are the most uncommon of these three because they’re super inconvenient, so they’re really only used when pressure on hands/wrists is just as detrimental as pressure on the legs. The forearm is strapped to a panel on the crutch rests at a right angle to the shaft of the crutch, and to the upper arm.

I use a brand of crutches called Smart Crutches, which are basically a cross between forearm and gutter crutches. They’re more expensive than regular crutches, but are also a lot more comfortable. Most importantly for me, the angle can be adjusted from 15-90 degrees to provide extra support to your wrist.

Pros:

  • Can be used when both legs need support, or when one leg cannot weight bear at all;
  • Help with balance;
  • Can still be used getting up and down stairs and navigating public transport etc with relative convenience.

Cons:

  • You can’t carry anything, even a meal or drink from counter to table, and other things like shoulder bags are also a no-go;
  • More expensive than a cane – absolute minimum is $40 for a pair, but it’s easy to spend $100-$200 for a nice/comfortable pair.

Walker/Rollator

I haven’t actually used these outside of showrooms, because unfortunately using them there and my research showed that they weren’t the right aid for me, at least at the moment. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t the right one for you!

Pros:

  • More stability and help with balance than crutches or a cane can provide because they have more than two points of contact with the ground at set and stable angles;
  • Generally speaking, they are more easily collapsable and lightweight than a wheelchair;
  • Can carry things like a dinner tray or small amount of groceries on an attached tray/trolly feature;
  • You can get forearm walkers to take the pressure off your wrists.

Cons:

  • They don’t work if you can’t bear weight on one of your legs;
  • You can’t use them on stairs, which may block you from accessing some building, public transport, etc.;
  • They can be really expensive – you’re looking at $50-$1,000 or even more depending on features and quality.

Wheelchair

These come with such a wide range of features that one can provide a completely different experience from the next. You can go fully manual, fully electric, power assist wheel rims, power assist units with joysticks, even stuff like this.

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Me, every time I go down a ramp.

Pros:

  • They are so good for balance – seriously the decrease in unscheduled floor visits is incredible;
  • Good for travelling long distances, particularly when you have an electric chair or a friend to help push your manual one;
  • If you can sit, you can find a wheelchair that will work for you (although they also come in the standing variety)
  • You can get them pretty collapsable with wheels popping off, everything else can fold in (some of them get down to 10kg and possible to fit in overhead airline luggage space);
  • You can get extra features like trays, wheelchair backpacks, cupholders – basically depending on your funding options you can find a way to do most things with a wheelchair that you could do without (including going to the beach or swimming).

Cons:

  • They are not designed for chronic pain, they are designed for mobility – that means that if sitting upright is painful to you, particularly with a lot of back issues, the longer you stay in the chair the more pain you will be in;
  • If you have issues with fatigue or grip pushing a manual wheelchair will be a serious struggle, particularly up ramps and hills;
  • You can’t go anywhere with stairs, which will lock you out of a lot of buildings and public transport, and will mean that sometimes you have to go a very very very long way around to get where you’re going;
  • They are so expensive. Oh my goodness. Pretty much a $400 minimum, going up to well over $10,000.

There it is, my attempt at summarising a vast multitude of facts with all the bias and inaccuracies that a single person’s perspective will bring. Comment with your experiences and recommendations!

 

Wheelchair Debut

I used my wheelchair for the first time at uni today, and I learnt a lot of things, some of which I expected, some of which I didn’t. Here are some of the highlights.

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This miniture horse makes me feel seriously inferior due to being significantly cuter, and significantly faster at wheeling than myself. Also that hairstyle.

9:35am – I remember why I haven’t tried to use a wheelchair at UQ until now. I emerge from the blissful cool of my car to the 30 degree heat, and fact the facts. There are stairs everywhere. Having parked in the disabled parking, I have two options: I can go 100m to my right to a ramp into the building next to the building I want to go into, or I can go 100m to my left, to a ramp which leads to a set of stairs into the building I want to go into. These big life decisions are the complex dilemmas that I always dreamed of facing when I went to university.

9:45am – I still haven’t made it to the top of the ramp. It is my Everest. The heat is making me dizzy. My arms feel like they might be about to fall off. A groundskeeper has paused under the shade of a tree to watch me with a mixture of confusion and concern.

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9:50am – I have made it into the air-conditioning. I’m still not actually in the building I want to be in, but that’s a minor detail. I might just sleep here for a while. Just a few years. Nope, turns out I’ve parked myself in front of a supplies closet and the person trying to access it is too scared or nice to ask me to move, so is just awkwardly shifting from foot to foot as if they need the bathroom. Turns out my arms are still attached and capable of rolling me to the next building over.

9:52am – A lot of people stare. By which I mean most people stare. Wheeling down the hall kind of felt like walking down a catwalk in fashion week (my outfit was pretty stunning after all). Unlike fashion week, I was allowed to smile. I’m happy to report that about 90% of them would return my smile once I noticed them staring.

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I can pretend this is what is happening right?

10:30am – UQ really likes to have faulty lifts (see earlier shenanigans). The poor librarian’s face was a picture of terror as I rolled away from the blocked off lift towards him, because he already knew what I was going to ask. It’s okay. In this particular instance there was another maintenance lift that I could use. The problems would arise if I wanted to access the other tower, which didn’t have a lift available.

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Exclusive preview: UQ’s new elevator design.

10:45am – It turns out I can do a wheelie. It was unintentional. It was terrifying. I am a little surprised I didn’t fall out the back of my chair, and I have no idea how to repeat the exercise. But I did a wheelie. I don’t know that I ever want to experience that surprising am I about to fall heels over head again.

11:45am – Original doors as an architectural feature suck. It’s not just that the wood is chipped by age and the thousands of students who have crashing into it over the years. These doors are difficult with crutches, but they’re impossible with a chair. My favourite architectural decision is where they put wheelchair accessible bathrooms behind these doors.

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Me, every time I go down a ramp.

12pm – I love smooth marble tiles. Carpet is exhausting. Grass is difficult. I don’t even want to talk about pebbles. Tiles are glorious. And going down ramps is nirvana. I’m so close to the air-conditioning of my car and then the delightful pre-made lunch I have waiting for me at home, followed by a nice long nap.

12:45pm – Beeeeeeeddddddd.

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The “Disability Burden”

'The Australian' newspaper front page with the title "Disability a $17 Billion Burden"
'The Australian' newspaper front page with the title
The Australian newspaper’s Monday 2 November 2015 front cover.

Last week The Australian published an article under the headline “Disability a $17 Billion Burden”. The article itself is not completely problematic – it even points out that a “detailed study last year showed that much of the growth in the DSP had come from the ageing of the population, an ­increase in the retirement age for women and a major shift in other income support programs.” So I’m glad to hear that despite the offensive title, The Australian isn’t perpetuating our national conversation where disability payments are the first on the chopping block, while also being the first to be listed as underfunded social services. The assumption that because “this costs a lot it must be a burden on us, it must be something that is wrong”.

What is problematic is the blatant classification of people with disabilities as not only failing to contributing to society, but actively being of detriment to it. Even worse than that headline is the fact that the Minister for Social Services, Christian Porter, used this same phrase.

Christian Porter Tweet

The comments on the article are really where you see the problem with the headline and its encouragement of already rampant societal ableism. Some of them are pretty general dismissiveness.

“Everyone is vulnerable including tax payers asked to work harder for longer to pay for an ever increasing numbers of malingerers” – Rob.

“Time to become more self sufficient, get on with it and stop whining” – Raymond.

Some of them are downright confusing attempts to rank suffering.

“People who are born with disability’s are being forced to compete with once able bodied persons” – Rodney.

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“If you’ve got better than 50% function in all your limbs and an IQ over 75 you’re not disabled. Everything else is garbage and an invitation to malinger” – Jason.

I’m not quite sure why having a relatively normal childhood makes my current inability to do something as simple as go to the shops less valid.

I also don’t know exactly how to quantify 50% limb function, but then, I am neither a medical professional nor a legislator. In fact, I am so unaware of what is normal for the human body that I turned twenty before I learned that walking to the local shops doesn’t make most people hurt and feel like they are about to vomit and/or faint. I also thought that there was nothing wrong that a pressure bandage wouldn’t fix when I played volleyball with a recurrent partially dislocated wrist for three years. The internalised ableism of ‘just get on with it’ is pretty strong, so it’s probably not always safe to assume people are lazy and melodramatic.

If you want more quantifiable categories, the government is actually a lot more specific than 50% limb function. There is a very interesting piece of legislation that details exactly what you have to not be able to do in order to be considered sufficiently impaired. There are four categories of functional impairment: mild, moderate, severe, and extreme. The part that I find most interesting about this form of assessment is that you can have a moderate functional impairment in all fifteen categories without qualifying for the DSP. An example of a moderate impact? “The person is unable to sustain work activity or other tasks for more than 2 hours without a break due to symptoms”. Can you imagine multiplying that level of everyday difficulty by fifteen different categories, and then being told that you’re a malingerer and ineligible?

There’s also this gem of a comment, by someone who clearly has literally no idea of how the Disability Support Pension is assessed:

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This is what I imagine Gej thinks Centrelink employee do all day…

“It all began when Keating did away with the impartial Commonwealth Medical Officers of Health who adjudicated at arms length on applicants claiming a Disability Pension. Now it’s decided by non medical office dwellers at Centrelink who at first gave everyone a pension to get them off the Unemployment figures and make the Federal Government look good” – Gej.

In case you are curious, there are a lot of requirements to hurdle before you get anywhere near that pension. You don’t just need to provide evidence your condition is “fully diagnosed, treated, and stabilised”, and that you will not be able to work more than 15 hours per week in the next 2 years. You will also need to attend a Disability Medical Assessment with a government selected medical professional, and a Job Capacity Assessment with another government official. If you are under 35, you’ll also have to attend regular participation interviews (because under-35s are intrinsically less trust worthy).

As with all funding for disability, you’ll also have to wait a while. The Centrelink staff I talked to about getting help with medical expenses were incredibly helpful in going through the different options that I should apply for in the mean time, because the DSP application will take a while.

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Similarly to the Queensland Disability Services funding where you phone up, receive a call back in about a week, after which they will take a few days to send you forms. Once you have those forms and fill them out, you can expect to wait a few weeks until you hear back from them about whether you qualify for an independent assessment. All up you’re looking at a 3-4 month wait to find out whether you’re eligible for mobility aid funding. Funding that you are not allowed to apply retrospectively to any aids that you might have purchased in that time. Like, say, the wheelchair you might need in order to go shopping.

So maybe instead of talking about how people are malingerers, you should consider the fact that approximately 20% of Australians have a disability, and an additional 20% have a long term health condition. Despite that, just under 5.5% of Australians receive a Disability Support Pension, just under 25% of who are over the age of 60.

One last thing – on average in OECD countries, 22% of households containing a person receiving disability benefits live in poverty. That gap is significantly higher in five countries: Australia, the UK, the USA, Ireland, and South Korea. That doesn’t sound like the easy life.

Student Politics Season

An image of UQ, full of Reform and Thrive campaigners.

The UQU elections are happening. That two weeks of the year when regular uni students get to dodge their politically active peers. Where campaigners run around like energiser bunnies, their brightly coloured T-Shirts emblazoned with bold verbs holding some tenuous connection to the party’s ideals. Don’t worry, if you can’t figure out the link they’ll repeat it for you on the thousands of flyers that will be scattered across campus at the end of each day. Arguments about which is more necessary: cheap drinks or union accountability?

Don’t get me wrong – I think student politics is important. There has to be a system for ensuring that students are represented by people who are passionate about the same issues and innovations as the majority of the student population. I’m sure there are other ways to achieve that, and I’d certainly love it if student politics wasn’t just a playground for Young ALP and Young LNP to fight it out and stack their resumes. But overall, it is mostly successful in making sure that parties are happening, clubs and socs are funded, and the latest big cool food chain makes it onto campus.

Bandying arguments about corruption, or inability to throw a financially sustainable party is one thing. These statements are pretty harmless, and probably actually result in a better informed electorate. The thing that has made me absolutely sick about this year’s campaign is the use of the new Abilities Officer portfolio as a political ping pong ball. Individuals from both major parties have done this, while the other parties have decided that, lacking the expertise, their voices on the issue are unhelpful and unnecessary. Only one party has put up candidates and had nothing more to say on the issue.

Some Reform campaigners have noted that Reform created, or even will be creating an Abilities Collective. It has existed since 2014, and taking ownership of that victory away from the students who achieved it for a political win is pretty gross. But that was a misunderstanding of the issue by individual campaigners, while the official materials, and the candidates themselves, have been completely on the ball with their dialogue.

I was hoping the same was true of Thrive. Following more research, all I can say is that putting up a candidate for an Abilities Officer, a role designed to represent one of the most marginalised groups at university, who has no plans for what they would do in that role, is disgusting.

When I tried to find communicate via Facebook with one of Thrive’s candidates, my comments were deleted, and my messages ignored. I cannot find any reference to any policies regarding students with disabilities. Having checked their Facebook page, the unofficial compilation of policies, and their presidential statement, as well as messaging one of their candidates, I really don’t know where else to go.

I am very glad that Thrive’s candidates for that office have apparently not felt unsupported or disadvantaged by their disabilities throughout their university experience. That is absolutely fantastic to hear. But I am absolutely horrified that these students might be using their experience of disability as a political tool, rather than an opportunity to harness their position to advocate for other students with disabilities.

If Thrive really couldn’t find any students who were passionate about improving accessibility and agreed with the party’s other policies, why didn’t they just not run candidates? The other parties, not having passionate and relevant candidates, were perfectly happy to leave this to the people put up by the incumbent (people who are active within the Abilities Collective).

The only information I have received about Thrive’s candidates is that they believe the officer position, and the collective, should be abolished. As this didn’t come from them, I don’t know how true this is. But if it is true, it is deeply inappropriate for these candidates to run for a position that they don’t think should exist, without any intention to work for the students the portfolio aims to empower. It is a deliberate deception. I thought they were better than that.

Even if that information is fabricated, I don’t think I can trust a party to advocate for students with disabilities if they don’t even warrant a single policy point or Facebook graphic. If you’re not interested in the issues these students face, don’t pretend to be by putting up candidates.

Strike one up for a swing voter being 100% turned off your party.


If you have information about any of the above being incorrect, I’d love to hear it so that I can make any necessary edits to ensure that this article is as accurate as possible! Comment here, or message me on Facebook.