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Is media scrutiny good news?

The disability sector has been in the mainstream news more than ever before. Todd explores whether this is a good thing, a bad thing, or something in-between.

By Todd Winther

Updated 15 Apr 202429 Nov 2023
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As the old saying goes, no news is good news.

But, one of the benefits of the NDIS has been that it pushed issues relating to people with disabilities into the mainstream media discussion.

These are discussions that people with disabilities have been having amongst ourselves for years, if not decades. Now they are finally getting mainstream attention.

As we rush headlong towards 2024, the significance and uniqueness of the current political moment cannot be downplayed. The final report for the Royal Commission into Exploitation, Abuse, Neglect and Mistreatment of People with Disabilities was recently handed down. And as we wait for outcomes of the NDIS review, these conversations are even more significant.

Does this increased media coverage represent progress? It all depends on your perspective.

The Moment is Now

These opportunities act as education for the general public to understand the struggles that the disability community go through daily just to exercise the choices many others take for granted. It also demonstrates the power of storytelling and lived experience. It can give voice to those who have historically been ostracised, marginalised and segregated. While we may not always lead the conversation, at least there is one. Progress is slow, but the fact that the NDIS exists, a Royal Commission was established, and we are arguing for our rights is a credit to those who keep fighting for change.

We share our experience in the hopes that things might change, not for ourselves. However, I think the rest of the community should be doing more to support us.

Digging Deeper

Yes, issues that need to be discussed have finally been raised to the surface, which is well overdue. The coverage of the Royal Commission has highlighted some harrowing examples of abuse and injustice that people with a disability encounter. Yet the systematic failures that veterans of the sector have always known existed have largely remained an afterthought. The top line recommendation of the Royal Commission Report suggests that specific legislation needs to be enshrined for people with disabilities to share the same rights as other members of society. The natural follow-up question to that recommendation is, “Why don’t we have these rights already?”

Perhaps that question is too confronting for those beyond the disability sector?

But there’s no time like the present.

I have been waiting for opportunities and longer form analysis of the NDIS to occur in the mainstream media for quite some time, and it is good to see some signs of progress. ABC Four Corners, for example, had barely touched disability issues in the ten years before September 2023, and then it released two programs related to disability policy in three weeks.

I watched these programs with expectation and trepidation. Were the programs going to explore the complexities of the NDIS? Or, alternatively, were they going to single out particular cases to highlight issues that might be relevant to know outside the disability sector?

The Emotional Toll

People with disabilities deserve more.

What I saw in the harrowing footage on Four Corners, was people with disabilities getting abused; people who were not able to defend themselves, and they were also unable to speak for themselves during the episodes. Though I didn’t know these people, I know people like them. People who went to my special school. People I still keep in contact with.

Some might argue that showing the footage was necessary to call out the practices of the providers. But how many times do we have to see people with disabilities getting abused and mistreated before we say enough? Speaking for myself, I know that I’ve had enough. I can’t witness any more.

It is traumatising for me because it stokes my worst fears. It adds to nightmares I have had since I was a child, and escalates panic attacks that I have always had to manage. I always fear that the worst might happen, because I know just how vulnerable I am. Watching others with disabilities being abused on TV only underlines this further.

Most importantly, it does not pay respect to the victims.

If watching abuse, and playing to the worst fears of people with disabilities through the media is the only way to weed out the few bad actors, how much anxiety, pain and death must people with disabilities endure for things to change?

The emotional toll of experiencing and documenting ableism, especially when it leads to trauma, is something people without disabilities underestimate. That’s an enormous weight to carry, and it drags us down. Yet it is taken for granted that we must sacrifice our emotional labour to change our circumstances, primarily to educate those who don’t understand us. The Royal Commission Report was a significant document precisely because it described this burden so clearly.

What Happens Next?

The following 12 months represent further opportunities to utilise this unique moment in disability policy. The Federal Government must respond to the Royal Commission and the NDIS Review, ultimately leading to the next Federal Election. They should ensure the stories we have told and our activism matters. People with disability have created a spotlight to lead us out of some very dark places towards some light, but we have yet to find our way. The Government need to help guide us through.

If this article has brought up issues for you, help is available. You can contact:

Blue Knot: 1800 421 468

Lifeline: 13 11 44


Todd Winther

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