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Opinion: Breaking The Barriers

Federal Shadow Minister for Disability and Carers, Senator Carol Brown

Creating a more inclusive society is one of the objectives of the Senate inquiry into accessibility for people with disability, writes the Federal Shadow Minister for Disability and Carers, Senator Carol Brown.

It is vital that we build more inclusive and accessible communities for people with disability. That is why I am pleased that the Senate has agreed to my request to hold an inquiry into accessibility for people with disability.

The Senate inquiry is taking submissions and is due to report later this year. It will examine progress on the National Disability Strategy 2010-2020 to build inclusive and accessible communities.

Labor led the development and implementation of the National Disability Strategy to provide a 10-year blueprint to improve the inclusion and participation of people with disability in Australia. We need to look at access for people with a disability to public buildings, housing, parks and transport.

People with a disability must not have their access limited because they can’t catch a bus, use public amenities or are unable to access a school, bank, shopping centre or sports facility. The inquiry will examine the impact that restricted access for people with a disability has on their ability to be included and participate in economic, cultural, social, civil and political life.

It will look at the planning, design, management and regulation of the built and natural environment including commercial premises, housing, public spaces and amenities, as well as transport services and infrastructure. How best to address potential barriers to getting access to information, the media or the Internet will also be considered by the inquiry.

We must create communities that are more inclusive. We must provide schools and education facilities that are safe and inclusive for people with disability. Too many people with disability are still excluded from workforce participation. They are not given the opportunity to contribute and engage in work.

Australia has one of the lowest rates of employment for people with disability in the developed world. The OECD ranks Australia 21st out of 29 OECD countries for employment participation of people with disability. By removing barriers and discrimination for people with disability to access work, we also will be able to lift many people out of poverty.

Two in five people of working age with disability reported last year that their main source of cash income was a government pension or allowance. Around 45 per cent of people with disability in Australia live near or below the poverty line. This is unacceptable.

I am heartened by the number of people who tell me how their lives have dramatically improved since they have had an NDIS package. But we still have much more to do to ensure Australians with disability are not excluded and have the same opportunities as other Australians.

Improving the design and access of public buildings and places is critical to transforming the experiences and lives of people with disability and creating more inclusive communities. That is why the Senate inquiry is so important. Together we must break down the barriers.

The closing date for submissions into the Senate inquiry has been extended until April 28.