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Natalie Clark
Disability advocates have slammed the organisers of a national disability conference
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People living with disabilities were actively excluded from participating in the 2015 National Disability Summit event


People with disabilities were actively excluded from participating at the 2015 National Disability Summit held last week in Melbourne and run Informa Australia, reported the Age today. 

Read the response from Mark Bagshaw, co-founder The Able Movement:

Here we go again – yet another example of a well-heeled company making money out of disability, but clearly not even understanding the fundamentals! And this is an organisation whose business specialises in conferences in the social reform space!

As I read the article, not only did Informa Australia demonstrate its complete ignorance about inclusion of people with disability prior to the 2015 National Disability Summit (yes, let's say it again, the National Disability Summit!), but when confronted by the obvious and disgraceful lack of basic planning, they still seemed to think it was okay to humiliate (my words) Deborah Haygarth, the person with disability who had been engaged as a keynote speaker, by virtually carrying the her onto the stage! Shame, shame, shame, Informa Australia.

An isolated incident, perhaps? Not on your life! This sort of garbage happens all day every day all around the country and all around the world. I spoke at a national actuaries conference a few months ago – may I be so bold as to point out that actuaries are making a lot of money out of the National Disability Insurance Scheme? – and a keynote speaker who uses a wheelchair faced the same indignity at the opening session. They lifted her in her wheelchair onto the stage putting her and the people doing the lifting at risk of injury. In this case, the organisers were shamed into finding a ramp before I went on stage later in the day. Not only would I have refused any dodgy half measures to get me on stage under any circumstances, but manual lifting wasn't an option anyway – my power wheelchair weighs 157 kg … without me in it!

So here we are sprouting all the words about how "committed we are to close the participation gap for people with disability", how the National Disability Insurance Scheme is taking a "new and bold approach to disability support" that places choice and control in the hands of people with disability.

The Productivity Commission predicts the NDIS will more than pay for itself when people with disability get jobs. Yes it will. But our society still doesn't get the bleedingly obvious and fundamental problem. People with disability are excluded because the world actively excludes them. And unless we outlaw behaviour like that demonstrated by Informa Australia, the best disability support system in the world will be lucky to make even a small dent in the huge participation gap for people with disability in our wealthy nation. 

And the exclusion is not just because of the practical barriers, as significant as they are. If you don't have a disability yourself just try to put yourself into Deborah's shoes. How would YOU like to be manhandled onto a stage if you were a public speaker in front of what I understand was a large audience? It's humiliating in the extreme. And when it happens over and over again, it simply puts people's fire out.

I look forward to the heartfelt apology from Informa Australia CEO, Spiro Anemogiannis, to Deborah and all people with disability for this outrageous incident. I look forward to hearing him guarantee that this will never happen again, and I will read with interest the publicly-available plan of action that they will implement as a matter of urgency to ensure it doesn't. And I also look forward to him and his organisation becoming advocates for disability reform, encouraging all of their networks not to make the same mistake they did.

 Let us know your thoughts.

  1. An update: I wrote to the Informa Australia CEO, Spiro Anemogiannis, expressing my concerns about this incident, and I have received the following response:

    “Dear Mark,

    We are looking into how and why such incidents could have occurred and we are committed to ensuring that this does not happen again. All procedures are currently under review. We apologised to the speaker directly after the incident and have continued to be in contact with her and her carer.

    The decision to proceed without a ramp was made in consultation with them both and we have since issued a public apology.

    We are committed to continually improving the experience and learning of our events and have been in contact with groups who have supplied us with reference guidelines on accessibility to follow for all future events

    Can I refer you to the statement below we placed on our website last week…/statement-from-the-organisers



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