For people with disability, the accessibility and inclusivity of the community in which they reside fundamentally impacts how they live, work and socialise. A lack of accessibility creates external barriers that are not a function of a person's disability, but are a function of how well, or poorly, the community interacts with and provides support for that person's life.
While the past decade has seen an increased focus in Australia on issues that impact people with disability, there are still many issues to address to ensure that communities are fully accessible to, and inclusive of, Australians with disability, their families and carers.
In 2008, Australia ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (Disability Convention), which sets out the fundamental human rights of people with disability. In 2009, Australia also became party to the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which sets up an individual complaints procedure.
During 2008–2009, the Australian Government commissioned the National People with Disabilities and Carer Council to undertake extensive consultation, resulting in the report Shut Out: The Experience of People with Disabilities and their Families in Australia (Shut Out report). The findings of this report informed and ultimately resulted in the development of the Council of Australian Governments' (COAG) National Disability Strategy 2010–2020 (Disability Strategy).
Concurrently, a new mechanism for funding support for people with disability was investigated by the Productivity Commission, and subsequently the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) was announced in 2012.
Together, these actions represent one of the greatest social development projects ever undertaken in Australia, to improve the lives of every Australian with disability and their families and carers. These programs were designed not just to be undertaken by Australian governments, but were intended to stimulate a partnership between government, industry and the community to achieve change.
These activities represent a significant body of work still underway by Australian governments, industry and communities, and, if successful, should result in meaningful improvement in the measurable quality of life indicators for people with disability.
This inquiry provides an opportunity to examine if and how the Disability Strategy is driving change to improve those life indicators. This inquiry has focused on one aspect of the Disability Strategy, the accessibility and inclusiveness of the Australian community for people with disability. The evidence received during the inquiry underscores that accessibility is a threshold issue – accessibility is a necessary first step to achieve progress in other reform areas, most significantly in the implementation of the NDIS. Thus, a lack of progress in achieving accessible and inclusive communities has significant negative flow-on effects to achieving progress across the whole of the Disability Strategy.