• Cheek

The government must prioritise accessibility

In its first sitting weeks, the government has denied an AUSLAN interpreter on the floor, and overlooked a senator with disability for a role chairing an NDIS committee.

What message is being sent to Australians living with disability?

In the first sitting week of parliament, brand new independent senator David Pocock requested an AUSLAN interpreter stands by him when speaking in parliament. The request was denied, however he was allowed an on-screen interpreter whose video is shown on any streams and TV coverage of parliamentary sessions.

It was an interesting decision from the new government, and begs the question of inclusivity on the floor of parliament. What message does it send to the deaf community? What message does it send to an aspiring politician who uses AUSLAN? And perhaps the bigger question is, why has this not been done already? At the very least, why didn't the government take this opportunity to bring in interpreters for all sessions?

Accessibility must be a priority in our society. If, at the very top of government, we do not see accessibility prioritised, what hope do we have of seeing it at workplaces? In supermarkets? At schools? The opportunity Senator Pocock has provided should be taken to improve accessibility on the floor of parliament.

Further, this past week, the Minister for NDIS, Bill Shorten, named Chair and Co-chair of the NDIS Joint Standing Committee. Greens senator Jordan Steele-John and his party had previously requested that Steele-John be considered for the Chair given his lived experience with disability. He is the only federal politician who uses a wheelchair, and is a highly respected disability advocate.

Shorten chose to name a fellow Labor politician, Libby Coker as the Chair, which is admittedly an expected move. However, the Co-Chair was selected from across the floor in the Liberal party. Hollie Hughes was named, despite the mixed response from the disability community after some of her controversial statements in the previous term.

The government overlooked a senator with lived experience to elevate a conservative politician from their major party counterpart. We must ask the question of why. If a member from an alternative party was selected for the role, why was it not one who has direct, personal experience with a disability? Again we must ask, what message does this send?