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A race that challenges a nation

The 2015 Melbourne Cup will be long remembered by many who have only a fleeting interest in horse racing.  Prince of Penzance did most of the work on the day, but jockey Michelle Payne and strapper Steven Payne stole the limelight. 



The shared joy of the sister and brother warmed so many hearts.  ‘A determined woman beating the odds in a corporate, chauvinistic world, cheered on by a brother with an intellectual disability working in the same elitist, febrile arena.’ as Kathy Evans wrote the following day in the Sydney Morning Herald.



Steven’s prominence and his achievements highlight the important roles of family and close community members in providing the support and building the relationships that are so central to a rewarding life.  They also call on many of us to revisit our own approach to people with an intellectual disability. 



Evans, a writer and the mother of a child with Down’s Syndrome, touches on some of these broader themes, and highlights the complex and mixed attitudes that our society brings to people with disabilities. 



She contrasts the warm acceptance of Steven in the workplace with the very low rate – 12% - of people with intellectual disability who are working full time.  And, among other things, she notes ‘the dark side of the story, the bit that gets tucked away in the basements of hospitals shielded from public view’ is that the vast majority of pregnancies diagnosed as Down’s Syndrome in Australia today are terminated.’






As well as a personal response, we are called as a society to put in place policies and structures to provide support for those in need.



The National Disability Insurance Scheme is a national response to the provision of support for people with severe disability.  It is in the process of being introduced in various parts of Australia, currently providing for 20,000 participants, with a view to full roll out, facilitating support for some 460,000 Australians, by 2020.



There are clear achievements to date.  95% of participants to date have rated the service they have received as ‘good’ or ‘very good’.  And some individuals, families and participating agencies report much more positive results under the NDIS than were achieved previously.   Another highlight is that 18% of the staff of the Geelong-headquartered National Disability Insurance Agency are people with disability.



But there are major issues yet to be satisfactorily addressed.  Employment outcomes overall leave much to be desired;  housing remains a major issue; and the support to be provided for people with mental illness has yet to be worked out.



Catholic social service agencies that have participated in the early stages of the NDIS recently reflected on that experience at a national gathering in Canberra. 



It is still early days, but, on balance, they were very positive.  Some of their program participants received much more satisfactory levels of support under the NDIS than had been funded previously.  Additionally, the voice that NDIS affords program participants in the development of their support package, and the choice that they have in selecting a service provider, has resulted in innovative and responsive engagement from the providers, and increased satisfaction for many participants.



Another crucial phase in the NDIS rollout is the tendering out of the work that is needed to provide community integration for NDIS participants, and also for those many people with disability who will not meet the NDIS criteria of ‘significant and permanent disability that adversely affects how they can take part in everyday activities.’



Bids for this work are currently being sought in the Bendigo and Ballarat areas, and in north eastern Melbourne – all areas where the NDIS will be rolled out over the next year.  The results of this process will be vital for the success of the scheme.






Equally vital will be the response of the community into which integration and linkages are being sought. 



Are all of our institutions and employers active in considering the employment of people with disability?  Do we actively seek to engage everyone in our worship, our hobbies, our social engagements, etc?



Do we value and practice inclusiveness as we would want others to include us?  As we see Stephen Payne included?




6 November 2015





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