Fighting Chance

Us & Them

Is there a difference between not actively excluding and ACTUALLY including?

In this day and age it is completely unacceptable to discriminate against someone on the basis of gender, race, religion, sexuality, age, disability and so on. Anti-discrimination laws have been brought in over time in the hope of tackling the issue of minority groups and disempowered individuals being excluded by the more dominant groups in society. When it comes down to it though, while anti-discrimination laws might attempt to tackle active exclusion, does this actually translate into active inclusion? In cases like that of the Disability Discrimination Act (1992) it does seem as though there is still a long way to go to bridge the gap between what could be seen as ‘passive exclusion’ and the ultimate goal of ‘active inclusion’. What can we do though to make this mindset of doing the bare minimum of required change? Australia has made a great deal of progress in this respect over the last 20 odd years but what needs to happen to shift the general societal mindset towards actively embracing, including, and accommodating people with disabilities in every sense?

A few years back the word ‘tolerant’ was a real buzzword. Tolerance was seen as a real move toward stopping discrimination against certain groups that were seen as outside the norm. It was of course a move in the right direction but then it became apparent that “tolerating” implied that there was still an ‘us and them’ mentality. This is what I mean by the term ‘passive exclusion’. Passively excluding is essentially where you are not purposefully excluding or discriminating against people but also not really making any active efforts towards inclusion either. ‘Active inclusion’ on the other hand involves removing the ‘us and them’ mentality and embracing those groups and individuals currently on the outer. It also entails taking action towards tackling existing barriers that continue to enforce the separation be it physical or ideological.

Up until the Disability Discrimination Act in 1992 (DDA, 1992) there was not even consideration of accommodating the needs of those with disabilities let alone considering them as equals. The DDA did bring great changes to parts of life. It changed laws about new buildings to ensure all future construction considered access needs, it helped prevent discrimination in the workforce and in community groups etc. It even changed public transport and the physical environment with things like ramping on and off curbs. The problem still remained though that while society was making the changes required by law so as not to actively exclude people with disabilities, there was still a sense of tolerance being the aim. There was still a sense of ‘us and them’.

Over 20 years after the Disability Discrimination Act (1992) was enforced, Australia introduced the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) and just this year we passed the Disability Inclusion Act (2015). Australia was already moving in this direction but to have a new impetus to push our society further into the realm of actively embracing, including and accommodating the needs of people with disabilities is so amazing. Time will tell how these will play out, practically. It is one thing to achieve the practical and physical elements of inclusion and accommodating but changing mindsets is much harder. There will probably always be some sense of an ‘us and them’ in society, we humans seem to fall into that pattern way too easily, but at least for those of us with disabilities, our time of being grouped and seen as ‘Them’ is hopefully on its final legs.

Jo Berry
Fighting Chance

Posted on December 15, 2015

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