Government Action on Disability Policy
A Global Survey
© Dimitris Michailakis 1997
Government Replies as Country Profiles
This part is presenting the replies from the governments of the UN Member States according to the region to which each country belongs. My classification - which country belonging to which region - follows commonly recognized categories, as used by the UN specialized agencies.
The order of presentation could seem like a small matter, but it touches, the very heart of the problem concerning the present report, namely making comparisons world-wide. According to my opinion it is unfair towards the developing countries to be put together, in the same context with industrialised countries with other resources and other history. As an example, going from reading about Belgium to Burkina Faso irrespective of what kind of efforts that might have been done in the disability field. This disadvantageous position, thus being created for the developing country, on the other hand rather becomes favourable for the industrialised. An alphabetic arrangement therefore makes up the basis for a possible misuse of the developing countries' "backwardness" in favour of the industrialised world, that is, as means of priding themselves, or as a rescue in order to hide failures (the situation is after all good...). By presenting the industrialised countries together, a slowing off the process in the implementation in one country, or a policy that makes the situation worse for one or many groups of persons with disabilities, thus becomes more apparent and distressing, when presented in the context of industrialised countries. One way of tackling this problem is to group the countries according to regions, by giving them a common socio-economic context.
Summaries of the Governments' replies
Download 'Government Reports on the UN Standard Rules' as a PDF file (440 KB)
AustraliaCommonwealth Department of Health and Family Services (31 March 1996)
Compare with the following Country Report(s): ILSMH, WFD
The disability policy in Australia is expressed in two laws underpining a disability policy. The Disability Services Act of 1986 provides a framework for developing support services designed to increase individual independence. The Disability Discrimination Act enacted in 1992 recognizes people with a disability being equals before the law and makes discrimination on the grounds of disability unlawful. In 1994, the Commonwealth Disability Strategy was adopted providing a framework to meet the requirements of the Disability Discrimination Act. Under the Strategy, changes will be made to reduce and remove barriers, which are encountered by people with a disability when trying to have the access to public services and to work in the public sector. National disability policies comprise a package of measures and emphasis - in descending scale - is given to: accessibility measures, anti-discrimination law, individual support, rehabilitation, prevention. According to the Government there has been a move away from a welfare approach to assisting people with disabilities towards methods based on rights with emphasis on equal opportunity. Educational materials have been developed to raise the awareness of public servants to the needs of people with disabilities. A series of posters, pamphlets, information guides and a staff training kit including a video have been produced and distributed. Marketing strategies for promoting the employment of disabled people in the open labour market have been undertaken, with employment support agencies funded by the federal Government. Funding has been provided to create Special Employment Placement Officer positions in a range of large corporations enabling them to identify jobs and arrange large-scale placement for people with a disability.
The rights of persons with disabilities are protected by special legislation. The Disability Discrimination Act providing this protection has a broad definition of disability. Judicial mechanisms are available to people with a disability. This includes both due process (legal remedy through courts) and a recourse procedure by a special agency dealing with anti-discrimination issues. The Disability Discrimination Act is an appeal legislation, administered by the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission. This Commission is a non-judicial body protecting the rights of people with a disability.
The Disability Discrimination Act covers people with a wide range of impairments, including the concepts of physical sensory, cognitive (including psychiatric conditions), neurological and intellectual disability. The Act applies with respect to: employment, education, access to premises used by the public, provision of goods, services and facilities, accommodation, buying or selling land, activities of clubs, sport, administration of Commonwealth Government laws and programmes. The following benefits are guaranteed by law to persons with disabilities: medical care and other health care, financial security (income maintenance), participation in decisions affecting themselves. The provision of employment supports services, training, rehabilitation and counselling and services assisting people in attaining an independent living are also covered by legislation. Access to these services is subject to eligibility criteria and limited by the availability of financial support from Federal and State Governments.
Since the adoption of the Standard Rules no new legislation concerning disability has been enacted.
There are laws and regulations to ensure accessibility in the build environment. The building Code of Australia provides some guidelines for accessibility for people with a disability. Standards for accessible public transport are being developed under the Disability Discrimination Act. Under the Commonwealth Disability Strategy, an enquiry is being undertaken to ensure that accessibility requirements are included in the design and construction of those parts of the build environment not covered by the Building Code of Australia. Under the Strategy, all buildings occupied or utilised by agencies of the Commonwealth must comply with the Australian standard for accessible buildings. The Building Codes Board of Australia - a national authority - oversees the operation of accessibility standards. The following measures are taken by the Government to facilitate accessibility in the build environment are: marking parking areas, installing automatic doors, access to public places, improving accessibility in housing. There are special transport arrangements for people with a disability. The main types of assistance include: concessions in relation to public transport fares, subsidized taxi transport, provision of assistance for community transport. In addition, Commonwealth funded mobility allowances assist with the transport costs of people with a disability who are working, training or seeking work and are unable to use public transport without substantial assistance. When planning to build accessible environments the most difficult obstacles include: economic budgetary factors, lack of planning and design capacity, lack of knowledge, research and information. Under the Commonwealth Disability Strategy, a program is being developed to ensure that planners, architects and construction engineers have access to adequate information on disability policy and measures to achieve accessibility.
In Australia, sign language is recognized as the official language of deaf people. It is used as the first language in education of deaf people, also being recognized as the main means of communication between deaf persons and others. Under the Disability Discrimination Act, all service providers are expected to provide non-discriminatory services to members of the public. The commonwealth Disability Strategy provides specific obligations with which telecommunication carriers, major equipment manufacturers and broadcasting proprietors must comply in relation to the provision of non-discriminatory services. The human rights and Equal opportunity Commission is also developing a guide to assist business enterprises, including organizations in telecommunication and broadcasting, to develop Disability Action Plans under the Disability Discrimination Act. Measures to make other forms of public information services accessible are addressed by the commonwealth disability Strategy which states: "Each department and authority will, in consultation with people with a disability, develop strategies to make information services and documentation accessible for different groups of people with a disability, taking into account language and cultural needs." The following services are provided in order to facilitate information and communication between persons with disabilities and other persons: literature in Braille/tape, sign language interpretation is available for major events, easy readers for persons with mental disabilities.
Organizations of persons with disabilities
There is a national umbrella organization (The National Caucus of Disability Consumer Organizations). There are no legal provisions mandating the representatives of persons with disabilities to participate in policy-making and to work with Governmental institutions. Disability organizations are consulted whenever legislation or policy concerning disability issues is being prepared and their views are incorporated into legislation and policy where appropriate. This occurs at a national level and at a regional level. Financial support is provided to national representative organizations. Persons with disabilities participate to a limited extent in Government, legislature, judiciary and political parties and to a great extent in NGO's. The organizations of disabled people in Australia have the following role: to advocate rights and improved services, mobilize persons with disabilities, identify needs and priorities, participate in the planning, implementation and evaluation of services and measures, contribute to public awareness, provide services and promote income generating activities.
Co-ordination of work
There are three main co-ordinating bodies at the Federal level. These bodies report to the Federal Minister for Family Services. These co-ordinating committees include representatives of the Australian Public Service, of all major Federal departments, and members from a range of organizations within Australia. The co-ordinating bodies participate in disability policy development, in the achievement of cross-portfolio reform and in the implementation of the Commonwealth Disability Strategy, advicing the Minister for Family Services and the Office of Disability. These three bodies have a role in overseeing the implementation of the Commonwealth Disability Strategy and will be involved in the evaluation of the Strategy in 1988. The co-ordinating committee has had the following effects: improved co-ordination of measures/programs etc. in the disability field, improved legislation, better dialogue in the disability field, more accurate planning and more effective use of resources. The adoption of the Standard Rules has reinforced the Australian Government's commitment to the rights of people with a disability to participate in all areas of public life. The development and implementation of the Commonwealth Disability Strategy will ensure that by the year 2002 all services, programs and facilities provided by the Federal Government will be made accessible for people with a disability.