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
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. The Disability Strategy in particular, stated:
This commitment recognises the need for greater collaboration
and coordination by all governments, industry and communities to address the
challenges faced by people with disability. A new approach is needed to guide
policies and program development by all levels of government and actions by the
whole community, now and into the future.
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.
What is the Disability Strategy?
The Disability Strategy is a COAG agreement, developed to establish
a ten-year national plan for improving life for Australians with disability,
their families and carers. The purpose of the Disability Strategy is to:
Establish a high level policy framework to give coherence to, and
guide government activity across mainstream and disability-specific areas of
Drive improved performance of mainstream services in delivering
outcomes for people with disability.
Give visibility to disability issues and ensure they are included
in the development and implementation of all public policy that impacts on
people with disability.
Provide national leadership toward greater inclusion of people
The Disability Strategy covers six outcome areas, which are based on
issues raised during the Shut Out report consultations and are aligned to
principals within the Disability Convention:
- Inclusive and accessible
communities—the physical environment including public transport; parks, buildings
and housing; digital information and communications technologies; civic life
including social, sporting, recreational and cultural life.
- Rights protection, justice
and legislation—statutory protections such as anti-discrimination measures,
complaints mechanisms, advocacy, the electoral and justice systems.
- Economic security—jobs,
business opportunities, financial independence, adequate income support for
those not able to work, and housing.
- Personal and community
support—inclusion and participation in the community, person-centred care and
support provided by specialist disability services and mainstream services;
informal care and support.
- Learning and skills—early
childhood education and care, schools, further education, vocational education;
transitions from education to employment; life-long learning.
- Health and wellbeing—health
services, health promotion and the interaction between health and disability
systems; wellbeing and enjoyment of life.
The terms of reference for this inquiry focus on the first outcome
area, inclusive and accessible communities.
Inclusive and accessible
communities: policy directions
The six Disability Strategy outcome areas are further broken down
into policy directions. For inclusive and accessible communities, the policy
- Increased participation of
people with disability, their families and carers in the social, cultural,
religious, recreational and sporting life of the community.
- Improved accessibility of
the built and natural environment through planning and regulatory systems,
maximising the participation and inclusion of every member of the community.
- Improved provision of
accessible and well-designed housing with choice for people with disability
about where they live.
- A public, private and
community transport system that is accessible for the whole community.
- Communication and
information systems that are accessible, reliable and responsive to the needs
of people with disability, their families and carers.
Inclusive and accessible
communities: future action
The Disability Strategy also identifies areas for future action
relating to Outcome One of the Disability Strategy:
access and increase participation of people with disability in sporting,
recreational, social, religious and cultural activities whether as
participants, spectators, organisers, staff or volunteers.
the development of strong social networks for people with disability.
adherence to and evaluate the effectiveness of the Disability (Access to
Premises – Buildings) Standards 2010 and Disability Standards for Accessible
Public Transport 2002 and improve the accessibility of reports.
the development of Disability Access Facilitation Plans by airlines and airport
operators to improve communication between operators and passengers with
levels of government develop approaches to increase the provision of universal
design in public and private housing in both new builds and modification of
community awareness of the benefits of universal design.
universal design principles in procurement.
governments adopt the mandated conformance levels for web accessibility as a
baseline requirement to ensure more people with disability have access to
online information and services.
the National Broadband Network as an enabling technology platform to deliver
innovative services, communication and support for people with disability,
their families and carers.
Roles and responsibilities
The Disability Strategy explicitly states it does not change any
existing roles and responsibilities for delivery of disability programs and
services, but instead 'seeks to create a more cohesive whole-of-governments
Consultation: Shut Out report
As noted above, the Disability Strategy was based on the findings of
the Shut Out report's extensive consultation held with people with disability,
their families and carers as well as key advocacy organisations, from October
2008 to November 2008. The Shut Out report detailed the systemic disadvantage
faced by people with disability. It is worthwhile to note that an analysis of
the topics most often raised in the submissions to the Shut Out report consultation
shows that 'social inclusion and community participation' were jointly the
issues most often raised in submissions alongside 'disability services',
showing that the personal impact to people with disability of the lack of
accessible and inclusive communities has long been a priority for the
The Shut Out report is a valuable resource for this inquiry, as it
provides a snapshot in time of the barriers faced by people with disability to social,
cultural and economic participation in the community and allows for a comparison
with the evidence presented during this inquiry on those barriers.
Additionally, the Shut Out report identified proposed solutions to
those barriers faced by people with disability. This inquiry provides an
opportunity to review progress implementing those solutions nearly 10 years on
from the consultation and six years after the Disability Strategy was adopted
The Shut Out report presented key findings and solutions in themes.
Following is a summary of the key solutions proposed to be achieved under the
Disability Strategy which are of greatest relevance to achieving accessible and
inclusive communities, the focus of this inquiry.
Table 1.1 Shut Out report key
findings and solutions
|Social inclusion and community
participation solutions, pages 14–17
|The Disability Strategy
should play role in establishing a social inclusion framework.
||Implement an integrated
approach to policies, programs and services and an end to segregated services
and options for people with disability.
|Greater protection of
rights, including own motion powers for the Human Rights or Disability Discrimination
Commissioner, a comprehensive review of Commonwealth and state and territory
legislation and policies for any discrimination against people with disability
and an increase in funding for advocacy services.
||Creation of a specific
service—a 'one-stop shop'—where people with disabilities and their families,
friends and carers could access information about services and programs.
|Services, support and equipment solutions, pages 21–25
|Create a system that truly
places people with disabilities and their families, friends and carers at the
||Establish a nationally
coordinated and funded equipment and assistive technologies scheme to
eliminate existing inequities and ensure portability across jurisdictions.
|Create an external
accreditation system with regular monitoring of service standards.
||Develop strategies to
ensure increases in housing stock numbers and options.
|Employment solutions, pages 41–42
|Government to lead from the
front by improving public service participation rates.
||Development of a more
flexible individualised approach to employment support programs for people
|Campaign to address
negative employer and recruiter attitudes.
|Built environment and transport solutions, pages 44–46
|Speed up the current
schedule of change conducted under the Disability Standards for Accessible
||More resources to be made
available for upgrades, modifications and retrofitting.
|Create a central authority
responsible for overseeing compliance with the Disability Discrimination
Act 1992 to improve accessibility.
||Greater regulatory and
legislative oversight to ensure existing and future infrastructure complies
with universal design principles, including public buildings, public spaces,
private businesses and private dwellings.
procurement practices to ensure all facilities and equipment purchased by
government are fully accessible.
Adapted from the Shut Out report.
The Shut Out report also outlined key features to be included in the
Disability Strategy, as recommended by submitters to the consultation. The key
features for the Disability Strategy to include were:
Adoption of a coordinated national approach to enhance
consistency across jurisdictions.
Development of underlying principles that reflect the UN
Disability Convention. Many submissions made it clear they expected the
National Disability Strategy to realise the rights enshrined in the Convention.
Without a strong Disability Strategy, many participants feared that the
Convention would fail to change the lives of Australians with disabilities and
become just another piece of meaningless rhetoric.
Creation of an Office of Disability to coordinate efforts across
portfolios and between levels of government.
Implementation of policies under the Disability Strategy by each
level of government and all government agencies, with clear outcomes and
Provision of funding increases to advocacy and other
non-government agencies to participate in monitoring and evaluation of the Disability
The following chapters will examine the Disability Strategy, the
implementation plans and progress to date, to evaluate whether it is achieving
the vision and goals for inclusive and accessible communities as captured under
the 2008 Shut Out national consultation report.
What is accessibility?
Evidence presented to the inquiry suggested there is significant
concern that there is a fundamental lack of understanding of what constitutes
accessibility from a disability perspective, as well as a tendency to focus on
more obvious notions of accessibility such as wheelchair ramps or braille
readers. National Employment Services Association (NESA) summed up the issue of
what constitutes accessibility and stated:
[A]ccessibility is far from just a physical mobility issue.
The concept touches any kind of human interaction with the external
environment, and covers mobility, visual and auditory perception, cognitive
issues and so forth. Rather than treating accessibility as a question of
providing environmental modifications aimed at a particular kind of disability,
the notion is more reasonably thought of in terms of global ease of use of the
physical and technological environment, and clarity of communications, both in
their form and their content.
Agosci Inc. agreed that there is a tendency to focus on physical
accessibility, and submitted that because accessibility-related regulations
typically focus on the physical, employment and transport barriers, the
accommodation requirements of people who use augmentative and alternative
communication methods are rarely addressed. Agosci Inc. submitted it 'seeks to
broaden the concept of an "accessible community" to one which
actively recognises and accommodates Communication Accessibility'.
Speech Pathology Australia agreed there was an almost exclusive
focus on physical access to the built and natural environments, which 'undermines
the ability for the National Disability Strategy 2010–2020 to achieve its goals'.
The inclusion of cognitive impairments such as dementia and autism
in discussions of accessibility was also raised by submitters. Amaze submitted
that for people with on the autism spectrum, accessibility went beyond the
physical features of the built environment and included 'a need for
routine/predictability and delayed or single channel processing'.
Dementia Australia similarly submitted that accessibility issues
related to dementia are mostly found in social-construct barriers such as
attitudes to dementia and a lack of awareness, rather than physical barriers to
the built environment.
The ACT Disability, Aged and Carer Advocacy Service submitted that
communication accessibility is a key issue:
To be fully included in society is to be recognised by others
in our society as a full citizen, able to take an active part in civic life and
in personal decision making. It is in the recognition of and access to rights
that citizenhood is found. All people have rights - but ability to actually use
and enjoy these rights on an equal basis with all others requires that
information is provided in a form that the person can comprehend, that
communication meets the communication needs of the individual and that support
for decision making is available as required.
NESA further argued that in addition to a focus on physical
accessibility, 'end-to-end accessibility' was also being missed when
For example, providing obstruction-free access to a building
is no good if the building has internal stairs and no lift, or if there is no
accessible public transport to get anywhere near it in the first place.
Chapter 4 discusses recommendations made to this inquiry on ways to create
formal definitions of accessibility, as a first step to creating solutions to
accessibility barriers. Overall, submitters contended that a more sophisticated
understanding of accessibility is needed, before progress can be made to
achieve truly inclusive and accessible communities.
Following this introductory chapter, this report consists of three
Chapter 2 outlines the Australian Government's Disability
Strategy plans and progress reports and compares those to the Australian Civil
Society report to the United Nations under the Disability Convention and the
United Nations Disability Committee conclusions on Australia's progress;
Chapter 3 examines the evidence presented regarding ongoing
accessibility issues being experienced by people with disability and the impact
to their lives; and
Chapter 4 discusses the barriers to improving accessibility and
contains the committee's conclusions and recommendations.
Conduct of the inquiry
On 29 November 2016 the Senate referred the delivery of outcomes
under the National Disability Strategy 2010–2020 to build inclusive and
accessible communities to the Senate Community Affairs References Committee
(committee) for inquiry and report by 13 September 2017 with the following
terms of reference:
the planning, design, management, and regulation of:
the built and natural environment, including commercial premises,
housing, public spaces and amenities,
transport services and infrastructure, and
communication and information systems, including Australian electronic
media and the emerging Internet of things;
potential barriers to progress or innovation and how these might be
the impact of restricted access for people with disability on inclusion
and participation in economic, cultural, social, civil and political life; and
any other related matters.
On 7 September 2017, the Senate granted an extension of time for
reporting until 29 November 2017.
The inquiry was advertised on the committee's website and the
committee wrote to stakeholders inviting them to make submissions.
The committee also issued media releases to promote public awareness
about ways individuals could engage with the inquiry. Media releases were
published on the committee's website and were tweeted using the @AuSenate
The committee invited submissions to be lodged by 28 April 2017.
Submissions continued to be accepted after this date.
The committee received 96 submissions from government agencies,
organisations and individuals. A list of submissions provided to the inquiry is
available on the committee's website
and in Appendix 1.
The committee held five public hearings at locations around the
4 July 2017—Sydney;
6 July 2017—Melbourne;
24 August 2017—Perth;
30 October 2017—Brisbane; and
1 November 2017—Canberra.
A list of witnesses who provided evidence at public hearings is
available at Appendix 2.
Notes on references
In this report, some references to Committee Hansard are to
proof transcripts. Page numbers may vary between proof and official
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