It’s Hard For People To Conceive What Life's Journey Is Like For Disabled People
As Australia’s youngest MP, I find the rhetoric that young people, particularly Millennials like me, are so entitled that we 'expect to have everything gifted to us on a silver platter' to be both insulting and laughable.
Here's our reality: as young people we face economic pressures that did not exist for the majority of the generation before us. The gap between rich and poor is growing wider, work has never been more insecure, and we’ve seen a sustained political attack from those in power on funding for, and access to, our tertiary institutions, on the divide between private and public schools, and on youth advocacy across the board.
Student debt has tripled in the last decade in my home state of Western Australia to more than $4 billion yet boomers who went to uni for free still simply cannot believe that we have anything to complain about.
There’s been so many examples of this and ‘gotcha moments’ in recent times that have become common online tropes; memes of generational warfare that simply refuse to die.
There was Bernard Salt’s now infamous column where the analogy of smashed avocado was used to explain why young people couldn’t afford their first home, with no acknowledgement of the ratio between income and house prices or the lack of job security in today’s context.
There is of course the mainstay of conservative commentators that ‘the best form of welfare is to get a job’.
And just last week the General Manager of Muffin Break said, quite without irony, that “there’s just nobody walking in my door asking for an internship, work experience or unpaid work”.
I was utterly stunned. Capitalism has devalued labour to the point where the expectation is that we should be grateful to work for free.
So does this perceived entitlement extend to disabled young people? Unfortunately, yes. In fact it’s an opinion I encounter often; that disabled people are an inherent burden on the system.
It’s hard for many people to even conceive of what the journey to adulthood is like for disabled people.
Going through high school, learning to drive, playing weekend sport, going out with friends and getting your first shitty after-school job. These are all seemingly universal experiences, but if you’re a disabled person these such experiences are filled with barriers and discrimination.
It’s an unfortunate reality that for so many young people, the security of regular hours at an award rate might make the difference between being able to undertake tertiary education or not.
But for a disabled young person, you don’t even get a second look. An employer will choose the kid who doesn't use a wheelchair every time, because they simply can't be bothered and know they can get away with it.
This discrimination continues into adulthood for so many disabled Australians. Australian Disability Enterprises (ADEs), otherwise known as sheltered workshops, are a common type of “supported employment” subsidised by the government and always followed by inspiration porn-filled sentences like “to give them a purpose in life” or “so they can have a chance at experiencing normality and routine”.
The reality is that sheltered workshops legitimise the deliberate underpayment, and therefore devaluation, of disabled people who have no other option. A discussion paper, commissioned by the Turnbull government in 2017, found that the average wage for disabled people working in ADEs is $5.61, and as low as $1 per hour.
You know those headphones they always hand out on flights, wrapped in an envelope you can use to give your spare change to charity? A disabled person earnt potentially as little as $1 per hour to wrap that for you. Any loose change you put in that envelope is almost certainly going to be more, and it allows that exploitation to be hidden behind the good deed of giving to charity.
Privilege is a deadly problem in Australia, and we are on the edge of a crisis of economic inequality fuelled by a political agenda that says vulnerable people across the board are a burden. That applies to young people and it definitely applies to disabled people, but it also applies to older Australians. Older women are most at risk of experiencing homelessness and, the aged care Royal Commission has revealed the horrible reality that once a person ages past a certain point it is easy to be completely forgotten.
We must change the narrative that helping people has a cost that must be negotiated. It’s time to smash the muffin break mentality and put the nonsense ideas that keep it alive in the bin.