Paralympian Kurt Fearnley says the “broken" disability system needs to be fixed

Wed 23 January 2013

In his Australia Day address yesterday in Sydney, Fearnley said Australia was falling behind other OECD countries when it came to helping those with disabilities, as unemployment and poverty rates for disabled people around the country were high.

The three-time gold medallist spoke about the plight of disabled people in his address, saying Australia’s disabled were "overlooked and ignored".

Fearnley pointed out that 45 per cent of people with a disability in Australia live in, or near poverty. "In comparison to other economically rich nations that are members of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development... statistics for Australia are damning," he said.

Poverty is directly linked to unemployment.  AND’s commissioned research indicates that almost three-quarters of the 2.2 million working age Australians with a disability are able to work, yet only 54% of these are employed. This compares to a workforce participation rate of 83% for working age Australians without disability.

Australian businesses rank poorly on a global scale, with only 17 per cent of companies focusing on including people with disability as part of their workplace diversity programs. Australia is ranked 21st out of 29 OECD countries in employing people with disability. 

Fearnley said "change is the only way forward" to help people with disabilities, who he believes were marginalised by "our invisibility".

He said he was honoured to be giving the Australia Day address and spoke about his childhood, how he became a Paralympian and how his sporting career started with the Oz Day 10km wheelchair race in Sydney 17 years ago.

"The NDIS isn't a silver bullet but it is a much-needed start in the continual enabling of people with disabilities across our country," he said, later adding community support will help make changes.

"What matters is that we as a community own the fact that we haven't done enough and that when we turn that fact around, we as a community will all be better for it."

Read more and watch the video of Fearnley’s speech

 

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