When I need to acknowledge my privilege

Written by Tammy Milne – PDA TAS Associate Director

I am a white disabled woman living in Australia. My cohort is still the most marginalised and discriminated against minority group – people with disabilities suffer discrimination in Australia more than all the other minority groups put together. 44% of all complaints received by the Human Rights Commission are in regards to discrimination because of disability (AIWH, 2023).

I am a university student and as such come across a wide range of overseas students. 

My taxi driver from Lebanon on Friday night said that they had been a nurse in their home country, and that things are very different here for people with disabilities and so I am very lucky. Our country is getting a little better.

My support worker from India is a trained physiotherapist – but only in India. I asked her what it is like for people with disabilities in her home country. She answered “Good if you come from a rich family who can pay for everything, but it is not like it is here.” When I asked how things would be if you are not from a rich family. She sort of frowned and answered “it’s not good.  There are a lot of beggars in India who have disabilities. They beg for food – that is if they survive.” I asked “Do they die?” Her sad answer was “Yes”.

My Iranian friend at university has a cousin who uses a wheelchair. Her family is able to take care of her and her mother and family are very protective of her. She mentioned that access is very difficult in her country and the shops and streets make it very hard for her family to push her wheelchair. It is also a country where it is mandatory for women to wear a hijab. Very proudly my friend said her cousin asserts her dissidence by claiming she cannot wear it because of her disability. It seems that, at least to this point, she has been given some leniency.

My first holiday overseas was to Indonesia. I was 24 years old. Getting off the tour bus in a remote, small town square, I was rocked to my core. My naivety in my perceptions of what the lives of people with disabilities was like was rocked. I had assumed that everyone (wherever they were in the world), had a life like mine. I was so wrong. The bus was met by a small group of disabled people whose bone contractures (unlike mine) had not been surgically altered. They moved around on makeshift wooden skateboard type trolleys, sitting just a few centimetres off the ground. Prior to this, I had no idea what real poverty and deprivation looked like.

And so it is that I check my privilege. It is difficult to compare apples and oranges, a rich first world country and the countries outside of our “lucky country”.  I complain about the NDIS (National Disability Insurance Scheme) not being perfect and not meeting all my needs and the needs of others in Australia, but then I remember what I have been told and what I have seen.

In 2013 the Labor Government legislated a trial rollout of the NDIS to give people with disabilities choice and control over their lives – much like those whose disabilities saw them eligible for MAIB insurance. People with disabilities not covered under MAIB due to their being born with their disabilities, were then afforded a level playing field with the NDIS.

The scheme has now grown to be Australian wide. There is obviously still work to be done to make the scheme sustainable and efficient, to stamp out corruption from nefarious, unscrupulous entities and to give people with disabilities dignity. However, we are well on the way to this being achieved. We must also be ever vigilant in ensuring that the conditions offered to people with disabilities in Australia are the best that our country can provide.

I acknowledge my privilege to live in Australia and be a participant of the NDIS, but I will never forget that many living in other countries do not have such fortunate lives. It is but by a quirk of nature that I was born here, and they were born there! The divide between us is unfair!

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