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Open letter to John Howard: Walk a mile in our shoes

By Ken Davis - posted Thursday, 9 June 2005

Dear John,

I’m writing on behalf of all currently disabled people, and for those who will suffer the onslaught of time and ill fortune. I’m asking you to seriously consider the following matters when your party frames legislation affecting us.

I speak from a unique perspective, as an occupational therapist with 15 years experience in assessing and assisting people with disabilities. I have also suffered from Chronic Fatigue Syndrome for 12 years, which seriously impairs my ability to work. I am on the disability support pension (DSP) and I work, even though it's only 10-15 hours per week.


My job is very interesting. I assess people who are applying for DSP, and frankly while there are some people genuinely trying to rort the system (my estimate is around 5 per cent), the majority are hard-working, civic minded Australians, seeking DSP as a last resort. Many are only applying after being advised to do so by Centrelink.

As you sit and decide our futures, I ask you to consider these problems in your plan. If you can resolve these issues, I fully support your intentions to help disabled people find meaningful and productive work.

The definition of work

In assessing someone as able to work 15 hours, do you consider productivity? Many people with disability (PWDs) are able work. However they are slower, less efficient and less accurate. They cannot work as effectively as they once did. This is not a character defect. It is simply part of their medical condition. They can still produce quality work. It just takes longer.

Even if they do gain employment, the laws of profitability dictate they will earn less than a normal worker. According to the Productivity Commission, when working, PWDs earn an average of 20 per cent less. The productivity gains your party has pushed for have raised the bar so high many of us are unable to compete. If we do work, we often have to work 15 hours to earn 10 hours pay.

These productivity gains are actually a good thing as they create an economic climate where it is more feasible for us to work, but only if we are given the right support.


Rest and recovery

Many of us require intermittent work. We need frequent rests or changes of posture. So even if we’re at work for six to eight hours, we may only be “working” for four to six hours, or less. How many work places provide accessible places to rest and recover? How many workplaces will even tolerate someone who needs frequent breaks?

PWDs need employment where they can adjust the work to suit their needs, not be pressured to conform to another’s demands. This eliminates a huge proportion of available jobs. The irony is that for many, self-employment is a viable option. However the New Enterprise Initiative Scheme is only available to people who can do an 8 week, full-time course. I have approached the government about this problem previously with no response.

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About the Author

Ken Davis has been involved in educating, motivating and training people for 25 years.

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