TIC TALK Podcasts

Exploring personal experiences of inclusion

TIC TALK 6: Craig Wallace

A podcast with Craig Wallace
July 2013
Craig Wallace

Craig Wallace

People with Disability Australia

Craig is President of People with Disability Australia and Marketing Manager at NICAN – an information service for people with disability. Craig is a strong commentator, advocate and supporter of inclusion nationally – and pulls no punches in the support of human rights for people with disability. 

 

Transcript TIC TALK with Craig Wallace

Peter:

Okay, and welcome to today’s Tic Talk, and today I’m with Craig Wallace. Good afternoon, Craig.

Craig:

Good afternoon.

Peter:

Craig Wallace is currently president of People with Disability Australia, and usually when I interview somebody for a Tic Talk I do a little bit of research on the beforehand. Although I know Craig reasonably well, I did do a Wikipedia search on you, Craig. You know what happens when I put Craig Wallace into Wikipedia?

Craig:

I’ve got some ideas. A Queensland politician?

Peter:

Very good! Very good. Born in 1969, Australian politician. I presume that’s not you.

Craig:

That isn’t me. That’s the Queensland member for Thuringowa, but I do get many calls for him.

Peter:

Do you respond to them?

Craig:

Well, I actually receive a good many calls, so I did respond to one making some announcements, and they got about halfway through, and they worked out that I wasn’t really the Queensland Minister for Water Resources and Transport.

Peter:

You could’ve changed policy.

Craig:

I know. Well, I actually talked about discussions that we’d had in Cabinet that morning and that I wasn’t happy with them, so and about halfway through they caught me and said, hmm, think we got a ringer in here.

Peter:

How about born in 99, Scottish cricketer?

Craig:

Ah, no. I didn’t know that. There’s another?

Peter:

There’s another one and a third. Would you like to be a 1990s Scottish cricketer?

Craig:

Hmm, it would give me some years back, so yes I would.

Peter:

Or your third option is a Canadian television director or producer.

Craig:

Ah, well, my passion is sport media and portrayal of people with disabilities in media, so an opportunity to leverage there would be good.

Peter:

Ah, okay, okay. Well, maybe we’ll start. Let’s say if you were a cricketer, we’ll start on a sporting kind of theme, how do you think that sport, kind of human rights, inclusion, what is sport, I’m biased of course, but is sport a good vehicle to showcase human rights for people with disability?

Craig:

I think it is, but I think our conversations are often misdirected in the disability space. We often see it as people climbing very high mountains or very aspirational in terms of paralympic sport, which is elite and unreachable for many people. I think the story of sport and physical activity is part of the human condition. It’s something that people do to get outside, to relate to other people, to form friendship networks, and we don’t have enough emphasis on that. It’s one of the reasons that I’m actually warm towards things like the Special Olympics movement, because I actually think that that emphasizes that sport is about participation. It’s about getting out there. It’s about fulfilling your dreams, not just about getting to the finish line.

Peter:

But don’t you think–I’ll pursue that one a little bit. The concept of the role model in sport, Paralympic games or a big event comes around once every four years or so. Isn’t that good motivation for participation for people with disability? Do you believe in the role model?

Craig:

I think that if you look at someone like Kurt Fearnley, for instance, he’s really used his platform in a really powerful way to talk about the rights of people with disabilities. His Australia Days this year was just remarkable, and I think really belled the cat on a lot of places where they’re not doing participation well in Australia. I think sometimes that model of the Paralympic athlete can look a little bit unreachable to people on the ground, and for some people sport is about making connections. It’s about getting involved locally. It’s about participating rather than winning, so I’m not critical of that movement at all. I think the same way that the Olympics has a place at the pinnacle of Australian sport, we need to also have our Paralympics in the same place, to have more graduation and a continuum of activity across disability sport, and I’m afraid I don’t see that sometimes.

Peter:

What’s stopping it from happening?

Craig:

I think that there’s a lack of interest at a government level in sport and recreation for people with disabilities. There’s been a policy disconnect where we’ve just seen our project for people with disabilities participation as parachuting people into jobs, so going straight to economic participation, while the reality is that even if that is our project, employers want people who are actually rounded, who’ve got lives, who are journalists, who do things outside of work, and can have water cooler conversations. And I don’t think that we’ve actually had enough emphasis on building capacity for people with disabilities to be fully included in the community and have rounded lives, and sport is part of that.

Peter:

So sport’s just kind of a part of all that there. In some ways sport emphasizes similarities and emphasizes our differences greater than many other areas of society. Do you think if sporting organizations or organizations in general are going to adapt and modify to include more people with disability, where is the starting point? For some it’s very confusing there. What’s the starting point for an organization?

Craig:

I actually think people need to think about things that they can do that are small change and will actually make a big difference. We here at NICAN, which is my other hat, talk about things that organizations can do like simply having a pen and paper at a counter for a customer with a hearing impairment. That isn’t a large cost. It’s not capital infrastructure, but for the first contact for the person that can actually make a major difference. And I think we need to stop saying this is too hard, seeing the mountain is too far away and too hard to climb.

Peter:

Little steps.

Craig:

Yes. I’ve said the same thing in terms of the thing that I don’t think we have enough conversations about in the disability community, for our right spaces, we always talk about this in terms of a social model of disability, and the community needs to change and dissolve those barriers. And I agree with that as an advocate, but I also think that there’s a story around the confidence of people with disabilities to be able to participate and take full part in Australian society, and that’s been so eroded by lack in participation over time that we need to work to build capacity and skills and resilience in ourselves to be able to step up and take that first step.

Peter:

Could you explain, because you explained earlier you’re very vocal on that front, the project you’re involved with here at NICAN attempts to address that issue about confidence of people with disabilities to get involved themselves. Could you explain a little bit about that project?

Craig:

Yeah. We’ve got a project called Know Before You Go, and what that does is it works to build confidence in people with disabilities to break down potentially large and unachievable personal goals into small steps. It’s what you do with any project is you’ll actually work out what is the first thing that I need to do? So we’re using techniques from things like drama, personal planning, and project management to get people to a space where they can actually see, what is something that I could actually do tomorrow to start off my journey tomorrow? For some people, particularly for people with, say, an intellectual disability, it might simply be having conversations with somebody who’s already participated in the space or even just joining their local library so they can find out more.

Peter:

Confidence building is often a tricky thing, particularly in the disability sector where programs are good, no doubt about it, programs are good, but you’ve obviously got an idea that this is going to be long term and sustainable. How can you build that into a program?

Craig:

I actually think that sometimes in disability life sector we ignore the fact that we actually need to empower people, and we’re working with individual people, not just with whole systems. So I actually think the two things are complementary. The systemic advocacy work that I’ve initially been trying to change supports a system to make a more inclusive Australia with underpinning support, but there is still a place for person-centered, outcome-based work with individuals to build them up and to skill them to actually take part in that new world. I often put it that there’s no point. You can win the lottery and then be in the super market where all the shelves are too high and the shops are shut and you don’t feel any richer. So I think we need to work both ends of that problem.

Peter:

Nice, nice. Now I’m going to step back. Apart from us knowing you as an Australian politician, Scottish cricketer, or a Canadian television director, Craig Wallace, what got you involved in this? Have you always been involved in this area, or is there something that happened in your past that said, right, I’m going to speak up here?

Craig:

I made a conscious decision for a while, actually, not to be. I didn’t work in disability within government for a long time. I’ve worked in housing and volunteering in youth development and other areas because I didn’t want to get, sort of, type cast as a person with a disability who just worked on disability issues, but my commitment here is a personal one as a person with a disability, and goes right back to what I saw growing up in the 70s and 80s. I went to three special education schools that didn’t teach the formal curriculum. We came out of that system without any sort of formal education in things like math and English and science and then had a huge catch up to do. And I saw people leaving who could have made a great contribution living really wasted lives, and very few people that I saw came through that system and went on to do bigger and better things. And I just think Australia ought to be able to manage to imagine better for people with disabilities.

Peter:

Do you think we’ve progressed in that time, even though it was in the 70s? Do you think we’ve progressed in terms of that special education and the opportunities that are now available for young people?

Craig:

I still think in some respects we’ve gone backwards, to be honest. Disability rights had a big push in the early 80s, around the international year of disabled persons, and I actually think we then let it go, and we fragmented as a movement, and we didn’t continue the rights push. If you look at–and these things do happen in leaps and bounds, but I often wonder why we are not at the same place that indigenous Australians, gay and lesbian Australians, and women are at.

What I do think is exciting is that over the last 24 months, the push for disability care and national disability insurance scheme has really awakened the monster and enabled people to say that people with disabilities in Australia actually aren’t getting a fair go, and most people are now signed onto that to that. If you told me three weeks ago that the share price of an iconic Australian company could be brought down by two percent because of the comments that a CO made about disability, I would’ve said no chance. But I think we’re at a point where disability is now seen as a force capable of generating a customer retail backlash, and it’s back on the agenda.

Peter:

Right. We’ll come back to that in a second, but that period from the 70s, I’m interested in what happened in that period, because I would agree with you that we didn’t necessarily go forward? In some ways we went backwards. Is it in some way related to our sort of sense of what integration and inclusion should be and our misconceptions around that? Or what do you think are some of the main reasons why that happened? Surely we should have progressed in the last 20 years.

Craig:

I think there were a series of structural missteps that the movement took. I think that we wound up with a discrimination act for disability that was dysfunctional and based on individual complaints rather than systemic change. We should have had an American with disabilities style act that actually had some underpinning assessment in performance and quality insurance measures that was actually enforced by government. I think that was a major setback. I think we have a fragmented disability sector in Australia.

If you look across the Tasman to New Zealand, they’ve actually got a single, like, union for people with disability. There’s a national DPO that’s very clearly running policy in the government. In Australia, we’ve got a very fragmented disability rights sector, and I think disability itself is a different kind of space. Often the people that are best qualified to represent the disability space have their own personal challenges, have their own experiences with disability that can make it difficult for them to sustain advocacy in the public space, and we haven’t always supported that well. But the story in Australia, I think, is we simply never got to a critical mess. You’ve got 13 or 14 national organizations representing people with disabilities, all of them spin with a little bit of funding. Nobody’s got enough resources to drive it home and really land this as a rights based issue.

Peter:

But now we possibly have. You did talk about that briefly. Now we possibly have got that opportunity with the National Disability Insurance Scheme, Disability Care in the next few years. Explain expectations for people listening to this podcast from different countries. Maybe you’ll give, if you can, a 35 word or less synopsis of the National Disability Insurance Scheme, what that means, because it’s very significant moment in time at the moment for people with disabilities in Australia.

Craig:

It’s going to be a guaranteed care and support scheme with money raised out of insurance principles on taxation to provide a minimum level of support to people needing long term care and assistance.

Peter:

That’s the best summary I’ve heard yet about the disability insurance scheme. Let’s go three years from now, three or four years from now. What do you think would have changed because of all this?

Craig:

Well, what I hope is that we actually land the ambitious version of disability care, where money is held by individuals, so people actually start to become customers and consumers, because at the end of the day, I actually don’t think that it’s just legislation alone. Disability needs to become a customer retail force. We need to start purchasing our own support, taking control of our own lives, and taking control of our own political agenda. We need to enter the opinion cycle, not just the defence cycle. We need to actually be running the agenda. People with disabilities need to be running our own policy and rights agenda and their own participation agenda. And I hope that we’d get there in three years.

Peter:

It’s not that long that I suspect it will be a very interesting time in three or four years’ time, in that respect, where we are. To sort of finish off, Craig, we could be here talking all day, but need to kind of wind it up, if you’re a Scottish cricketer, we’ve got the ashes coming. I know you’re a little bit of a sport in that. Anyway, in the archive sporting theme, you know, in relation to people with disabilities, we have the Paralympic Games. We have Special Olympics. We do have opportunities there for people with disabilities to participate. I’m willing to bet that if the National Disability Insurance Scheme really kicks in, a lot of people will choose to do sport and recreation type activities because it’s about that lifestyle, and at the end of the day, it’s about quality of life, choices that people are able to make. Do you think that sport will be on the mindset of people with disabilities in the years to come?

Craig:

Oh, I think absolutely it will be. I mean, if that’s one of the good things that’s come out of the Paralympics and our aspiration is that that is front in people’s minds, and that’s a good thing. And I hope that people will be seeing sport as a participation opportunity and something that’s within reach of every Australian.

Peter:

And not a luxury.

Craig:

Absolutely, and not something that is a trivialized issue or a second order issue compared to employment. I think tourism and recreation are in the same space. They’re rights, not just periphery on the side.

Peter:

Beautiful. Thank you very much, Craig Wallace. Craig will continue to make a dent in the world and to be a leading advocate in this country, so thank you very much, Craig.

Craig:

Thanks very much, Peter!