Allan Takes Aim Blog

There are no votes in disability

Posted on: 4 May 2011

First published The Chronicle Tuesday 3 May 2011

A  few weeks ago On Radio National I heard the story of a young intellectually disabled woman called Melissa Avery, following her arrest for minor shoplifting offences and being sent to jail. This had happened to her a number of times.

That Melissa didn’t know she was doing wrong did not prevent her being jailed and incarcerated with dangerous people who do know the difference between right and wrong and will take advantage of her inability to know the difference. But politicians who should know the difference seem reluctant to acknowledge the situation or do anything about it perhaps because, as one astute carer said, there are no votes in disability. 

Metaphorically, Melissa was not the only intellectually disabled person being sent to jail, so too were thousands of Australians, young and old, with an intellectual disability. At the same time parents, brothers, sisters and others who care for people with an intellectual disability would continue to live as prisoners of love and care because of Government indifference to the problems they faced as carers.   

If true that a country should be known by how it treats its disabled and disadvantaged then what all Australians should be worried by the Melissa case. Why should it worry them? It should worry them that, if by accident they too become like Melissa or have a child or children like Melissa, they don’t know what will happen to them.

Melissa’s situation is something I am conscious of more than others because of my intellectually disabled nephew John, aged 44, who, fortunately, is not in the same position as Melissa but whose parents worry about what will become of him when they die. I have never asked them and never will but I suspect that at times they hope he will die before them.

This places an enormous burden on the shoulders of all parents who have a child with an intellectual disability. But even if they have children without a disability whether five, fifteen or twenty five years old, parents worry about them. But if they have a child or children with an intellectual disability, they worry even more.

They worry about the child’s place in society and as the years pass the worry does not get less but greater. Some also feel that many in the wider community blame them for their child’s disability despite being reassured constantly otherwise by specialists. In some cases, sadly and unfortunately, they blame themselves. On the other hand, some parents of children with a disability display what can best be described as worthy of a gold medal in caring.

Many parents fit into that category. Let me give an example of a family that lived in Canberra until eighteen months ago and had two autistic children. Disappointed at the treatment and services their sons were receiving Canberra they examined the treatment and services available elsewhere, including overseas. After carefully weighing up all the information their investigations produced they decided that the autism treatment and services being offered in England would improve their sons’ chances in life.

As a result they decided to sell up and move to England., a courageous decision that many people would not make. I have kept in touch with them and am pleased to say they are happy and that what they hoped for is coming true, with the boys having improved beyond measure.  Let me make it clear they would have preferred to remain in Canberra, but like many other loving parents their personal feelings took second place to their feelings for their children. 

Returning to Melissa, because the law does not distinguish between people with an intellectual disability and others who have committed the same offence is that become habitual criminals in the eyes of the law and spend much of their lives locked up in prison.

I can but add that if, as a society, we devoted as much time and money to  keeping our intellectually disabled people out of prison as we do on people who deserve to be in prison, the world would be a be a better place and carers of people with an intellectual disability would have a better life.

The Chronicle for Canberra’s best community news. Published every Tuesday


5 Responses to "There are no votes in disability"

hey I noticed that there is this site that is copying all of your posts!! Do you want me to show you their site??


Hey, I ran into your webpage from mixx. It’s not blog post I would normally read, but I loved your spin on it. Thank you for creating a blog post worth reading!

I guess we people with a disability are supposed to be miserable.i need help for disability but yet not get plan future help for disability.
As a woman with a disability I consider you a minority within a minority. Is it not amazing how no matter what we do as humans it some how always is related to our disability. Ugh, we are people first and foremost. Disability is a mere part of our existence

A member of the disabled community myself I understand your pessimism. But when people without a disability speak as if they find disability a problem I reply that it’s not a problem for me but if they find it a problem then they have a bigger disability than me.

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