The recent case of charges being dropped against a bus driver alleged to have abused intellectually-disabled children highlights the justice issues faced by people with complex communication needs, according to Dignity for Disability MLC Kelly Vincent.
Ms Vincent spoke to Flinders Indaily ahead of her special lecture on Monday to students in the Augmentative and Alternative Communication topic, taught by Dr Pammi Raghavendra as part of the Bachelor of Disability and Developmental Education course.
“The major problem we’re facing at the moment is that a lot of people with disabilities, particularly people and children with intellectual disability, are simply seen as being flat-out unreliable witnesses – even if they could be reliable when given the appropriate support to participate in the court process,” Ms Vincent said.
“The injustice that Dignity for Disability is trying to address is that these children were flatly denied the opportunity to give evidence, even when they had indicated to parents and teachers through their own normal method of communication that something had very clearly gone wrong,” she said.
The justice issues faced by people with disabilities, Ms Vincent said, are often compounded by a lack of access to relevant information.
“For example, a lot of people with disabilities are seemingly not receiving appropriate sex education in school, even if they may have the intellectual capacity to participate in those classes.
“Additionally, it would seem that people with disabilities are currently very confused about where to get information about their rights in terms of accessing the support they may need to participate in court or police processes.
“We need as many avenues as possible that are accessible to a variety of people with disabilities, whether it is a cognitive issue or having physical or financial access to something like a computer, when it comes to this sort of information.
[In my lecture] I’ll be touching on the advantages that facilitative and assistive communication methods and technology could bring to advancing the rights of those people in gaining access to that information and to the judicial system.”
In a bid to identify and tackle some of the justice issues faced by people with disabilities, Ms Vincent has established a select committee of the legislative council in the South Australian Parliament to enquire into the experience of people with disabilities, their carers and families in participating in the judicial process.
She also currently has two Private Member’s Bills before the Parliament: one seeks to instate the mandatory reporting of suspected abuse or neglect of people with disabilities; the other seeks to amend the Disability Services Act to include, among a range of reforms, the appointment of a Disability Services Commissioner.
“The Commissioner would aid the government in setting standards for disability services and how they’re delivered,” Ms Vincent said.
“[He or she] would also oversee compliance with those standards and act as a complaints body to which people with disabilities could go if they felt the services they were receiving were not compliant.”