Disability Discrimination Commissioner Graeme Innes has told a UNSW public forum that increased employment for disabled Australians is critical to reducing the cost of the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS).

Speaking at the inaugural UNSW Arts and Social Sciences Says Who? Public Panel Series, Innes said people with a disability make up 20 per cent of the population and their combined skills could significantly reduce the cost of the NDIS if employers “set and worked toward employment targets”.

The panel discussion, entitled Disability and a Good Life: What Does it Take?, featured experts in disability advocacy, research, policy and practice and tackled some of the thorny disability issues in Australia today, including the roll out of the NDIS and the challenges Australians face in forging a new, more inclusive society.

Panellists included Mr Innes; Associate Professor Leanne Dowse, UNSW disability researcher; Cain Beckett, PricewaterhouseCoopers; Therese Sands, People with Disability Australia; and Damian Griffis, First People’s Disability Network Australia.

The panellists discussed disability in indigenous communities, education and employment, justice, cultural change, housing and care, relationships and sexuality, and answered questions from the capacity audience.

“We’re a damn long way from a good life for people with disability,” Innes said.

“We need a strong advocacy sector and government advisory process, as well as the sort of academic capacity seen at UNSW, to change the attitudes of bureaucrats and politicians. It’s going to be a long hard struggle to achieve a good life for people with disabilities and we’re going to need every tool at our disposal.”

Associate Professor Leanne Dowse said the NDIS is set to radically change disability social support for the first time in Australian history.  

“This is a challenging time for all of us in thinking, planning and practicing in new ways when it comes to disability. Debates such as the Says Who? contribute to an important and necessary conversation about how people with disabilities can start to take more control of their lives, and how all Australians can be equipped to support and promote a good life for all.”

Innes concluded the panel discussion with a call to action.

“When you sit down at your desks tomorrow, think about how you can increase employment for people with disabilities by talking to the person in your organisation who has the power to utter those magical words, ‘You start on Monday’.

“The opportunity for people with disabilities to have a good life is in all of our hands,” he said.

About Says Who?: UNSW Arts and Social Sciences’ new Public Panel Series provides a platform for rigorous debate on today’s critical social issues. Panellists provide leadership in their areas of expertise from a variety of perspectives, including from the community, corporate, research and policy sectors. Audience members are encouraged to join the discussion by submitting questions prior to events.

Media contact: Fran Strachan, UNSW Media Office, 9385 8732, 0429 416 070