Last updated: 16 Jan, 2019

Opinion piece by Jerril Rechter, VicHealth CEO

First published in Croakey, 15 January 2019

Almost one in five Australians live with disability, and discrimination and exclusion is taking its toll on their health and wellbeing.

VicHealth’s Indicators Survey 2015 – Disability Supplement showed that inequities in health and wellbeing exist between Victorians with disability and those without.

The Indicators Survey is a population-level survey conducted every four years, providing a snapshot about the state of Victorians’ health and wellbeing.

The most recent results — drawn from a 22,000-person sample —  showed Victorians with disability (more than 6,300 respondents) have poorer wellbeing and diet, and lower levels of life satisfaction, resilience, neighbourhood social connections, in addition to lower levels of physical activity than Victorians without disability.

Jerril Rechter

We need to do better. We need to improve inclusion and accessibility. Everyone deserves the right to better health.

Let’s take a closer look at the gap. Victorians with disability are:

  • 40% less likely to be physically active;
  • Half as likely to feel safe walking around their neighbourhood;
  • 25% less likely to feel positive about their neighbourhood;
  • One third more likely to eat takeaway food regularly;
  • Experiencing significantly lower mental wellbeing, resilience and life satisfaction than people without disability.

So, what can we do about it?

Celebrate role models and challenge stereotypes

Can you name three prominent Australians with disability?

Young people with disability should have role models visible within the community to aspire to. Kids deserve heroes they can connect with.

Athletes like wheelchair tennis sensation Dylan Alcott are smashing stereotypes, while being vocal about their experiences, and publicly connecting with young Victorians with disability.

Negative stereotypes breed discrimination and exclusion. These stereotypes exist because of a lack of understanding about the abilities of people with disability.

Having more people with disability in the public eye can educate others about their strengths, as well as their struggles, and challenge perceptions.

This may also assist in reducing the threat from violence, and improving feelings of safety within neighbourhoods.

Create more welcoming, inclusive and accessible environments

Inclusion is no one-step feat; it requires action on multiple fronts.

There’s physical inclusion (infrastructure and facilities), community inclusion (attitudes and behaviours), program inclusion (programmatic design and policies) as well as inclusive language.

If we fostered more opportunities for people with disability to participate in the community, sporting and recreation activities, and reduced discrimination, we could better support more people to better health outcomes.

That’s why VicHealth works with organisations to design sports programs to be more inclusive for Victorians with disability, like AFL Blind.

AFL Blind is an adapted version of Australian Rules football for blind and vision impaired players run by AFL Victoria and Blind Sports Victoria.

Every element of the program has been designed with the individual in mind, in consultation with the vision impaired community. It provides a unique opportunity for people to play a sport they may love, for the very first time, while nurturing a network of players who can connect beyond the sports field.

While there are increasing numbers of great sports programs for people with disability we want to see adapted programs become more common and available, particularly in regional and rural areas.

Centre collaboration and connection

‘Nothing about us, without us.’ People with disability need to be represented on decision-making, advisory and planning bodies.

Encouraging leadership from people with disability and providing a seat at the table will assist in advocacy and planning.

Participation is required at all levels of society to promote true inclusion.

Peer support can also play a key role in ensuring people with disability lead active, healthy lives. Being able to connect with someone who has been through a similar journey can provide a wealth of knowledge and helping hand, particularly for those who acquire a disability later in life.

We know that mental wellbeing can be boosted by social connection. Access to peer support and a community of people with similar lived experiences can offer people with disability advice, support and friendship.

There are huge benefits to making our communities more inclusive and we all have a role to play in improving the health and wellbeing of Victorians with disability. Giving people with disability a voice and more opportunities to participate is a great start.

Read the full VicHealth Indicators Survey Supplementary Report: Disability

You can also view the Victorian Government’s State Disability Plan, ‘Absolutely Everyone: The Victorian State Disability Plan 2017-2020’