Wheelchair athlete and multi-Paralympic gold medallist Kurt Fearnley is being hailed a vital advocate for people with a disability after he drew worldwide attention to their poor living conditions in his Australia Day speech in Sydney on Tuesday.
Orange disability provider Wangarang general manager Kevin McGuire applauded Fearnley’s stance that this country did not do enough to support disabled citizens.
“Mr Fearnley is a role model for all Australians, but particularly for Australians living with a disability,” he said.
“We are very lucky to have such a successful individual in our area.”
Fearnley revealed alarming statistics in his Australia Day speech, including the fact that nearly half of Australia’s disabled citizens lived in poverty.
“If you have a disability in our country, you’re more likely to be unemployed, more likely to be living in poverty and more likely to be less educated than if you didn’t have that disability,” Mr Fearnley told a 200-strong audience in Sydney.
“In Australia, 45 per cent of people with a disability live in, or near poverty, more than double the OECD average of 22 per cent,” he said.
“We rank 21st out of 29 OECD countries in employment participation rates for those with a disability.
“We rank 27th out of 27 in terms of the correlation between disability and poverty.
“Our system is broken, it isn’t doing enough.”
These sentiments were echoed by Mr McGuire, however, he believes steps are slowly being made in the right direction.
“Mr Fearnley’s statistics are correct and on that basis I can do nothing more than agree,” he said.
“I do believe there has been considerable improvement in the recognition of people with disabilities within Australia in recent years.”
Mr Fearnley and Mr McGuire agreed the new National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) was a boost for people with disabilities, however, that alone was not enough.
“The concept of personal choice that the scheme should bring to people with disabilities and that ability for them to have control over their individual lives can only be a good thing,” Mr McGuire said.
“Similar schemes overseas have proven to be very successful and empowering, and implemented and funded appropriately here, should do a similar thing in Australia.”
During his speech in Sydney, Mr Fearnley said public awareness and acceptance was the key.
“The large roll-on comes through the education of the business world and general public,” he said.
“We’re marginalised by our invisibility ... too easily overlooked and ignored.
“Without empathy and support from within my community I would have never found my way to the life I get to live now.”
Having just returned from his fourth Paralympics, Mr Fearnley said the London Games were the best Paralympics he had participated in because of the level of public and corporate recognition the athletes received.
Mr McGuire firmly believes people such as Mr Fearnley, who comes from Carcoar, are assets to help raise awareness of people with a disability.