‘Disabled do not get a fair go’

A MAN spends months in jail while needing professional care. A woman, harassed by her neighbour, is ignored by the courts. Another’s cries of abuse at the hands of a housemate go unnoticed.

These were just a few for the real-life stories shared yesterday at a forum in Albury, discussing how people with disabilities are treated by police and the justice system.

The forum, hosted by Disability Advocacy and Information Service, saw people with disabilities, their carers and those working relates in fields to swap experiences and ideas and listen to speakers, including disability discrimination commissioner Graeme Innes.

Mr Innes has been attending forums across the country before reporting to the federal and state governments next year on how to change laws to make the system fairer.

“It’s been confirmation of what I’ve heard all around Australia,” he said, of the issues raised yesterday.

“We’ve heard stories of problems experienced by people in all aspects of the system — as victims, as prisoners and witnesses.

“People with disabilities are not getting a fair-go, particularly those with intellectual or psycho-social disabilities.”

The forum was told of one young man who’d had a psychotic episode and, once treated and apparently recovering, was charged with trespassing and exposure. He spent six months in custody.

“That’s just not the way these sorts of things need to be dealt with,” he said.

“The nature of his disability needs to be taken into account far more effectively.”

Another woman shared the story of a friend who lived alone and was bullied by her neighbour until she sought an intervention order.

The drawn-out legal case left the woman feeling the courts would not listen to her. She was unwilling to approach them again.

Yet another story told of a resident abusing others in supported accommodation, but the complaints were not taken seriously until a staff member was abused as well.

Mr Innes told the forum this too was a common scenario and said there needed to be more awareness for those working in the industry who might be tempted to treat such complaints as “management issues”.

“Assault is assault and violence is violence, and it needs to be treated as such,” he said.

Other speakers included Australian Law Reform Commission Professor Rosalind Croucher and police officers from both NSW and Victoria.

Mr Innes said it was “very useful” to have police members there to explain how they worked and the training they’d had to better deal with people with disabilities.

“There has been some progress but there is still some way to go,” he said.

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