By Rosemary McKay, Director, Disability Policy Section, AusAID
Rosemary will join a panel of experts at the Canberra One Just World Forum (free
to attend) on the topic of ‘Overcoming Barriers—Living with a Disability in the Developing World’ on 22 May 2012, 6pm at Old Parliament House.
While I don’t have a disability and I don’t live in a developing country, I do have some experience of disability. My nine-year-old son has an intellectual disability and autism. For my son, and my family, living with a disability is challenging. But, here in Australia, the rights of people with disability are in legislation. My son can go to school
with his sister, which he loves to do; medicine for his epilepsy is subsidised; and we can access a range of support to assist him and our family. My husband and I are both able to work.
In many developing countries, the outlook for people with disabilities and their families is much bleaker. If I’d had my son in a developing country, chances are that I would be a full-time carer, and my son would most likely not be able to go to school. The health care costs associated with his condition and my family’s reduced income would steadily make us poorer, and I might feel too much shame to socialise with friends or take my son out into the community. I might find this situation so hard to cope with that I might even resort to locking my son up at times so that I could get basic chores done.
This picture horrifies me. And I am dedicated to changing it. I am the Director of the Disability Policy Section at AusAID, managing an enthusiastic and committed team who work hard to make the aid program more disability-inclusive. I love my job, and I’m proud that Australia’s Development For All strategy has such a strong focus on rights and that it’s guided by input from people with disabilities.
A highlight of this job so far has been participating in a meeting of our Disability
Reference Group. This is a group of inspiring people, including those with disabilities, who provide high-level guidance to AusAID. The Reference Group met with AusAID’s Executive and Parliamentarians in June last year. By chance, this was also the week that Effective Aid was launched, which has “enhancing the lives of people with disabilities” as one of the ten development objectives for the aid program. The Reference Group attended the launch, and was elated to see this issue recognised as such an important one in AusAID’s key policy document.
Australia is recognised as a leader for its Development For All strategy. We are one of the only donors with a specific strategy and dedicated resourcing for including people with disability in the aid program.
There are high expectations of AusAID’s work in improving the lives of people with disabilities. We will only achieve this goal though working in partnership with Disabled Persons Organisations, partner governments and groups such as the Australian
Disability and Development Consortium which includes a range of NGOs and Disabled Persons Organisations.
There is much planned for the year ahead. We hope to improve our monitoring and evaluation to collect information on the extent to which people with disability are both participating and benefitting from AusAID’s programs, publish Universal Design Guidelines to ensure Australian-funded infrastructure is accessible; and continue to support a range of programs to improve the quality of life for people with disabilities in developing countries. There is much to do, but I am confident that we have made a very good start since the Development for All strategy was launched in 2008.
People with disabilities want what everyone wants—an education, employment, a chance to be part of their community—and they have a right to these things. I am proud that Australia will continue to play an important part in improving the lives of people with disabilities in our region through the aid program.
About the author: Rosemary McKay
Rosemary McKay has been Director of the Disability Inclusive Development Team at AusAID (the Australian government’s international development programme), since February 2011.
She joined AusAID in 1997, and has also worked on Pacific regional health and gender programmes, the Papua New Guinea programme, and in the Asia regional and UN programme sections. She was posted to Southern Africa from 2000–2002.
Having a particular interest and personal passion for working on disability issues, prior to working in AusAID she worked for the Office of Disability and Commonwealth Rehabilitation Service within Australia’s Department of Health and Human Services.