Attitudes Matter: Community attitudes toward people with disability in Australia

This session was part of the Advocacy Sector Conversations Forum series held on Zoom 1 March 2022.


Overview

Attitudes are linked to disability-based discrimination and social exclusion, which in turn impact the health and wellbeing of people with disability. The Centre of Research Excellence in Disability and Health recently conducted the first national survey of community attitudes toward people with disability. The survey, co-designed with people with disability, examined how people in Australia understand disability and their beliefs, attitudes and behaviours toward people with disability in a range of settings including education and employment.

In this session, one of the authors of the study, Dr Georgina Sutherland from the Disability and Health Unit, Centre for Health Equity at the Melbourne School of Population and Global Health, discusses the findings of the survey and what they tell us about where we need to focus future effort across individual, organisational and structural levels of society.

 

Links and downloads for resources mentioned in this session can be found at the bottom of this post.


Audio and Transcript

 

MELISSA HALE:
Good morning, everyone. Welcome to the first session of the March 2022 Advocacy Sector Conversation series. My name is Melissa Hale and I’m the manager of the Disability Advocacy Resource Unit. I would like to begin by acknowledging the Wurundjeri people of the Kulin Nation, the traditional custodians of the lands on which I’m coming to you from today and pay my respect to their Elders past and present. I extend that respect to all First Nations people here today.

We encourage your active participation today so please type in your questions in the Q&A box and at the end of the session I will be facilitating a Q&A session with our presenter.

So the first session for this series is on community attitudes towards people with a disability in Australia. Attitudes are linked to disability based discrimination and social exclusion which in turn impacts the health and well-being of people with a disability. The Centre of Research Excellence in Disability and Health recently conducted the first national survey of community attitudes towards people with a disability. The survey co-designed with people with disability examined how people in Australia understand disabilities and their beliefs, attitudes and behaviours towards disability in a range of settings, including education and employment.

In this session one of the authors of the study, Dr Georgina Sutherland, will discuss the findings of the survey and then tell us about where we need to focus our future effortsacross individual organisational and structural levels of society.

So please give a warm welcome to Dr Georgina Sutherland.

DR GEORGINA SUTHERLAND:
Thanks, Melissa, and also to Natasha for extending this invitation to share our project and to unpack some of the findings of our report on a national survey of community attitudes towards people with disability in Australia.

I’m really pleased to be part of this advocacy sector conversation series. I’m also joining you from Melbourne today. A very gloomy day in Melbourne. A little bit of rain just starting but thankfully not as much as other parts of our country right now. Melbourne is the colonial name for the city where I live and work and I would like to acknowledge that I am on the stolen lands of the Wurundjeri people and to pay my respects to Elders past and present and to First Nations people on the call today or joining the webinar, I should say.

I’d also like to acknowledge that I’m presenting on behalf of quite a big team of researchers, both academic and community researchers and some of this work actually commenced before I started in my role at the university, so I hope I can do justice to the huge amount of work that they did in this project.

I’m using a clicker on my phone to move my slides so excuse me if this – fabulous, it’s working.

Apart from the core research team the project had a really broad group of contributors to the project, both formally through stakeholder consultations with disability advocacy sector leaders who provided direct input into the survey and formally through other types of stakeholder engagement and I’d like to specifically acknowledge Amaze for sharing their experiences of developing and implementing their survey, Australia’s attitudes and behaviours towards autism and also to our funders and to the survey participants who I’ll talk about a little bit later in the survey.

My plan today is not to take up the whole of the allocated time that I have so that we can leave lots of times for questions and for comments and what I want to do is to share with you some of the key findings, and as Melissa discussed, sort of unpack some of that in relation to implications but also about the survey itself and our approach to developing it because that’s a really unique and important component of the work that we did.

So why study attitudes?  Why are they important?  Melissa mentioned that attitudes can have a significant impact on the lives of people with a disability because they are related to discrimination and act as a barrier to access and inclusion and attitudes are shaped by lots of things including everything really in the world around us, those that are close to us, family and friends, through communities and institutions like schools and workplaces but are all around us in the way media portray people with disability and also in advertising or sometimes attitudes are formed by the absence of people that we see in the world around us.

When we really dive into the literature on attitudes, and that’s not just literature on attitudes to people with disability but, sort of, the attitudes literature broadly and we try to think about how attitudes link to behaviours and actions it starts to get a little bit messy. It’s not quite such a linear path between attitudes and behaviours and particularly at the individual level.

So often individually held attitudes aren’t necessarily a good predictor of individual actions but rather people’s behaviours are influenced largely by what they believe other people expect in particular social situations. Attitudes can be quite dynamic and changeable which is a good thing. They are amenable to change but they can change in a particular context that we are in as well.

At a society level attitudes can tell us about what the community thinks is okay and what they think is not okay but also what as a community we’re prepared to tolerate or not tolerate and they can also serve as a – like a barometer. So it’s something we can look at. We can measure over time and we can see whether progress is being made and where we might need to focus on in the future.

The importance of community attitudes in the lives of people with disability is now signalled in a couple of very key policy platforms in Australia. The first is Australia’s National Disability Strategy that was released in December of last year, December of 2021. It was designed to cover, sort of, a decade of policy in Australia and community attitudes in this particular iteration of the strategy was added in as one of the seven outcome areas but also explicitly acknowledged as being a cross cutting theme.

So a cross cutting theme in relation to community attitudes play a really important role if the strategies to achieve its vision across many of the other outcome areas. So in relation to employment, in relation to health, in relation to access to healthcare or access to justice. So a particularly important overarching issue in Australia’s disability strategy.

The second important policy platform is the Disability Royal Commission, the Royal Commission into violence, abuse, neglect and exploitation of people with disability and the Royal Commission has highlighted community attitudes as being highly relevant in relation both to responding to violence and abuse but also the role that attitudes play in preventing violence and abuse from happening in the first place. So this is thinking about attitudes in relation to being an underlining determinant of the very high rates of violence that people with disability experience.

What is missing currently from the, sort of, policy picture in Australia is a mechanism really to monitor and understand community attitudes towards people with disability and although this project commenced before either of those two, sort of, really important policy platforms arrived in Australia it has gained agency, in terms of its relevance to these particular – to policy and how that might be implemented.

I’m going to do a bit of a deep dive into the survey, into how it was developed. So the survey is called the community attitudes survey. It was guided by the principle of participatory research. By that I mean the concerns, experiences, perspectives and interests of people with disability and the disability sector or disability advocacy sector was central to the development process and that was designed to ensure we had a survey that was relevant to the lives of people with disability in Australia.

Really our very fundamental or core aspect of these principles or particularly the principles of participatory research was involving people with disability as part of the research team. So community researchers. Sometimes in research we might also refer to them as co researchers. So not people with disability necessarily just in focus groups or as research participants or even as consultants, even though we did that as part of this project, but what I mean by community researchers is people with disability embedded as the core component of this research bringing academic expertise together with lived experience learning from each other and moving jointly forward.

The distinction between co research and consultation, they are often used interchangeably but they actually are not synonymous. The process of working with lived experience expertise in the research process also allows us to be deeply reflective of our own practices and processes about what’s around us particularly in the university and it was very telling as we were doing this project and as we were looking for community researchers to work with, involving them and being involved in the research process together about some of the attitudes and some of the structures and practices even within the university, it made it much more difficult for people with disability to be involved in research.

So we were studying some of the barriers and what discrimination and exclusion, we were actually dealing with some of it ourselves in terms of some of the physical spaces at the university were not accessible and other structures and processes, universities for a long time have excluded people with a disability.

There really were four main components to the process of developing the survey. So we started with reviewing previous surveys on attitudes to disability to identify potential survey questions. To consider whether we wanted to use existing, sort of, psych metric scales, whether there was anything that was relevant, whether we wanted to look at other questions and take some pieces out of them. It was really about reviewing what was already out there in terms of the existing literature.

Then identifying the attitudes that were most relevant to measure in the Australian context, so what was really important for us to know about. This was facilitated also by conducting stakeholder interviews with leading disability advocates to guide the survey, the co researchers conducted 10 stakeholder interviews face-to-face. These were pre-pandemic so they could happen face-to-face, although there was some online and some by telephone and the stakeholder contributions really helped to ensure that any findings that we had were really useful to the sector but advocates also were very – contributed a lot to the development. Helped us to refine questions so they were more understandable, so they were relevant, talked about ways – in some ways some of the attitudes that surveys that existed were quite outdated. So reinforcing some of the negative or harmful attitudes that we know exist.

And many also commented on their own experiences of attitudes and that further informed the work we were doing in the survey and then of course we drafted and finalised the survey. What we ended up as a survey was what we have described as a global set of attitudes, beliefs and assumptions and behaviours that impact on people with disability.

Rather than specifically ask questions about attitudes towards types of impairments, so we know that Amaze have surveys around attitudes of autism. Rather than doing that we thought about this global set of attitudes. That was something we really had to pick through. I’ve got here one of our stakeholder comments about this.

So this person has said, in our organisation we don’t make any distinction on the basis of disability. We put all people into that group. However I’m conscious that people in the community have different responses and reactions to different types of disability. Some more negative than others. That there is a real issue for people in the community who have invisible disabilities so I am aware of all those nuances. They need to be taken into account depending on how far such a survey wants to drill down.

So these were some of the questions and queries we had and we had to think through an approach to take in this particular survey. I’m trying to click through on my computer but that doesn’t work. I need to use my phone.

The survey is a series of statements that reflects respondent’s own attitudes, so what we would refer to as personally-held attitudes, as well as their understanding of what the wider community or their wider understanding of community’s attitudes towards people with disability.

If I’m looking at my screen on the left-hand side employers should be able to refuse to hire people with disability. That’s worded in terms of eliciting a personal response and then on the other side is people believe that people with disability find it harder to make friends. So that is eliciting from survey respondents what they maybe think the broader community thinks.

It was designed specifically in this way because we know from research on attitudes that one of the major challenges to measuring particularly personal held attitudes is a tendency for respondents to feel like they need to choose socially acceptable responses, so what they might think is the right thing to say as opposed to true thoughts and feelings.

We included some other information around the attitudes, so the sort of standard approach to sociodemographic information but also about whether people had social contact with people with disability, whether they had a friend or family member with a disability, whether they had a disability themselves.

This is just a broad overview of the survey methodology as a whole. So survey respondents were members of the life Australia panel which is managed by the social research centre and I’ve put a link in there, although that’s not – that colour doesn’t come out very well but I’m happy to send people that if they’re interested. And if people want to delve a bit into the statistical properties around generalisability and representativeness to the Australian population.

So in April 2018 all of the active members of the Life in Australia panel were contacted and invited to participate in this survey. Over 70, so a total of 2,069 people did complete the survey. Most online with a small proportion completing the survey over the phone. All of the survey questions were worded in that sort of standard format that I’m sure people have seen if they’ve completed surveys from – anchored with a strongly disagree, strongly agree.

We then recategorised them into three groups. So the strongly disagree became disagree. We had the neutral response option so people who neither agreed or disagreed and then the strongly agree and agree were in a third category. I’ll just talk about some of the survey findings across some of the, sort of, key domains or key areas of interest that we’re interested in.

The first one is around common beliefs and touches upon expectations, sort of, exploitability and future prospects. We can see that 20% agreed that people should not expect too much from people with disability. 63% agreed that people with disability are easy to take advantage of, to exploit or to treat badly. And 23% agreed that people with disability have less to look forward to than others.

We also asked about this issue around burden that a lot of people talked to us – with disability talked to us about in terms of attitudes and behaviours and found that 9% of people agreed that people with disability are a burden on society. So quite a small proportion of the survey respondents but 23%, so a quarter, agreed that people with disability are a burden on their families and this is not something that people with disability just hear once, it’s not just a once-off attitude. It’s something that we hear from people talking about as an every day occurrence.

I have a quote here from one of the stakeholders who talked to us about how this plays out for her when she’s in the community. “My partner’s nondisabled and people always think she must be a fabulous and wonderful person and she is. But she must be a fabulous, wonderful person for being with me and she must do the majority of the domestic tasks and I must be some burden and one day she’ll wake up and realise that I’m a wheelchair user and leave. I’ve had people say that to me. She hasn’t realised yet. So somewhere down the track she’s going to wake up and go, oh, she doesn’t stand up. Okay, I’ve got to get out of here”.

The next set of questions sort of coalesce around behaviours towards people with disability. So 63% agreed that people with disability are easy to exploit. 61% agreed that people often make fun of people with disability and 41% agreed that people with disability are treated like they have no feelings and to me it feels like there’s a bit of a conundrum here around interpretation.  Where on the one hand, do these responses reflect an awareness around discriminatory and exclusionary practices that people with disability experience or are they in and of themselves reflect stereotypical attitudes of people with disability as being vulnerable or flawed or in need of protection.

And I would really argue that these attitudes around exploitability and vulnerability and particularly around uncertainty are very much entwined with and reinforce the attitudes of low expectations and burdens that were on the previous slide. I’ll also show you this, sorry that might be a bit small for people to see. I will show you this as a table that I’ve drawn specifically from the Victorian report but is reflected in the national survey as well and this is about interactions with people with disability, in terms of what the survey respondents told us.

So you can see there around on the first bar there’s around a third of people think people with disability are approachable and then we have – on the second bar it rises up to, sort of, three quarters of people say – they’re unsure how to act towards people with disability and then the third one is around – back around a third, uncomfortable asking people with disability what supports they need.

It sort of plays into this idea, there’s this uncertainty around how you act, whether you approach people, what you say to people, whether you should ask people and that, of course, has an impact on how people with disability feel in terms of inclusion and participating in the community.

The final set of slides – not the final set of slides but these final sort of set of statements I’m going to show you around inclusion across some key life domains, including actually some of the outcome areas that are in the new disability strategy.

So 20% of people agreed that employees should be able to refuse to hire people with a disability. 13% agree that children with disability should only be educated in special schools. 21% agreed that schools are accepting of children with disability 55% agreed that people with disability find it harder than others to make friends.

So in summary, and it’s really important to reiterate here that most respondents expressed inclusive and positives attitudes, particularly when asked about their individual perspectives or views. There was a proportion who demonstrated an awareness of the harmful attitudes and actions by other people and that those actions can be exclusionary and discriminatory. There was a range of concerning findings though where a chunk of people reported attitudes that were either overtly negative or hold attitudes that are devaluing or patronising and discriminatory.

Then there are some questions that we found quite difficult to interpret and there’s a range of reasons for that but including where there was a large proportion of the survey respondents that selected the neutral response option.

So at the start I showed you the scale people were able to respond on, agree, disagree, we had this neutral response where people could say they neither disagreed or agreed with the statement. So, for example, around a third of the survey respondents neither agreed or disagreed with the statement, people with disability should not raise children.

So my questions are around, is the neutral response option because they hold a negative attitude but know that it’s not actually socially acceptable to say or is it that they don’t actually hold a strong view, so they truly don’t agree or disagree with that statement but is this itself a negative attitude. Is choosing the positive, negative.

So there’s some questions about what you do with those neutral response options. The low expectations and perceived burdens were a theme as we were developing the survey, a theme with stakeholders and then were quite strongly supported through the survey findings where there was low expectations and perceived burden as a negative attitude and it has deep impacts on people with disability across all life domains.

There were some really interesting attitudes around school and the workplace, particular settings where I think there is opportunity for change to be made. I’m just going to touch on some, like, strength and limitations. This is why I have a scale here. There’s always things that you can do better, things that you reflect on and think, we could do that a bit differently next time but there are certainly strengths as well. The first national survey of its type so a very useful baseline from which we can measure change.

Our approach to developing the survey was modelled on really authentic co-design and something that the team is particularly proud of, although came with its own set of challenges and allowed us to reflect on some of the structures within the university that are discriminatory and exclusionary.

But several limitations also to consider, particularly in relation to neutral responses to survey questions that makes some questions difficult to interpret and I’ve looked at – there’s some other national surveys. There’s one that’s been running for a really long time on community attitudes to violence against women and I sort of dug a bit deeper into that survey to understand what they do with the neutral response options and I haven’t as yet found a solution to that so I’d be interested to hear people’s thoughts around that.

What’s next?  We actually have a really – it’s a really rich source of data the community attitudes survey and with a bit more resource and a bit more time for us all we’d really love to do a bit more with it but we do have some plans. One of the plans is to look for some of the associations, for example, what are the associations between attitudes and social contact.

So if you have a family or a friend with a disability or if you have other types of social contact with people with disability, so you work with someone, have you had a teacher who had a disability, were you at school with someone with a disability and think about how that impacts on people’s attitudes.

We’d like to further explore particular settings, as I mentioned workplaces is one that I think we’d like to – from our experiences we’d like to particularly explore that but we also have some questions that allows us to explore perhaps if people are working in managerial roles or roles where they have the responsibility for hiring staff, looking at attitudes, that particular group to see if there’s any opportunities where we can sort of target efforts for change.

We’d also like to compare community attitudes towards people with disability with how people with disability actually experience those attitudes. So we did have a supplementary section that asked about some experience – there was some experiences questions. We had a student do a little bit of work on that towards the end of last year. It was really complex and we haven’t quite worked out how to unpack that yet so we’re still working on that component.

In terms of recommendations, I’ve just got some really broad ones here but of course investing action. So this provides a really important, sort of, descriptive platform to understand what’s going on but there needs to be action around understanding our evidence-based or evidence-informed actions for change.

So what can we do that’s specifically relevant to changing these attitudes, changing how people with disability experience those attitudes and exclusion access, all of those things that we can change but to explore that through policy, through legislative mechanisms, through social marketing. There’s so much opportunities to put action to invest in action in this space.

We’d like to say – to advocate for a real commitment to co-design, particularly in the national disability strategy they have an outcomes framework around – across the seven outcome areas including community attitudes and they, you know, will we assume report, monitor report progress across the life of the strategy and particularly around community attitudes and probably all the outcome areas are really a commitment to co-design and inclusive processes.

I also think that there needs to be action which the Disability Royal Commission is really highlighting the role of disability as an underlying or a driver of discrimination and inequality.

So I think there’s a lot of thought put into negative and harmful attitudes and their impact on access to services but I think it would be really important if we start to consider attitudes as one of the underlying drivers or the underlying risk factors for discrimination, inequality for people with disability.

Of course, it would be useful to really monitor this over time to take the attitudinal temperature really of the community and to see if things are changing. We have two reports that we produced from this work.

The Victorian Government and the Department of Health and Human Services, as they were known at the time, were really particularly interested in the Victorian community attitudes and part of their state-based disability inclusion strategy. So we particularly looked at a Victorian population there and produced a report for the Victorian Government.  But also the survey was national so that we’ve later produced this national report. They’re very much in line but there’s more detail there than I have spoken about today.

So thank you very much, everyone, for your time today and we now, I think, have plenty of time for questions which I think is terrific.

 

MELISSA HALE:
Thank you very much, Georgina.

Before I go to questions the first thing I’d like to highlight is the slides and the recording of the session will be available on the DARU website as usual.

Before we go to Q&A I have a few questions myself.

QUESTION:
So you mentioned that there’s a huge interest in changing community attitudes which is correct that there’s a number of different policy movements such as the national disability strategy, the Royal Commission, state disability plan. So this is a big interest of mine around changing community attitudes and one of the things you mentioned was basically one fifth of the respondents think that employers should be allowed to refuse to hire a person with a disability. Do you think this is an attitude or is it the barriers that are put in place. Like the NDIS and EIF programs help people with disabilities be employed with the supports they need but they definitely don’t go far enough. It will help to change attitudes to allow employers to test assumptions if there was support provided by people with disability to be able to be employed in the mainstream. What are your thoughts on that?

DR GEORGINASUTHERLAND:
Yeah. It’s a great question and one that we grapple with.

As you would know when we ask people about their attitudes, like the survey itself can’t tell us why. They tell us what it is but they don’t tell us the underlying – what’s underlying that. That’s really important to know.

I agree with all your comments there about the support that’s potentially available to employers to be able to make modifications or to be able to have people with disability in their workplaces. My understanding, Melissa, is often they’re not taken up by employers. So that there is state level and I think Commonwealth level funding available to support people, particularly employers to employ people with disability but often those funds aren’t used.

I also have some questions around why that is the case. You know, is it because there’s an attitude there that this is too hard, irrespective of the potential financial and other supports I can receive or are the authorities that have these funds not providing enough information or incentive for employers to use them and I feel like that’s a bit of a frustration.

Is that a sense that you get that some of those funds just aren’t accessed and used?

MELISSA HALE:
Yes, I think I agree with that. I think there is a lack of knowledge around how it can be used and how it can be accessed because a lot of employers don’t know about it.

DR GEORGINA SUTHERLAND:
Yeah.

MELISSA HALE:
And a lot of people going for jobs often don’t know the full – like what they’re fully entitled to as well and how to resolve that problem.

I haven’t really looked into but I’ll give you an example. For a deaf person, I’m a deaf person myself, this is my experience. If you use Auslan full-time you have access to $6,000 Auslan interpreting per year and that’s it. And for some people that’s gone in a month. So then it’s up to the employer to pay the rest of that. So that’s a huge barrier.

So I don’t think it’s more of an attitude. It’s more of like how are we going to do this thing. That’s just one thing I’ve grappled with for quite a while. How do we fix that?

DR GEORGINA SUTHERLAND:
I think that’s a good point because we’re talking here about – it’s about individuals but there’s those structural barriers. You know, they’re all intertwined.

You can’t unpack them but certainly I talked a bit about those structural barriers that we experience, just at the university, and this was just about physical spaces. This was finding a space that was accessible for someone in a wheelchair. So pretty basic stuff. That was a real challenge for the project team to find accessible spaces. There is absolutely barriers at the structural level to inclusion.

MELISSA HALE:
Yeah. Absolutely.

The other question I had was…

QUESTION:
How honest do you think people really were. So do you think when they were reading the question did guilt hold them back from saying what they really think because there seemed to be – from reading some of your statistics there seem to be a really high level of people being uncomfortable and lacking the knowledge of how to ask people what they need at that really basic level. I found that really interesting.

DR GEORGINA SUTHERLAND:
Yeah. I found that interesting too and I can’t answer the question about the extent that they were honest.

MELISSA HALE:
No.

DR GEORGINA SUTHERLAND:
But it was raised with us numerous times through the consultation process, about that, how do you sort of elicit really honest – sort of raw responses people might feel a bit uncomfortable saying and there’s no actual way to do that.

We did talk about – I mean, the survey was anonymous, confidential, stakeholders asked us to reiterate the importance of being honest and that no-one else was going to know what the responses were and we specifically avoided really characterising responses by, sort of, sociodemographic groups. So men and women, younger or older, if people speak English or not because it doesn’t seem like that’s really a very big driver often attitudes.

So we weren’t going to characterise people. So we did what we could around honesty and part of that is – and other attitudes surveys do this as well, it’s like well what do you think people think but then you start to – it’s difficult to unpack what that means. Yeah. It’s really challenging. It’s really challenging.

MELISSA HALE:
Absolutely. I’ll just ask one last question and then I’ll go to the audience because questions are coming in thick and fast.

QUESTION:
What are some of the tools that you use to measure something that’s not as easy to measure as numbers or statistics. How do you measure something like attitudes, how do you do that?

DR GEORGINA SUTHERLAND:
Well, I mean you do it through asking a whole lot of questions like we did but there’s other ways. You know, like we’ve been doing some, sort of, participatory workshops. We’re particularly interested in discriminatory and exclusionary attitudes that would lead to violence against women. I don’t mean directly lead to but sort of some of the underpinning drivers of limiting independence and, you know, control, those sorts of things and that is a really good way to – the experience, how people experience attitudes is sort of coming from the other direction and that can be really insightful for – particularly I think what this survey can’t do is – certainly can’t do is talk about these attitudes are – the experience of these attitudes for people with disability is an every day occurrence.

So it’s something that – the issue around low expectations, whether that be in the workforce, issues around burden, comments people make in public, what happens in private but it’s every day, like it’s an every day harm for people with disability.

So I think the other side of – when you flick the other side of the coin and you ask about experiences that can be a really good compliment to this sort of work which has got its limitations.

MELISSA HALE:
Fantastic. Thank you for that. I think we’ll go to questions from the audience now. Can I please have the first question up on the screen. Great.

QUESTION:
So regarding question structure, were you saying that the team structured more evocative sentences, as in to leave more space to deviate from what might be socially expected to allow for more honesty?

DR GEORGINA SUTHERLAND:
No. We didn’t structure more evocative questions. We rather were asking questions about personally held attitudes and about what they think other people might think.

So if you deviate from what’s socially acceptable and you might go, I think other people think that. That’s what we were trying to elicit – not more honest responses but to give people an opportunity to express what they personally thought but more generally what the society or community thought.

We weren’t being evocative. Maybe that’s something we can consider. I don’t know.

MELISSA HALE:
okay. Great. Thank you. Next question.

QUESTION:
Will a national human rights charter assist in changing negative community attitudes?  Is it that we are still looking at disability through a medical model lens?

DR GEORGINA SUTHERLAND:
What a huge question. That’s a really great question and I would really love to have more of a discussion about that.

I’ll take the second bit first and I think it’s safe to say yes, that we’re still looking at disability through sort of a deficits lens which is the medical model but I think broadly it’s thinking about deficits and not strengths and I think – I mean, I do research in lots of different areas and I think overall there is a tendency to always shift back to this sort of deficit medical model and not consider a disability as an interaction between an impairment and the sort of – I mean, attitudes are one of the – what’s existing at the social level that is disabling.

So I think for sure that that is the case. Will a national human rights charter – I don’t think I know the answer to that. Melissa, do you have – what do you think?

MELISSA HALE:
Well, that is a really, really good question. I congratulate whoever asked that question today because the cynic in me says until our human rights charter has actual measures to hold people accountable then no because I feel like our legislation today, there’s too many loop holes, there’s too many ways to get away with things, there’s too many ways for employers to exclude people with disability.

So, yes, if it had teeth and I would hope that something had teeth. I think that’s the only way I could answer it in a nutshell. Great question whoever you are.

DR GEORGINA SUTHERLAND:
Such a good question and it needs much more unpacking than I can give that question justice to but I do think, Melissa, the issues around accountability of things like charters and legislation, particularly big overarching pieces of legislation that often, I don’t know – I don’t know. I find they say lots of good things. There’s lots of good things we should be doing but whether – how they are filtered down and enacted and then hold people accountable. It’s a bit grey. I don’t think I quite understand how that works.

MELISSA HALE:
Yeah. Amazing. Next question.

QUESTION:
Regarding interactions, can you speak more about what kind of interactions?  What kind of interactions did you have?

DR GEORGINA SUTHERLAND:
Is it in relation to the questions – I’m not sure I know how to interpret that. Can you speak more about what kind of interactions. So some of the questions were – I’ll speak to the survey findings which were about the way people interacted with people with disability.

So I’m going to guess it’s in relation to some of the bar graph that I was showing about people being comfortable, whether they would approach people with a disability and whether they would ask – you know, they were comfortable asking someone for support. They weren’t situational, in terms of we weren’t saying, at work or in the street.

We didn’t really delve into situational interactions, which I think maybe is what that question is trying to get to but it’s a good question for us to consider because I do think when we talk about attitudes, and particularly the sort of social norms and expectations that underpin those, so if we go even further back through the social norms about how we’re expected to act in society and how people think we should act, that sort of situational – the situational or context of that can be really important so that’s a good question but we didn’t explore it in a lot of detail but it’s something that I think we should consider unpacking a bit more.

MELISSA HALE:
Yep. And sorry I keep looking to my side. I’m just making sure I get all the questions in. So next question, please.

QUESTION:
Did the survey look at attitudes towards people with disabilities within CALD communities?

DR GEORGINA SUTHERLAND:
No. It didn’t break down attitudes in that sort of – in what we call that intersectional frame, so looking at particularly – and there’s no doubt there is people from CALD communities or First Nations people, that there are particular groups of people with disability that experience, sort of, multiple marginalities. Their experiences are amplified but we didn’t specifically ask about that.

We were – it was more about this global set of attitudes towards people with disability. So we didn’t ask about different sorts of impairments either and we didn’t ask about particular communities. Again, this webinar format is so frustrating because I want to go, what do you think you’d find?  The person who asked that question I’m, like, well, what do you think we’d find there. That people – I’m guessing the question comes from thinking that people like Margaret from refugee communities might have more negative attitudes in relation to how people act around them or those sorts of things. I’m guessing that’s sort of the impetus for that question but I’d love to know.

MELISSA HALE:
Yeah. It is really quite a shame we’re not in person at the moment. We’d normally do this in person but the world has changed.

DR GEORGINA SUTHERLAND:
The world has changed.

MELISSA HALE:
Next question.

QUESTION:
If the demographics of people in question of their attitudes of disabled people, is there any data or insight into the attitudes of disabled people with compounding barriers. For example, a disabled woman, disabled queer people or young disabled people.

MELISSA HALE:
So I think that question goes to the intersectionalities?

DR GEORGINA SUTHERLAND:
Yeah, it does.

So the survey was a general community survey. So that came from the Life in Australia panel. So within any general population there will be a proportion of people who self-report having a disability, so we did ask those questions. So we have a per cent – 2,000 plus people. I think there was around 30% who identified as being disabled themselves and they answered the survey but they also answered a supplementary section.

So thinking about their experiences, which I think this question is getting to. So we do have that group but of course as you get smaller and smaller groups of people and that’s people with disability are a proportion again of the whole sample and then if you think about experiences for disabled women, or like in the previous question maybe experiences for people with culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds or younger people then we start to increasingly reduce our ability to really say meaningful things.

So we haven’t as yet looked into that but, again, it’s a great question and I think requires a specific project that is looking at people’s experiences and what are their compounding barriers and what do these sort of layers of inequality and discrimination have as it plays out for people in terms of their lives,

how does it impact them, particularly around if they’re women, younger people, people in regional areas, people outside of – we’re often very metro centric in how we think about services and accessing supports, so thinking about regional people but we can’t do that in what we currently have.

MELISSA HALE:
Yep. Absolutely. We’ve got time for two more questions. I’ll bring up the next question. There’s a question with the result…

QUESTION:
6% of Australians have contact with a boss with disability. Can you go into what, had contact with means or a bit more on the implications of that?

DR GEORGINA SUTHERLAND:
I presume you’re referring to the report which is fabulous that you read it in detail. So, yeah, there wasn’t – I don’t recall there was any further – how can I put it – if we said, did you have contact with a boss, we didn’t say six months, 12 months, forever. So there wasn’t a way of us knowing what “Had contact” means.

So it is again when you do a survey of this time you feel like you can – you know, you can give a phone book of questions that you really want to ask but you can’t often do that if you want to get responses from the general community.

So I think that the last part of that sentence about the implications, I think that’s probably definitely implications around what contact means, the relationships you share, perhaps the power within the relationship as well. So I think there’s lots to unpack when we think about – we’ve sort of called it social contact, thinking about where you’ve had contact with people but I think that there’s a lot more to that than just, did you have a teacher, did you have a boss, you know, what did that look like for you so.

MELISSA HALE:
I think that will be a really, really interesting question to explore, particularly the attitudes around having somebody with a disability in authority to someone who doesn’t have a disability and trying to unpack what that means for some people as well.

So we’ll go to the last question.

QUESTION:
How can there be a societal shift from the polarised responses to discrimination and exclusion of a majority of people with disability versus the attitude of inspirational people, for example, people with visible disabilities in sport and entertainment.  I think what this sort of relates to is we’re seeing a lot of inspirational people with visible disabilities, Dylan Alcott, a really powerful and positive role model. How can we make sure there’s a shift from the responses to the discrimination exclusion of people with visible disability versus what people in the mainstream see.

MELISSA HALE:
That is a very good question. Wow. People are on fire today.

DR GEORGINA SUTHERLAND:
I was about to say exactly the same thing. This is like hitting the big, big issues.

Also one of the issues that we do – you know, the work I do with women with a disability and this work generally attitudes women with a disability. We do hear this a lot and it’s about where the people with disability are visible in our society so on television, in the media, and it is the inspirational and the negative connotations of that. You know, that Stella Young so brilliantly articulated when she talked about inspiration porn, I think the societal shift that’s huge but the societal shift is that people – you know, of course, it’s what we’re talking about really is the essence of what we’re talking about today.

It’s like when people with disability are not have discriminatory or exclusionary practices and they’re part of our society, they are the teachers and the employers and they’re not necessarily the fabulous tennis players, although we want them as well, but they play the roles in society that we will play. That’s the societal shift that we want.

How we do that is a really enormous question that I certainly don’t have the capacity to answer but I do think that one of our – or in the slide I had about a call to action because I think we can – we don’t need to describe this anymore. I think we need to track it but I don’t think we need to talk about that there are discriminatory or exclusionary attitudes. I don’t think we need to talk about anymore the extent to which people with disability feel excluded from society. I think we know that. I think we’ve known it for a really long time.

So I think that there is definitely a call to action that’s required, rather than continuing to describe a problem that we know exists and has existed for a really long time.

MELISSA HALE:
Yeah. Well, thank you very much, Georgina. What an incredible session. It’s such great work and you know what the first national survey, and I’m sure it’s only the beginning. So thank you very, very much for your time to bring this presentation to us today.

DR GEORGINA SUTHERLAND:
Thanks, Melissa. Thanks for having me, everyone.

MELISSA HALE:
Thank you. So, everybody, we’ve come to a close for our first session of the series. I hope you’ve had a great time. I definitely have. It was a very important topic.

So thank you to the Auslan interpreters and captioners for their hard work today. Thank you to Show Division for bringing this production to you today.

Have a wonderful week, everyone, and we’ll see you next time.

Download presentation slideshowDownload 'Attitudes' report and survey results (off-site)Life in Australia panel (off-site)
Author:
DARU

Date published:
Wed 27th Oct, 2021