3 December 2020
International Day of People with Disability: challenges in a post-COVID world
Since 1992, International Day of People with Disability (IDPwD) has been recognised each year to promote the dignity, human rights and wellbeing of people with disability. It’s a day to take action to improve inclusion of people with disability in all aspects of society.
The United Nations has announced that this year’s IDPwD theme is ‘Building Back Better: toward a disability-inclusive, accessible and sustainable post COVID-19 World’.
The COVID-19 pandemic has created significant challenges for people with disability in Australia and abroad. The Australian Human Rights Commission’s Guidelines on the rights of people with disability in health and disability care during COVID-19 draw attention to many of these.
For example, hospitals that limit the number of people or items which can enter COVID-19 wards may indirectly discriminate against patients with disability who require a carer, an assistance animal or other supports to accompany them. Other human rights risks arise when imposing isolation or quarantine requirements on people with disability without taking into account how their physical or mental health might suffer if their unique needs are not met.
This year, Hall & Wilcox lawyers Gemma Hallett and Anthony Hallal have been seconded to the Disability Rights team at the Australian Human Rights Commission. The Australian Human Rights Commission is Australia’s national human rights institution. During their time at the Commission, Gemma and Anthony have engaged with international human rights law and its application to some of the complex issues facing people with disability in Australia.
‘During our secondment, we assisted the Australian Human Rights Commission with its submission to the Disability Royal Commission,’ said Gemma. ‘As lawyers in Hall & Wilcox’s employment practice, Anthony and I applied our expertise in employment and discrimination law to the human rights issues faced by workers with disability.’
The submission addressed some of the human rights issues in Australia’s disability employment landscape.
‘Australia must continue to respond to the lived experiences of persons with disabilities, and it must do so in a way that is consistent with its obligations under international human rights law,’ said Anthony. ‘Rights relating to non-discrimination and equality are central to international human rights law, and they are particularly important in the employment context. Employers, co-workers and the government all have a role to play’.
In addition to our work with the Australian Human Rights Commission, Hall & Wilcox is committed to supporting people with disability and organisations that work with them. Some recent highlights from our pro bono work with people with disability include:
- advising the Australian Centre for Disability Law on interpreting commentary from the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities;
- activating our offices across Australia to donate to Bread Tags for Wheelchairs and map accessible locations for the WheelEasy Foundation;
- seconding our lawyers and graduates to Queensland’s LawRight Mental Health Law Practice and Victoria’s Mental Health Legal Centre;
- advising on the formation and legal structures of several new charities and initiatives supporting people with disability; and
- assisting people with disability to create and update their wills.
Below, Disability Discrimination Commissioner Dr Ben Gauntlett shares his thoughts on the importance of IDPwD and the impact of COVID-19 on people with disability.