“I work as a leader with the National Ethnic Disability Alliance. Our board and our staff are mostly made up by people with disabilities and most of us are from migrant backgrounds. A lot of our work is consultation with the Federal government and other disability organisations around what we can do to systemically change things to assist people with disabilities to get the support and rights that they are entitled to.
“A lot of what I do is to unpack things from government bureaucrats to make them more intersectional so to speak. Intersectionality is when you have two different kinds of identifiers and you bring them together and you’re an embodiment of them. So, I’m a person with disabilities and from a migrant background. Often what happens in social services is that these things are split and treated as separate entities.
“So, for example, there was a national government roundtable discussion around responses to COVID 19. They said we are going to pump out fact sheets about the virus which is great but what we are advocating is that we need to get resources about COVID-19 to people with disabilities in a way that they can understand. People on the Asperger or autism spectrum, people with intellectual disabilities, people with learning difficulties, where is the material for them to know why they can’t go outside or wear a mask or I shouldn’t be scared about someone coming to work with a mask and with PPE on?
“There are also a lot of initiatives from us, from our own communities to not just rely on the government but to be proactive and send the right message to our communities because at the end of the day no one else is going to be able to.
“The idea of what information is valid and what information can be trusted is also important. I mean Trump’s idea of drinking bleach and taking malaria medication whilst we may laugh raises real ideas about who is the authority and where do I get my information from? Should I believe my Aunty in Vietnam who is saying this or should I believe in the Chief Medical Officer in Canberra? So people with a disability that come from a refugee background adds a layer of apprehension that is more pronounced than it is for mainstream Australians. That is all the kind of things and the sort of work that I bring to the table.
“With the COVID 19 situation, everything has gone online so the contact that normally would have happened around forums and conferences has really shifted to the internet, online space. Online, there are a lot of restrictions and some liberations (for people with disabilities). Zoom is a good example of how you can communicate across space and it’s got closed captioning and is very accessible for people with disabilities. But the limitations are for people like myself with hearing impairment, I rely a lot on video. So, with some teleconferences with people blacking out their screens, it denied me the ability to communicate because I need to see their face and their lips and body language to communicate with someone. When it comes to forums and engaging with the public servants, bureaucrats and politicians you need that body in the room to recognise things that allow people to better understand that the limitation is there but it is also a way of saying that we have a voice in what we are doing.
“What I really hope for in the near, post pandemic, environment, the multicultural community can come together and bring those who are a minority into the conversation. We have had to be innovative all our lives to survive as refugees so I hope we can be a part of the recovery of both small businesses and also support inclusion of people across society. We need to sell what we can do in order to become part of the conversation not as a part of the side story.”