By Joshua Hewitt
Disappointment has turned to outrage as the new national cultural policy calls for a ‘culture of tolerance toward people with a disability’, according to Emma Bennison, the Chief Executive Officer of Arts Access Australia.
Ms Bennison says the release of Australia’s first national cultural policy in 19 years was seen as a cornerstone moment that was to elevate the arts to prominence, alongside sport.
The long awaited policy release on March 13, 2013, at the National Press Club in Canberra was met with jubilation by members of the arts community as former arts Minister Simon Crean set out a progressive and long term vision for the arts, committing $236 million dollars to the sector.
While the arts community was celebrating this welcome boost, the disability arts community was coming to terms with the fact that there was no dedicated funding for the community despite the fact the policy calls for a “culture of tolerance toward people with a disability”.
Alison Richardson, the creative director of Beyond the Square, a dedicated arts program for people with a disability, says, “The use of the word ‘tolerance’ is extremely demeaning. Its use entrenches the view of disabled people as others.”
Under the newly appointed Minister for the Arts Tony Burke, the word ‘tolerance’ has now been removed and an apology given, however Ms Richardson says many in the disability arts community wonder how much damage has already been done, and if the intent of the policy can be altered by the removal of a word.
Emma Bennison says while many people may regard the use of the word ‘tolerance’ as insignificant, others may think that the word is a clear indicator of some people’s values. She also pointed out the irony of the policy’s release coinciding with the passing of the National Disability Insurance Scheme.
In an interview with Fairfax in his first few days as Minister, Tony Burke said that he was “unaware of the criticism”, until he read Emma Bennison’s tweets on the issue.
Within days, he had moved to quell the issue with an apology and the removal of the word. Despite this, the disability and arts community has continued to campaign, urging the Federal Government for further funding, and asking it to look at the existing policy to ensure that the money already guaranteed is used to assist people with a disability.
Michelle Bates, a manager at Lifestyle Solutions Australia, believes the lack of funding and inclusiveness is symptomatic of a long held view that people with a disability are passive recipients, rather than contributors to society and the economy.
“We must re-shape of our views on disability, seeing the person first,” she says. She acknowledges this is not an overnight solution and could take a decade or more.
Funding for the arts has long been a contentious issue, and is not the sole responsibility of the Federal Government. While unwilling to comment on federal issues, George Souris, NSW Minister for the Arts George, was quick to highlight his Government’s commitment to the arts and dedicated pools of funding for disability arts.
“In February 2012, Arts NSW and Ageing, Disability and Home Care in the NSW Department of Family and Community Services signed a memorandum of understanding for a two-year $1.5 million partnership to improve this access.
“This funding has been specifically devoted to support both people with disability themselves, or organisations that provide programs for people with disability,” Mr Souris said.