CEO Social Change Blog

Making social change happen is important at Wallara. Our CEO has started a blog picking up on news stories or ideas about social change that catch our attention and the goal is to drive a conversation and get more people thinking about what sort of social change they want to see and how we can get there. This week – what does inclusion mean?

A few years ago we started a campaign at Wallara to decorate our buses that travel all over Melbourne with images of social inclusion. We invited Secondary School students to send us artwork or photos or images of what social inclusion means to them. A panel of community leaders including Wallara clients then selected the winning entry which was applied to the side of one of our buses. And the winning artist was presented with a prize at our Annual Concert.

It’s been a fantastic program and you can see some of the winning entries on our buses by clicking here. Lots of different interpretations about what social inclusion means and these  images are travelling billboards all across Melbourne.

So it troubles me when I hear some disability advocates who claim to speak on behalf of our community, paint a very narrow view for what inclusion means.

For example, one Federal advocacy group believe that people with different abilities should not have the choice to work in any supported employment setting – eg  like Wallara Logistics which proudly employs and supports 100 adults who receive a discounted hourly wage plus their full Disability Support Pension – because anything less than a job in open employment is not inclusion and therefore discriminates.

This narrow view of inclusion also extends to education where I have heard advocates say that Special Schools should not exist because inclusion means all students of all abilities should be together in 1 education setting and this is the only way to build awareness, understanding and acceptance  which are the steps towards inclusion.

I get the theory of having everyone together and growing understanding. The more people with different abilities are seen – in employment and in education – the more it normalises diversity and leads to greater inclusion.

But theory and what happens in real life are often different things.

My daughter attends a Special School and my wife and I are convinced this is the best choice for her to maximise her potential and also for our family. My daughter’s older brother attends a private Secondary School which is another education choice we have made. And we have 100 adults at Wallara Logistics who choose to come to us for work where they are supported to provide services to companies like Myer, Oxfam, Mary Kay Cosmetics and the Hawthorn Football Club which are all proud to be partnering with us to build a stronger community.

I think these choices are all valid and they can all lead to greater inclusion.

Surely the answer isn’t to take these education and work options for people with different abilities off the table. I thought an advocate was supposed to be working hard to get more choices for the people they represent – not less?

Jobs provide us all with so much more than just a wage. Jobs give us a feeling of contributing and of self worth….and that means dignity. Something earned is always so much more valuable than something given.

Education and jobs are critical for everyone and people and families with different abilities need more options, not less. Let’s find ways to create greater inclusion by improving and growing the choices that we have now, not reducing them.    And if you are working on something like inclusion, then perhaps a good rule to follow is to try and include rather than exclude others as we go along the journey.

Phil Hayes-Brown




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