The Australian Disability Royal Commission Tuesday published their final progress report for 2022, detailing findings on the challenges people with disabilities face in public spaces, including sexual abuse, assault and discrimination.
The report details the findings of seven public hearings conducted between July and December of 2022. Public Hearing 28 focused on the violence and abuse people with disabilities face in public places. During the hearing, witnesses with disabilities testified to experiencing verbal harassment, intimidation, sexual and physical assault, and threatening behavior when they go out in public. Witnesses testified that this behavior occurs so frequently that they have come to expect some form of harassment on a daily basis, any time they leave their house.
Paralympian, Tracy Barrell, OAM, who spoke as a witness at the hearing, described her daily experience as a “battle” that she needs to prepare for. Barrell stated that several times a week, she finds herself unable to leave the house in anticipation of harassment. Barrell said:
[I]t takes a lot. I have to be feeling really good about myself, you know, good vibes in my head, and strong enough to feel like I can take on whatever the next idiot is going to say to me or rude person is going to do something to me …. I know I cannot lose my temper or be too upset, because I personally don’t want to embarrass my own self by acting as bad as they are and don’t want to become as miserable and nasty as they are, then if I can’t do that, then I just stay at home and stay in my place and get the support workers to go out and do whatever they need to do….
Witnesses also provided evidence that the abuse faced by people with disabilities is far underreported and under-recognized. They explained that many people who face this abuse experience fear, shame or trauma that adds a barrier to reporting. Additionally, they cited a lack of access to resources, with many not knowing where or how to report this abuse. Some also claimed they saw no value in reporting these abuses, citing instances in the past where their reports were ignored.
The hearing concluded with testimonies on what improvements could be made to make public spaces safe for people with disabilities. While this issue ultimately requires a change in the culture and attitude of the surrounding community towards disabilities, the witnesses called for an immediate change in access and attention to reporting tools.