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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2003 Week 9 Hansard (28 August) . . Page.. 3384 ..

MS TUCKER (continuing):

the commission had found that many people did not know what "impairment"means, but understand the word "disability". For that reason, the commission usually includes the word "disability"in brackets after the word "impairment".

Secondly, the Commonwealth's Disability Discrimination Act uses a definition that is nearly identical with the ACT definition of impairment, but the Commonwealth legislation calls it a definition of disability. As the Commonwealth act also applies in the ACT, there is something to be gained by harmonising the names of the definitions and so reducing potential confusion.

Language has power in many ways in our lives. As law makers, we are all aware of the importance of choosing our language accurately and precisely to capture only the intended meaning. The words we use, to some extent, shape the way we think of an issue. When that issue is how we treat particular people, that means it can shape the way we think about and therefore react to and treat a person. The way we talk about people living with a disability has been, for that reason, the subject of much thought and discussion over the years.

Since the year of people with a disability there has been a remarkably successful movement to change from talking about disabled people to talking about people with a disability or, in the case of mental illness, people living with a mental illness. This change emphasised that these are people first, not a disability first. There are some discussions currently in the community about changing the language back to talking about disabled people. This is about highlighting a different point and this provides an interesting context for the change proposed in the legislation.

Using the term "disabled people"in this contemporary argument, on the back of quite effective education about people being people first and foremost, would emphasise the way that the disability involved is really imposed on a person by the opportunities and flexibilities of their environment, including the people around them. Viewed this way, people have impairments, rather than disabilities.

Their impairments may or may not impose upon them disabilities. That depends upon how well the society ensures, for instance, that there is adequate support for people to get out and about, that there are enough wheelchair-accessible buses, and that there is a clear feedback system when problems are encountered and a commitment to fixing it up, as per the accessible city hotline project. The disabilities may or may not become a handicap-for example, because there are no accessible school buses, a school child is not able to sit on a bus with other children and take part in that socialising with their peers.

The use of this terminology for understanding disabilities in our community has been adopted by the World Health Organisation and, more recently, by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. I understand that, in consultation conducted by the human rights commissioner, members of the blind and deaf communities in Canberra welcomed the terminology change from "impairment"to "disability". These people saw it as a more positive expression. However, in discussions with representatives of a local group and with Blind Citizens Australia, I get a clear sense that the discussion on terminology at what might be termed the philosophical and advocacy level is pretty well settled at this cascade framework of impairment, disability and handicap.

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