10 February 2015

This is the lucky country. So why does my friend earn $30 on a good day and have to find $16,000 to fund her wheelchair?

This is the lucky country.

My friend Felice likes rock music - that photo was taken at the Motley Crue concert. She's also a fan of Metallica, Henry Rollins and Morrissey. She loves eating great vegan food, dancing, being a groupie, 80s movies, and the very attractive Australian actor Simon Baker.

Felice works eight hour days, six days a week selling $6 Big Issue magazines. From each sale, she receives $3.

Three dollars. 

She tells me she sells 10 magazines on a good day and two on a bad day. So her daily income teeters between $6 and $30. She said if people don't want change, she can make a bit more money.

She has a disability, and employment options for people with disabilities are limited by physical access and attitudinal barriers.

My friend receives support from disability carers - and her social life depends on when and if the carer (and accessible taxi) turns up.

In March she will recommence studying Criminology/Psych Science online. She says she has attempted tertiary study four times but had to withdraw due to in class support being ceased or reduced each time.

We’ve performed at the Fringe Festival together - she’s an amazing writer and recited her 10 minute performance from memory five nights that week. In her performance, she talked about how hard it is to find and keep love, and how someone she loved kept her captive in a hotel room while they ‘holidayed’ in New York.

Felice also needs a new wheelchair - to allow her to have freedom. This wheelchair costs over $24,000 - she must find $16,000 of that herself. While working six days a week for eight hours a day in all types of weather. Earning $3 per magazine she sells. Her work days will be cut to one per week as she returns to study. 

Can you even fathom that?

No one should live like this. It’s Australia and it’s 2015. When I ran this post by Felice, she said " I struggle to feel worthy at times.”

These are the issues we need to care about. Not what a singer wore to the Grammys or who got voted out of the celebrity jungle or the release of the latest iDevice.

Politicians, employers, disability care providers, everyday people: take note. This is what we have to give a damn about - people like my friend Felice - and many, many others whose stories we don't hear. 

This is the lucky country. 

It’s a shame that this 'luck' of freedom including a liveable wage through meaningful employment and accessibility isn’t granted to everyone. 


  1. Thank you so much, Carly. People have been amazingly generous so far, but there's still a long way to go. I do not want pity nor praise for working hard to stay comfortable but what I do want is a chance to get out and live my life to its full potential. Much love! - FELICE

  2. That is heartbreaking Carly. I totally agree with you, we ( collectively ) are making such meaningless stuff news that the stuff the really should be at the forefront to be addresses never does.

  3. (part 1) Australians generally come in two flavors, those who love to discriminate, and those who love to speak out against discrimination. Discrimination is all about the "ism." Sexism and racism are the poster children of discrimination. Not a day goes by you don't see a social media post about sexism this, racism that. What you never see is people talking about abelism. But I can assure you, there's no shortage of people who enjoy engaging in it. In fact, autocorrect is telling me abelism isn't even a word, if you needed an example of just how little society cares about it.

    52% of disabled Australian live in poverty. 80% of disabled Australians are unemployed or underemployed. Of the lucky 20% of people with a disability who have a job, 70% are paid less than minimum wage. People with disabilities are more frequently the targets of hatecrimes and overt discrimination (67% of people with disabilities have been the victims of hate crime, 55% have been the victim of a serious assault.) These are statistical facts.

    Let's imagine the public reaction if 80% of women were unemployed or underemployed. Or if 52% of any ethnic minority lived in poverty. Or if 70% of immigrants were paid less than the minimum wage. If 55% of Muslims or Jews had been the victim of serious assault. Imagine the hashtagging and infographic spam if these facts were true of any other minority group. Imagine the headlines. Imagine the entirely justifiable outrage. However, since it's just disabled people, nobody give a damn, there is no outrage. There is hardly even any discussion of these facts. It's just the way it is and nobody is even interested in talking about it, let alone doing anything to change it.

    Now lets think about the language of discrimination, about what's acceptable and what's not. (you'll excuse me for some of the pejorative epitaphs that follow, I use them as academic examples only, for the sake of illustrating my argument. Allow me to apolgise for any offence in advance but I have a point to make here.) Most reasonable people find words like nigger, slut, slope, faggot, camel fucker, raghead etc etc etc utterly reprehensible. Rightly so. Many people will speak out if they hear someone using words like that to insult or vilify people for racial, sexual orientation, gender, ethnic or religious reasons. But, and here's the point, how many times have you heard someone call someone else a spastic, a tard or retard, a downie, a window licker or a gimp and never thought to say "you can't say that!" You can't vilify on the grounds of race, religion, gender or sexual preference without encountering opposition. But if you disagree with someone and think there argument is retarded, nobody will bat a fucking eyelid if you say so in a public forum. Don't talk to me about how bad other minorities have it, at least they have people who will stick up for you, advocate for you, form charitable orgs to combat the hate and discrimination you experience. Being disabled in the 21st century is kind of like how I imagine being a negro before slavery was abolished would have felt. You might be treated like crap on a daily basis, but everyone's pretty much fine with that so suck it up or kill yourself.

    It's depressing beyond words, not so much that these outrages and indignities are facts of my everyday life, but that nobody even talks about them. At the same time they jump up and down about far less frequent or prevalent (but no less unjust and unacceptable,) incidences of discrimination that effect other minorities. It gives me the impression, as a disabled Australian, that not only is every fine with my life being an endless cycle of this kind of hardship and externally imposed bullshit, but they'd rather look the other way and expect me to put up with it than speak out against it.

  4. (Part 2)
    Frankly I'm sick of it. I've become withdrawn and fatalistic, I feel like nothing will ever change, at least, not in my lifetime. I don't leave my house unless I absolutely have to because I can't walk through a shopping center without seeing people laughing at the way I walk with their friends (Yes, it's going on behind my back, but shop windows are excellent mirrors. I can see you doing it just fine thanks,) or mocking the way I walk with by mimicking it, or yelling out "SPASTIC!" or "Cripple!" after I walk past. I'm not missing much though, you think I want to be part of a society that treats me that way? Would you want to? Or would you just turn you back on it and think "screw 'em, they can all go to hell." I feel for your fiend, it's is demeaning and degrading tat she should have to go begging for a mobility aid essential to her participating in life, but in my view, it's just one example of a much larger problem almost everybody seems perfectly happy to ignore or make worse.

    I'd like to end on what I consider a positive note. only 35% of people with a disability were born with that disability. 65% of people with disabilities acquire them through either accident, illness or injury. Most of their lives, they're "normal" people with careers, relationships and active lifestyles. Then one day, often out of the blue, they suddenly joining the ranks of the disabled. About 3,000,000 Australians will become disabled at some point during their lives. Abelism is the only kind of prejudice you can go from ignoring or perpetrating, to suddenly being a victim of. You might want to think about that, dear reader. Your ability to look the other way and ignore the crap disabled people have to put up with can be snatched away from you in an instant by one simple traffic accident, one dive into murky water without checking the depth, one drunken misstep off a footpath and into the path of a taxi. So enjoy not thinking about it while you can. Should the day ever come when suddenly it's you who has to deal with abelism, don't expect a whole lot of sympathy from me.

    1. With your last sentence, you have just joined the second flavour of Australians you despise so much. Just saying.

    2. I'm Tanya, but I don't have any of those accounts to sign in with, sorry.

      Nate, I can hear the pain in your words; I am so sorry that you have experienced such awful things.

      There are people who do tell others not to use those horrible words as insults; I know this, because I'm one of them. I met a number of girls with various disabilities during the decades that I was a Girl Guide, and getting to know them, and care for them as friends was a true joy; they enriched my life, far more than I did theirs. No-one has ever used the word "retard" in my presence without being called on it since I was 11 years old, and I heard it used to describe the children who went to the nearby special school, some of whom were my friends from Guides.

      I'm saying this not to say that I'm a wonderful person; I have plenty of faults, and I know it. I'm saying this to tell you that you truly are not alone; there are people who do value other people, regardless of ability.

      Please, don't give up on life, don't give up on other people. There are people who do stand against abelism, in various ways, large and small. I haven't founded an organisation; I wouldn't know how. I do, however, have long, pointed discussions with anyone who uses ANY of the pejoratives above.

      Wishing you peace, and strength, Tanya

  5. So here's another stupid thing about our society: you can buy a new car for $14000 (Volkswagen Up), but $24000 for a wheelchair? Something is very wrong here.

    Is it the sort of thing that can be ordered over the internet (at the risk of angering Gerry Harvey)? Even if it costs $1500 to deliver, you might still be miles ahead, and if you can wait 3 months, you might shave 75% off that delivery cost.

    --Kiwi Nick

  6. Absolutely heartbreaking. Just donated.


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