Disability royal commission findings detail shocking abuse, calls for changes to schools, minimum wage

A shocking report has detailed widespread rates of abuse and neglect facing millions of Australians living with disability and made a bombshell call to phase out special schools and group homes nationwide.

On Friday, findings from a four-and-a-half-year-long investigation into Australia’s disability care sector was released to the public.

The final report, which contained 222 recommendations, described harrowing rates of violence and discrimination facing around 4.4 million people across the country.

“More than half of people with disability have been physically or sexually abused since age 15, compared with 38 per cent of adults without disability,” it said.

“Forty six percent of people with disability have been subjected to violence by a stranger.”

Since it began in 2019, the $599m royal commission has heard harrowing personal accounts of sexual assaults, abuse in group homes, and violence from tens of thousands of people with disabilities and their families.

The final report estimates that every year, 550 people with disability experience a potentially avoidable death as a direct result of neglect and exploitation within the health system.

It said shifting wider attitudes towards disability was “critical” to ending high rates of abuse and promoting more inclusive society..

“People with disability often confront dehumanising attitudes and are treated as ‘different’,‘other’ and ‘less than’,” the report said.

“Low expectations about what people with disability can do and achieve also shape their experiences in schools, workplaces, the community

Call to ‘end’ special schools for disabled students

The report called to completely end segregated schooling in Australia by 2051.

Over the past four years, the Commission has heard of rampant exclusion of children with disabilities in the school system and abuse in group homes.

One case study published in the report described how a mainstream school forced a 14-year-old girl with autism and ADHD to write” apology letters” to students who had bullied her.

After being sent to a school for kids with autism, which has on average 80 per cent of male enrolments, the teenager was subjected to “graphic sexualised language” from her peers.

Other recommendations included an establishing an independent National Disability Commission, overhauling state and territory guardianship laws, and ending segregation of people with disability in schools and workplaces.

“We recommend the Australian Government and state and territory governments develop and implement comprehensive roadmaps for phasing out special schools, ADEs and group homes,” the report read.

“Most importantly, reimagining these systems needs to be done in partnership with people with disability, with their voices at the centre of reforms.”

What next?

Ahead of the report’s release, the government was tight lipped on whether it would adopt any of the recommendations.

Families and Social Services Minister Amanda Rishworth on Friday morning said the government would be closely examining its findings.

“Obviously we need to make sure people with disability have choice and control,” she told ABC Radio.

“These are some of the themes that came out of the disability royal commission, but certainly how we build a more inclusive society so that people with disability don’t constantly have barriers to their participation in wider society is really important.”

Earlier, Environment Services Minister Tanya Plibersek said she anticipated the final report would make for a “disturbing reading.”

“We constantly have heard stories that are disturbing stories about the abuse and neglect of people with disability,” she told Sky on Thursday.

“The important thing now is to make sure people with disabilities can live safely, can be part of our community in safety, that the institutions that are supposed to support and look after them are surely doing that.”

A total of $599.3 million was spent on the investigation and it is expected to detail an overhaul of how disability support services are delivered and accessed in Australia.

One of the most shocking stories heard during the inquiry came from a young Queensland woman with cerebral palsy, who told a hearing in 2022 she was raped, beaten and “treated like a dog” by a paid personal assistant.

Another heard from a mother of a severely autistic man who said her son was “put in a cage” while living in a disability group home.

Other hearings held across the country heard detailed accounts of disability service providers forcing clients to take psychotropic drugs to control their behaviour.

One mother told a hearing in Victoria in 2020 that her son who lived with intellectual disability “looked like a zombie” after returning home from Christmas after moving into a group disability home.

Since it began, the royal commission has held a total 32 hearings, 1,785 private sessions and received 7,944 submissions.

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