It’s not unusual to be excluded or even feel excluded from areas of our society. Sometimes there are things we’d rather not be included in. Making the choice to exclude yourself is exactly that, your choice. When you are excluded because someone else makes that decision, we enter the still rather grey area of discrimination.
As an advocate for Inclusive Communities I am often confronted with issues of exclusion that need to be dealt with. Educating the community is quite a challenge especially as the human race is quite a tribal species. We form our groups and sub groups and not everyone has the capacity to easily transfer from one group to another. We don’t need to be a part of every group or community however access to these communities is the key issue. Of course with great power comes great responsibility. To have access to our community we have a list of legislated rights.
For those of us who live here on planet earth, we have what is referred to as human rights. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted by the United Nations on 10 December 1948. It sets out the basic rights and freedoms that apply to all people and has become a foundation document that has inspired many legally-binding international human rights laws.
The Australian Government has agreed to uphold and respect many of these human rights treaties. The categories in which our human rights are divided are:
Civil and political rights | Economic, social and cultural rights | Rights of indigenous people | Women’s rights | Children’s rights | Disability rights | Rights of older persons | Sexual orientation, gender identity and intersex
Naturally I vast amount of the work I do involves disability rights. With one in five Australians living with either a permanent or temporary disability, you’d expect that our communities would be more understanding and inclusive of disability issues. Sadly though we still find day to day cases of unfair treatment and exclusion of people based on their disability or impairment. The Disability Discrimination Act 1992 protects individuals across Australia from unfair treatment in many parts of public life. This means that in Australia, disability discrimination unlawful. The purpose of the act is to promote equal rights, equal opportunity and equal access for people with disabilities.
So what happens when you’re faced with a situation where you are excluded? To determine whether or not it is discriminatory is not always black and white. As the way we live our lives continues to evolve, these rights need to evolve with us to ensure we are always protected.
Many people enjoy the access to online socialising. Whether it is social media sites, communication through Internet protocols, or just accessing information, we all have the opportunity to access it. Social groups and community forums have become a significant part of Internet socialising. The funny thing about the Internet is that being digital, once it’s out there, it’s out there. Getting it back is very difficult. So everything we say and do online is at a risk. Understanding how to use this great power responsibly is often one of those things people just have to learn through life’s lessons. A bit like running across a lawn without shoes on. You discover prickles one time. You learn a lesson. After that you make a choice based on your knowledge from experience whether next time you run across the lawn you go to get your shoes first or not.
I’m guilty of letting my emotions get the better of me on the Internet for all to see. I’m a big girl though, I can stand up to the misuse of my great power (rights) and make apologies where appropriate or in the very least, give explanations (responsibility). I always like to offer a person the opportunity to learn from any unfortunate event that happens.
So what happens when someone creates an online forum designed to attract people from a certain community, but selects to exclude specific people?
Exclusion must not be discriminatory.
In 2007, the United Nations passed a new law: people with disabilities have the same rights as everyone else. If we want to catch the bus we should be able to catch the bus. Telling us we should use another service because they don’t want to provide the assistance we require to catch the bus is discriminatory.
If we want to be involved in community discussion about issues and events happening in our neighbourhood in an online forum, we have the right to that. To tell us we cannot share our views because someone has a different opinion is discriminatory.
Twice so far this year I’ve been excluded from local community group pages on Facebook.
On the first occasion it was one called the Riverwood Murrumba Downs & surrounds Community Group. The sole administrator Jaimie Mulders seemed to have taken offence to a comment I made about someone who had allegedly harmed an animal needing psychological help. While I understood her response the last thing I wanted to see was a community lynch mob after someone who had not even been identified.
Of course my very offensive response in between those two comments doesn’t show because I was simply ousted from the group. No notification, no explanation, even on request. Nothing.
What did I say that caused so much offence to be excluded?
“All mental illness should be treated. Firstly with understanding.”
Moral of the story, if you want to be part of Jaimie’s exclusive discrimination club, don’t defend anything to do with mental illness. Oh and the horrible act? Someone found a dead bird on a nail on a copper log. Has to have been a serial killer.
More recently as posted on the NPNP Facebook page, I jumped in to defend the rights of people with disabilities. Mostly from the uninformed, just plain ignorant and those few who still think we need to be hidden away in an institution so we don’t embarrass them.
It was quite the saga of the day. I’ve been a part of the Kallangur & Surrounding Neighbourhood Watch Facebook group for a while. The largest group of it’s kind in my local area (and I try to get across all of them to keep up to date with local issues and events) boasting 3587 members (3588 yesterday) I have been using it to communicate ideas, get feedback and connect with other like minded people in my local community.
A young woman who had posted about her frustrations with a public transport company caught my eye. I identified she was very upset and knew that some of her remarks would easily be taken out of context so immediately I jumped in to offer my assistance to resolve the issue and left my email address. I thought that would be that but the comments that followed were too much to just leave the poor girl to have to defend herself. I made one particular comment in response to something someone had said about her using assisted transport services instead of the bus.
Jaidie is blind. She wants to be independent. She has undergone a lot of training to do so and the public transport charter requires buses to be disability accessible. It wasn’t a one off event, she’s had numerous issues and has become very disillusioned in her quest for independence. It did not seem that the company involved had taken any steps to gain more information from Jaidie about how they can better service her needs. The only option she was given was if it happens again call and make another complaint. Naturally I’m following this up, but that is the part I can manage easily.
While I know some people just want to help, there are often times they don’t realise their suggestions are forcing us back to being dependent and we lose sight of our goal. It also allows our community to continue avoiding development into an inclusive community.
I don’t have a screenshot of my response but it was something to the effect of:
(commenter’s name) why should she have to be forced to use special services just for people with disabilities? (something about the public transport and rights to access legislation blah blah) Why do we keep building playgrounds for children who are abled here while the liberty swing for kids in wheelchairs is all the way…… over there? (that was reference to a specific issue I am dealing with in my local community). No (commenter’s name) Jaidie has just as much right as anyone else to expect to be able to catch a bus. If she wants to catch a bus then she should be able to catch a bus not be told to use a taxi.
The person I replied to accused me of “being so rude” to which I responded that I was not attempting to be rude.
Then, that was it. Expelled. Kicked out, bumped, access denied, computer says no. I was out.
I tried to contact the administrators of the group to ask for an explanation and request to be allowed to rejoin. I didn’t get very far. So Wendy Watkins and Jill Zackeresen get to have victorious reign over excluding me from accessing that community. Not because I was offensive, but because, in their opinion, I was attacking someone. Their opinion.
Now I’m not aware of any cases like this being taken to the Anti Discrimination Commission yet but imagine… just imagine the precedent it would set!
In all honesty though, I don’t really want to be amongst people I constantly have to defend my rights against. So Jaidie and friends are coming to join our community. We fit in here. We get each other.
Enjoy the read. Try not to explode, just laugh, cos at the end of the day that’s all we can do.