By Karen Knight, Vision Australia General Manager Advocacy and Engagement
As a person blind since birth, I learnt quickly that in order to be regarded as an equal in society, I’d have to utilise my greatest ally – my voice.
The reality is that when you’re blind or have low vision, there’s never a week that goes by where you’re free from discrimination or barriers.
This means, in particular, pervasive exclusion from education, employment, technologies, transport and travelling, especially if you’re accompanied by a Seeing Eye Dog or using a white cane.
We have the same desires, needs and aspirations as our sighted friends, family, neighbours and colleagues, but if we choose to speak up and stay informed of our rights, we’re in a greater position to live the life we choose.
In an effort to help others like me remain connected to the world, we’re encouraging people who are blind or have low vision to be aware of their rights and to stand up for them in situations where they might face barriers or discrimination.
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One of the most common instances of discrimination we come across through our advocacy work at Vision Australia is the refusal to allow people with Seeing Eye Dogs into restaurants, shops and public transport.
Even though there have been laws in place for years to guarantee access to people with dog guides, they constantly face barriers all the time. One of our Vision Australia clients recently said she ‘almost expects’ to have to explain her rights and defend her entry into a restaurant since she’s been refused entry so many times.
I think it’s important for all people to know their rights and for those more vulnerable, to have a process to help deal with it, should it occur.
Vision Australia have produced a series of free guides, including one specifically about travelling with a Seeing Eye Dog, to help people learn to express themselves and be clear and concise about their rights in order to get the outcome they’re after.
Sometimes, finding the words to say or write can be challenging, even for the most confident person, so the guides even have suggested scripts and tips on how to escalate a discrimination matter. They take a step by step approach to help build confidence in responding to discrimination.
Building an inclusive society and being able to exercise our rights is not possible without educating everyone so I encourage everybody to read through these guides to familiarise yourself with the rights that are afforded to us all.
We should be able to live our lives the way we choose without facing unnecessary barriers and discrimination.
I want nothing more than to live in a society where our rights are validated through legislation, inclusion and awareness – and I’m working hard to make it happen. Until that day comes, I urge you to stand up for the fairness you seek in your life and for those who don’t have a disability, be present in this debate and if you see someone being discriminated again, stand up for their rights.
Visit Vision Australia for more information on the Stand up for your Rights Guides.