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Alastair McEwin on Fighting the Good Fight

At the recent WDSD Parliamentary Morning Tea hosted by DSA and the Parliamentary Friends of Disability at Parliament House Canberra, we were fortunate enough to have Disability Discrimination Commissioner Alastair McEwin deliver a speech. You can read it below or download a copy

World Down Syndrome Day speech

Fighting the Good Fight
  1. I acknowledge the traditional custodians of the land on which we meet, the Ngunnawal peoples and pay my respect to their elders past and present.  I also pay respect to Aboriginal people present here today.
  2. Senator Carol Brown– thank you for my introduction.
  3. [Down Syndrome Australia Board and CEOs, and guests.]
  4. It is my great pleasure to be here today and to have been invited to speak today.
  5. Like every event held in support of the rights for persons with disability, what a wonderful and important occasion this is.
  6. Last year, on Human Rights Day in Melbourne I met a young man with Down Syndrome who I’ll call Peter.  Peter attended a consultation with young people with disability that I was running.  He told me and the other attendees that due to his NDIS package he was now engaging in one of his passions which was art.  His NDIS package was providing him with support to attend art classes.
  7. Today, on World Down Syndrome Day, we gather to specifically celebrate people who have Down syndrome.  To appreciate the immeasurable value that people who have Down syndrome bring to their families, friends and communities. To appreciate their positive contributions to society. And, like Peter, to ensure they can participate in everyday activities that so many others take for granted.
  8. However, we are also here to acknowledge the challenges that people with Down syndrome still face, like all people with disability do, every day. And we are here to pledge our continuing commitment to ensuring that all people with disability are able to fully enjoy their human rights, every day.
  9. Theme of this year’s World Down Syndrome Day is: “My Voice. My Community”.  Each of us has a voice. Each one of those voices is important. Each one of us important. No more and no less than anyone else. 
  10. The Down syndrome community are strong advocates for the inclusion of people with intellectual disability within the community. The work that all of us here today do is to ensure that the voices and opinions of people with Down syndrome are heard and respected. Because, as is the same with any person, there is little more important than the self-direction, drive and autonomy of the individual in their own life. To be the master of one’s own destiny is a privilege that should be afforded to each and every one of us. And we must believe in the power of our voices and the importance of our experiences so that we can advocate for ourselves and for others.
  11. Advocacy is a critically important tool for social change and inclusion. Achieving inclusion requires challenging entrenched beliefs and prejudices. It means changing society as it currently stands. Changing perceptions. Changing the way people think, see and feel about disability.
  12. But achieving social inclusion does not mean that we have to gain value or importance.
  13. We are already valuable.
  14. We are already important.
  15. Exclusion does not occur because we are not good enough.
  16. We are already good enough.
  17. Exclusion occurs because of the indifference, ignorance, fear and insecurity that is rife in society that marginalises certain people.
  18. And we see this time and time again, with regard to race, sexuality, gender rights, disability. But what we also see is that, when these marginalised groups demand acceptance and demand equal treatment, then movements gain momentum. Then ignorance can no longer be defended. Then inequality can no longer be overlooked.
  19. Achieving social inclusion is not a matter of ‘benevolence’ or ‘generosity’ being extended to people with disability. Accepting others is no act of charity. Accepting others is not a community service. Being included is not a favour. Being included is simply a right that we all have. It is something that we all deserve.
  20. Social change like this, on this scale, takes time. It takes patience. This will be a hard fought win, but we should never doubt that it is anything but an important fight.
  21. Discrimination, on any ground, is not the concern of any one community or marginalised group. Discrimination costs every single person the experience of living in a society that is enriched by differences, that strengthened by inclusion and that is protected by love.
  22. Every single person is a victim when we live in a society that does not allow each of its members their human rights. Every single person is weakened when we yield to indifference.
  23. It has been said that fortune favours the brave. Our lives are as big and as brilliant as we make them. We do not have to be controlled by the constraints that society imposes upon us. These constraints, these inequalities, pale in comparison to the strength of the human spirit when it faces adversity.  
  24. A society, a community, benefits when its members are accepting, informed, interested, humane and inclusive. The battles that we, as advocates for persons with disability, take on are important for society as a whole. Because we are stronger when we are on each other’s teams. We are stronger when we take care of each other. We all benefit when we are united and unified.
  25. To every person here today: you are a member of your community. You are important. You are valuable. And your opinions matter.
  26. It is with humility, determination and passion, that we fight this good fight.
  27. I am filled with pride by the work that all of you do. Congratulations on your achievements, dedication and spirit.
  28. I would like to now introduce Senator Rachel Siewert to speak.
  29. Thank you. 
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