Letter to Australia

This letter was written on Dharawal country and land, the home of the Eora nation. This land always has been and always will be Indigenous land. It belongs to a series called Letters to Australia, commissioned by the Australian Multicultural Foundation. Follow them on Instagram @amf_letters.

*

Dear Australia,

This is a letter about inaccessibility, exclusion, and under-representation: the daily (sometimes hourly) realities for those of us living with disability and chronic illness. It’s about a world literally not built for a body like mine. There are shops I can’t access because of steps or narrowness, venues I can’t go to, paths I can’t use. There are roads without kerbs, train stations without lifts, disabled toilets used as storage rooms, if they’re even there at all. There are so many ways this country can be more tangibly accommodating to the needs of people with disabilities. But that requires conversation and consultation, something that, on current form, our leaders aren’t particularly concerned with.

I want Australia to be a fairer place. A more tolerant place. A place where people like me don’t have to fight so hard. I am a strong and capable disabled woman. I’m working hard on being proud of that fact.

Feeling pride about this part of me, a part that’s as intractable as my hair or eye colour, is hard in this country. It’s hard because we’re rarely seen or heard. Australians can be expert at ignoring what we don’t want to see, despite the narrative of the fair go, the lucky country, mateship.

The issues faced by people with disabilities in this country run deeper than inaccessibility. Under Australian immigration law, applications for Permanent Residency Visas can be denied on the grounds of an individual having a disability or chronic illness. This blatant discrimination is justified by the argument that people with disabilities and the cost of their potential care needs are an unnecessary burden on the taxpayer. Basically, disabled people cost too much. This issue isn’t exclusive to Australia, but it remains one of the only places in this country where systemic, government discrimination is legally allowed to occur. It goes unchecked, because people don’t know about it. And there’s more.

When I was completing my HSC in 2017, I had to deal with the rigmarole of applying for special provisions. That meant getting permission to use a laptop because the fatigue caused by my Cerebral Palsy means my handwriting gets illegible quickly. During this months-long battle fighting for my right to a level playing field, my mum was told that those in charge of the HSC didn’t care about my mark, only that I completed the exam, the insinuation being that maybe university was beyond me. At the time of writing this letter, I am just months shy of completing my Bachelor of Arts and International Studies, a four-year degree.

During my first year of uni, desperate for the independence of employment, I decided to try a specialised disability employment service because, according to the recent SBS documentary, What Does Australia Really Think About Disability?, 15 percent of Australians believe disabled people are either incapable of, or will perform badly at work. I thought if anyone was going to get me a foot in the door, it would be these guys given their whole premise is combatting systemic exclusion. As it turns out, those services are only available to people who aren’t uni students because someone with a disability is apparently unable to manage work and study at the same time.

Now, I’m a uni student, a successful freelancer and the editor-in-chief of a global publication platform, Missing Perspectives. I got to where I am through putting myself and my writing out there on social media and being unafraid to ask people to help me get where I wanted. I’ve spent the last couple of years as I move from teenager to twenty-something, growing into a politically aware person, trying to figure out how we can begin to change things up so a fair go might become more than a myth.

So, what can you do? How can you help? It starts with awareness. Start actively taking notice of accessibility in your local area. Look at the paths. The shops you go into. The public transport you use. If you’re a business owner, investigate what it would take for you to improve accessibility. Make sure your websites and social media posts include image descriptions and screen readers, and look up Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG).

Make sure the experiences of disabled people are represented in who you follow online. Listen to their experiences and support their work. Then start reading, or listening to Carly Findlay’s book Growing Up Disabled in Australia. It’ll explain a lot.

All I want from Australia is acceptance, inclusion, tolerance, and empathy. One in five Australians has a disability so if you’re not an ally or you don’t have disabled people in your life/community/workplace, you need to do better. We deserve better. Listen. Learn. Deconstruct. Rebuild. There are so many of us out here, working hard to teach people about our lives, offering resources and moments for growth. Take us up on it. You have nothing to lose and everything to gain.

Hannah Diviney

Introducing Me

Well, hello there! Welcome to my little corner of cyberspace, I’m really glad you could make it 🥰 I have to admit, even though I’ve had blogs before and filled all sorts of corners of the Internet with my ramblings, this time feels a little scarier. A little more official. A little less the kind of thing you can leave dusty for months, which is something I have a habit of. Maybe it’s because this website I own now, has my name on it? I don’t know. There’s something about the fact that this slice of cyberspace will be mine in perpetuity, for as long as I work in the public eye, that kind of hits me in the chest.

But then again, so does the idea of having a profile. Of growing into a ‘public figure’ whose name can be Googled and work researched . It feels extra strange, considering I grew up as the kid who struggled with making friends at school, was often left off the invite list and sometimes even had to eat lunch alone. The contrast between where I was then, even four years ago in Year 12, to now is enough to make my head spin. And I keep being told this is only the beginning, although my imposter syndrome has a hard time believing that one!

I’m a successful freelance writer and disability advocate who has had work published by ABC Everyday, Hireup, Go-To, Careers With STEM and many other publications. You can check out that list on my Writing page. When I was 15, I worked at Mamamia for a year (a crash course in what lies behind the perceived glitz and glamour of a news organisation that takes cues from the cut-throat brutality of the 24 hour news cycle) as a Junior Editorial Assistant, and I believe I still hold the record for the youngest person that company has ever employed 😱 My insides are twisting uncomfortably at the thought of acknowledging my achievements but here we are…

I’m also the Editor in Chief of the brand new publication platform Missing Perspectives which aims to address the marginalisation of women and girls in news, media, democracy and decision making on a global scale. Even though I’ve only been at this job a month, building something from the ground up and getting the opportunity to provide space for the stories of women and girls around the world, many of whom have lives that feel eons away from mine, is teaching me so much. We’ve talked about all sorts of things so far, covering everything from issues of race and disability, to period poverty, climate justice, domestic violence and the education of women and girls. This is only the beginning for us and I can’t wait to share all of the plans our team has, when the time comes.

Something else I’m really proud of is my campaign in collaboration with change.org, petitioning for Disney Studios to create a Disabled Disney Princess, launched in December of last year. The petition has over 37,000 signatures from around the world and has attracted the attention of several high profile people including Jake Tapper, Martha Hunt, Jameela Jamil, Jodi Picoult, Neil Gaiman, Sterling K. Brown, Brandi Carlile and even DISNEY LEGEND HIMSELF, MARK HAMILL!!!

It’s true that I’m doing a lot of cool things, wearing many hats. But when you strip all of that away, I’m the girl who writes love letters, throws solo dance (and karaoke parties), and lives by the Nora Ephron quote “Everything is copy”. I cheer out loud when a movie I’ve been waiting for comes out or a song I can’t wait to add to my jukebox drops. I make playlists for the people I care about and believe strongly that there’s no such thing as too many compliments. I’m the girl who’ll pass a complete stranger and say something nice because for all I know, that could be the only reason they’ve had to smile all day. My teeth chatter when I’m nervous or cold and I cry a lot.

I still have the stuffed toys of my childhood in my bookcase and am more likely to know the words of a TV show’s theme song, from when I was little, then I am to remember any of high school maths. I wear my heart on my sleeve, even though I’ve tried to convince it, that it needs a more protected place to live. I’m a hopeless romantic, a daydreamer and someone who will always believe in the power of pure imagination. The girl who always has a book on the go, and multiple songs in her head. Who would happily write essays on Taylor Swift, Harry Styles or Queen and Fleetwood Mac. When you give me the AUX cord, you never know what might come out; anything from Wheatus to Dean Martin. But above all, I’m a person who’s fascinated by stories. By capturing moments and pinning them down. This website is going to be a scrapbook of all the things I love, am passionate about, believe need more attention or are important for people to hear, no matter what. I hope you enjoy flicking through my scrapbook over the coming months.

Love, Hannah x