Above: Tracy Hutchinson Wallace. Photo by Mark Lyndersay.

Tracy Hutchinson Wallace’s opening address to the Joint Select Committee’s hearing on Special Education on July 06, 2019. Reproduced with the permission of the author.

In our world we celebrate everyone for their intrinsic value as a human being. We live in a world where everyone’s needs are supported, accommodated and we are driven to provide what everyone needs to thrive throughout their lifespan. Within this context CODO is very pleased to have the opportunity to collaborate with all of the actors in the room for a just, participatory and respectful system change.

We are glad that we can affirm disabled equality and equity by ensuring that the desire to design and debate and accommodate them fall under the mantra of, “Nothing about us without us!” We are happy to work with our fellow stakeholders in ensuring universal access to education and economic opportunity. We strongly uphold the right of all to human dignity, bodily health and spiritual well being.

We are glad that our fellow stakeholders are here with us to treat all living beings with respect and consideration and to empower the disabled in all facets of human endeavour. I would like us today to remember that the words “special education” can be a misleading term.

The words special makes people, many laymen, think that we are talking about a treat or a gift or something extra, but special education is not a gift or a treat. It covers all of the tools necessary for students and adults with disabilities to access the free public education to which every child is entitled.

Whether it’s a wheelchair ramp, curriculum in Braille, sign language interpreters or one to one assistance in the classroom, these supports are not special needs. They are the tools that we need to access school and to learn and denying students with disabilities these tools effectively denies them an education.

When we support the needs of the most vulnerable in our society, that very action places us in a mind space of flexibility, out of the box thinking, compassion and positive action. All of which are the cornerstones of humanitarian action and all of which are the reasons all of us do our jobs, every day.

As I said, these are not favours or grants, there is a legitimate responsibility and expectation for the authorities within small “g” governments to provide adequate, appropriate supports, services and accommodations for all of its disabled citizens.

Equality is not what is needed, equity is the key concept. Those who need more supports services and accommodations should get more than those who need less. It’s always more convenient to plan for the easiest, majority solutions and prioritise attitudes and actions that lead to a “normal” life, but now, today, we all have an opportunity to demonstrate that we’re committed to the systemic shift from the medical model of disability of cures and fixes to the societal model of disability with variations on the theme, that everyone of us is valued and of value.

Thank you.
Tracy Hutchinson Wallace
Autism Spirit/CODO Director