Adopting a Human Rights Based Approach – Advice for Boards of Disability Services


Everyone has rights.
In a country like Australia, it’s
something that we take for granted.
And I’m sure you’ll agree
that we all want what’s best
for others as well.
What happens to those rights
when faced with the daily challenges
of running a disability service?
As board members
of disability services,
we may feel we’re on top of
the human rights issues
because the organisations
we support
have an obligation to better the
lives of people with disability.
But I am asking you today
how deep that commitment
and understanding is –
not just at a board level,
but throughout the organisation.
How intrinsic is a rights-based
approach to everything we do?
Over the years,
I have had numerous experiences
of having my human rights
both respected and disrespected.
For me, human rights means
to be treated with equality,
to be treated with dignity,
and it should not make a difference
whether I’m in a chair or not.
Human rights means to me
to be treated as an equal,
and making sure that I’m treated
just the same as everybody else.
Human rights are what we expect
for every person
living in a democratic society.
So many words come to mind.
Words like ‘freedom’, ‘security’,
‘right to education’,
‘right to employment’.
Basically inclusion.
So human rights to me
means empowerment.
It means being able to have choice
and control over what happens
in your life
as a person with a disability.
I think it also means equality.
There’s limited services available.
So I think once people get into,
sometimes,
the services that they are,
they conform.
So rather than, you know,
maybe speaking out
that something
might not be quite right
or challenging
or raising a complaint,
sometimes they’re too scared to
because of the repercussions
that might come their way.
I felt my human rights
weren’t being respected
when I was at the day service
when I had to put my hand up
to go to the bathroom.
You tell me a workplace now
that you have to put your hand up
to go to the bathroom.
You can feel like your human rights
aren’t being respected,
you know, from service providers
in very subtle ways.
Coming into
the office of a service provider,
and not knowing where reception is
because it’s not been
clearly marked.
Or coming into a service provider
and having the reception staff
maybe not be aware of it
when they’re dealing with somebody
who has a hearing impairment.
They need to speak up and they
need to not move their head around
and do all sorts of things that can
make it more difficult for you.
The basic rights that we all have,
I guess, as individuals, as people
that we should expect.
I don’t think
a human rights approach
starts from any distinct point.
I see that it is actually the way
that community, not-for-profit,
service-driven organisations
actually work
and what we’re really talking about
is the degree
to which we focus on it.
I would say that over
the 14 years of history for Pinarc,
there has always been
a strong degree of concern
about listening to clients,
involving them.
It now is becoming much more
part of our everyday language.
The human rights based approach…
..on me personally…
..means that I can communicate
with all of the people at work
within the organisation
at the same level,
that we’re talking about
the same journey.
I think what works well
and what doesn’t work well
in a human rights based approach
is really down to attitude
and to drive.
So you can have the best possible
client representative system
or you can have
a self-advocacy group.
You can have monitoring systems,
but if that’s not
driven from the top
then it’s, you know,
not going to produce the same
sort of outcomes as it would
if you have a board and a CEO
that’s really driving that,
and that is passionate
about making the environment
human rights friendly.
We’ve changed,
I guess, at a board level,
to support
a human rights based approach,
particularly with
the vision and mission statement.
So I guess,
firstly it’s really important
that you lead from the top down
on what, you know, you want that
human rights approach to be,
so then it can be cascaded
and filled throughout.
The role of the board
is around setting the direction.
So it is through, um,
embedding it
in the strategic documents.
So the strategic plan.
Setting the values
and the vision and mission.
They have an important role
in recruiting a CEO
who holds those values
and is going to create a culture
where
the senior management team…
..to create that culture
across the organisation.
Our board changed
from monthly board meetings
to bi-monthly board meetings
and bi-monthly workshops.
And in the workshops we…we get
feedback from our employees
and from the people
that we care about.
We listen to the people,
making sure that human rights is
implicit in everything that we do.
Um…
The board genuinely cares.
And because it genuinely cares,
we want to know what’s going on.
We want to be…
we want to communicate.
We want to know
what mistakes we make.
We want to learn
from our mistakes.
There would not be a decision
that we make
that we do not go back
to our vision and mission.
And if a decision has been made
that perhaps puts
a staff process need
in front of a client need,
we will always pick that up
and ask a question about,
“Yes, that’s all very well,
“but how does this actually impact
on the client?”
And, “What needs to happen
for this to be the primary reason
“for making that decision?”
The person-centred approach
that we already…we’re embracing
is a natural progression
into human rights.
Participation of
people with disabilities
and the ageing people
that we care about
is vital.
There are major communication
problems, as you know,
with some people with disabilities.
But if we can’t communicate
directly with them,
we can communicate
with family members.
If it’s…if it’s…
an acquired disability,
we can find out what their life was
prior to the disability,
what they enjoyed doing,
what their aspirations were.
If it’s a disability from birth
we can find out
what the families did together,
where they were happiest.
Carers change, employees change
but the constant
are the people that we care about.
So we must keep records.
I think service providers
should tell people with a disability
what their human rights are
and it is OK,
if they don’t get
their human rights heard,
to complain.
Sometimes it’s the right decision
for a person not to have, um, all
their funding with us, for example.
It might be right for them
where they actually only come to us
on a part-time basis
and we do activities with them,
’cause they might need
different stimulation,
different people around them
to develop maybe different
social skills or what that might be.
We have somebody that’s…um…
..been coming to us
for about 14, 15 years
and only in the last couple of years
his mum actually has decided
that, you know…
..on this individual-based
approach –
that it’s actually the right thing
to do, to spread out a little bit.
And we’ve really supported that.
If we do our job really well
and people meet their outcomes,
then, you know, it’s like
in a business environment,
you know,
you get referral of business.
You’re doing the right thing for the
personal development of the people,
but from a business approach
hopefully new leads come in the door
and we have the opportunity
to help more people.
The people who use our service
and their families and carers,
I don’t know that they would
necessarily articulate it
as a human-based approach.
They certainly do talk to us
about the difference it makes
in their lives
to be respected and heard…
..and, um, again –
at the centre of what’s happening.
If you’re going to adopt
a human rights approach,
two key things are to, um, ensure
that you look at and understand
the way the UN Convention on the
Rights of Persons with Disabilities
might work with that approach,
and bring it back from being
a really abstract kind of thing
that’s very high-level
to “What happens to the day-to-day
in your organisation?”
And the second thing I would say
is to involve people with disability
at every level.
So make sure that you’re talking
to people with disability
who are clients,
that you’re engaging
people with disability
to be staff or contractors
or in senior management roles.
And that you’re engaging
people with disability to be…
as part of your
governance structures as well.
My advice to organisations
is to give people with a disability
their human rights
like everyone else
in the community gets.
People with a disability
are an equal as everybody else.
Look at their ability
before you look at their disability.
It’s about accepting
that it takes a long time to change.
So I have maybe felt that I’m
very clear about my expectations,
I behave in a way
that I think models this
and demonstrates
this is my expectation.
And maybe I assume at times
that it’s all there and sorted,
but actually
I don’t know that it ever is.
I think it’s something that
I will always need to go back
and constantly
have conversations about.
I think…um…it’s important to
remember that we are in this sector
because we deeply care
about the people we’re working with
and everybody is definitely
trying to do the right thing.
We’re moving into an era
where disability service providers,
of all different shapes and sizes,
are going to have to really
acknowledge and respond to the fact
that people with disabilities are
getting the control and have choice.
So I think from that perspective,
it’s particularly
good to do as well.
I also think it’s something
that government
is starting to look more at
in terms of prioritising
how they see supports
for people with disability.
And they’re moving towards a model
where they want to see
more control and choice
given to people with disability.
And if service providers
don’t respond to that,
they not only lose us
as people with disability
as their clients,
but they perhaps lose
the eye of government.
To be successful in the changes,
you need to differentiate yourself
in your service proposition.
And those organisations that
are taking a human rights approach,
putting customers or clients
and their staff
at the centre of what they do,
will reap the rewards
of the bottom line,
because people are more engaged,
the outcomes are good,
it generates more business
and you’ll get financial results
on the bottom line.
Yes, we’ll make mistakes.
But we hear from the organisation,
we learn from them
and we’re moving forward.
And we have a pride
as board members in that journey.
Personally I believe that the
human rights based approach…
..is a no-brainer.
If you genuinely care about people,
you’ve got to do it.

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