Insight: Disability and Parenting

Susan finds it hard to multitask: she struggles to cook a meal and keep an eye on her toddler at the same time.


She finds it hard to make judgements when things aren’t black and white. Any ‘grey’ areas can be hard for her to understand.

“Like, the books said [my daughter] should be smiling at six months,” Susan tells Insight. “I’d wait for six months and go, ‘She ain’t smiling.’”

She and the child’s father both have intellectual disabilities and Susan also has a condition that affects her mobility and strength.

After the intervention of Victoria’s Department of Human Services, guardianship of Susan’s daughter was eventually given to Susan’s mother-in-law, Jane.

Susan is upset at losing guardianship of her young daughter but believes it’s in her child’s best interests. She sees her daughter for two hours per week.

“Now as my child is four and a half, I’m sometimes very tired after even two hours,” Susan says, “and I think, ‘Oh my God, how does Jane do it 24/7?’”

It’s not easy taking care of a toddler, says Jane, but she believes it’s the best outcome.

“It’s probably not what I’d planned to be doing at this stage of my life,” says Jane. “But like a lot of life, we don’t write the script and there are tremendous amounts of just delight in rearing a small child.”

Susan and Jane join families and child protection workers to discuss the delicate process of assessing a parent’s abilities.

Robyn Miller is a caseworker with the Victorian Department of Human Services. She assesses and investigates some of the department’s most complex cases of child protection and helps decide what’s in the child’s best interests.

Robyn says there are lots of reasons why parents with intellectual disabilities become involved with her department, beyond the actual disability itself. The parent might also have a mental health problem or have a partner who is violent.

“The research tells us that there’s a greater chance if you have an intellectual disability of also having a mental health problem and sometimes that is exacerbated because there’s a partner who had may be violent and controlling.

“It’s actually less about the intellectual disability,” Robyn adds. “It is about, ‘How is this child? And how are all these other things impacting on the life of this child? Their safety, their stability and their development overall?’”

But Professor Gwynnyth Llewellyn, Director of the Centre for Disability Research and Policy at the University of Sydney, disagrees.

Although many people with intellectual disabilities do live in “quite poor socio economic circumstances” and women can often find themselves in abusive relationships, Professor Llewellyn believes they are judged far more harshly than other parents, and are over-represented in child protection cases.

“One of the reasons is that there is some discrimination. People do make judgments… on the basis of a name, a thing called intellectual disability.

“There can be many other reasons,” she tells Insight, “but there is definitely over representation and a part of that has to do with more notifications than you would expect to see.”

Watch the full Insight discussion about parenting and disabilities here.

You can join the discussion by using the #insightsbs hashtag on Twitter or by commenting on Insight’s Facebook page.


WATCH A PREVIEW – Susan on disability and parenting

Polio survivor: I wish there had been a vaccine

At just 10 months old, Gillian Thomas was too young to remember contracting the polio virus but more than 60 years later she still receives a daily reminder.


“It doesn’t go away,” she says, “although some people do recover somewhat from the paralysis.”

Gillian’s diagnosis meant years in hospital, isolation and countless treatments. She was three and a half when finally released back to her family.

Gillian Thomas, aged around 18 months, is treated in hospital for polio. (Image: Supplied)

“The doctor said I’d never walk, but that wasn’t good enough for my mother. She went out and found a physiotherapist who worked with me probably until I was about 12, every week giving me exercises, so I learned to walk with two full-length callipers and one crutch on one arm.”

At 12, it was back to hospital – this time in Melbourne, where she underwent a spinal fusion, a procedure where vertebrae are joined together to secure the spine.

“My parents lived in Wollongong [south of Sydney]. I felt quite like a stranger when I returned home at that point, because I was away for more than 12 months.”

Gillian Thomas stands between her older brother and sister, aged around 6. (Image: supplied)

Polio, an incurable disease that attacks the nervous system, can lead to fatigue, pain, paralysis and, in some cases, death.

Cases of the highly infectious disease have decreased globally by over 99 per cent since 1988, according to World Health Organisation records.

Today, the disease remains endemic only in Afghanistan, Nigeria and Pakistan.

Australia was declared polio free in 2000, a statistic widely attributed to high rates of immunisation.

At 63, Gillian considers herself a polio survivor, but she’s still plagued by medical issues.

“Polio isn’t a solved problem for Australia’s polio survivors,” she says. “We’re still here.”

Contracting the disease five years before the first vaccine became available, she finds it “frustrating” that childhood vaccination for preventable diseases still remains a debatable issue for a small minority of Australians.

“People who have had polio in Australia didn’t get it because they didn’t take the vaccine. They got it because the vaccine wasn’t there.”

A joint study conducted by the National Centre for Immunisation Research and Surveillance, Australia Online Research and SBS published today found older Australians are more supportive of childhood vaccination.

The research found 76 per cent of those aged 45 or older were supportive, compared to 60 per cent of those under 45.

Gillian believes polio has dropped out of community consciousness, particularly among younger parents who may have never seen its effects.

”A lot of them have never even heard of it,” she says.

“They don’t consider the fact that when they were at school and they took the little red drop on their tongue or whatever that that was actually stopping them, saving them getting severely disabled possibly, through polio.”

It’s estimated there are around 4 million Australians living with the aftermath of polio. Polio Australia is encouraging those who have had it to join their survivor register.

A documentary exploring the issue of child vaccination will air on SBS ONE next Sunday. The program acknowldges that while vaccination is a key part of public health some people still have questions and concerns, and it will explore how parents can reach an informed decision.

Jabbed: Love, fear and vaccines airs Sunday May 26 at 8:30pm on SBS ONE

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Q&A: Bahraini activist Nabeel Rajab

Nabeel Rajab has been recently dubbed as ‘the unofficial leader of the February 14th’ democratic Bahraini movement.


He has won the American Ion Raitu Democracy Award and the British Silbury Prize for his activism in human rights. Rajab is the president of Gulf Center of Human Rights which has been at the forefront of disseminating information about human rights abuses in Bahrain and the Gulf region.

SBS talked to Rajab while he was in Lebanon conducting a workshop for journalists and activists from the Gulf region.

Q: What is your assessment of the situation after the Formula 1 Grand Prix was allowed to go ahead?

Conditions are still very shaky. Roads were blocked during the event because of the internal ministry’s crackdown.

There are still imprisonments and detention without specific charges.

Politically, we are constricted and there is no dialogue with Bahraini regime whatsoever.

Q: What has your centre documented most recently?

As you know, we lost recently one of the youth during the latest demonstrations during the F1 Grand Prix.

Live bullets have been used. There were scores injured, the prisoners that we know of all have all been tortured, sexually assaulted, beaten, hung from ceilings for prolonged periods and other brutal acts.

Q: As head of the Gulf Center of Human Rights and a vocal critic of the Bahraini regime, what are you, and other human rights activists, specifically calling for?

I am just one of the people, I try and do my best to relay the message.

We would like a government that is democratically chosen by the people instead of the pre-ordained selection of electoral circles in a biased fashion to suit the regime’s needs. These are basic democratic demands that would see a transition towards constitutional reforms.

Q: Where do you see the revolution heading to now?

This has been one of the longest revolutions in the Arab world to date. We have ample energy.

The regime is funded by Saudi Arabia and the United States and for these powers true democracy to be created destabilizes their interests.

It has won the ‘media war’ because of their constant propaganda and they are collaborating with other Salafi and Wahabi groups to maintain their tyrannical grip on power.

We want true justice and economic rights for all. We cannot express our democratic vision while the government suppresses our freedom of speech.

Q: You are in Lebanon at the moment organizing a workshop for young Gulf journalists and human rights activists, what are you hoping from this event?

We have young activists from different nationalities including Saudi Arabian, Kuwaiti and Bahraini.

What we’re trying to promote with this training from professional journalists is a culture of human rights. It starts with these young people!

WATCH Nabeel Rajab interviewed on BBC World’s HARDTalk program

WATCH Yaara Bou-Melhem’s story for Dateline: Bahrain’s Dark Secret from April 2011.

VP pick Ryan fires up Republican convention

Adding youthful vim and policy vigor to the Romney ticket, the 42-year-old rising star from small-town Wisconsin received a standing ovation for his impassioned pitch to American voters 10 weeks from election day.


“I accept the duty to help lead our nation out of a jobs crisis and back to prosperity. And I know we can do this,” Ryan said, exhibiting little sign of nerves during his 35-minute speech, by far the biggest of his political life.

Ryan accused Obama of saddling the US economy with four years of failed big government policies and held up Romney, a 65-year-old former Massachusetts governor, as the man to turn things around with his business acumen.

“After four years of getting the run-around, America needs a turnaround, and the man for the job is Governor Mitt Romney,” he said.

Romney will formally take up the nomination with his all-important acceptance speech to the convention in Tampa, Florida on Thursday, the climax of three days of rousing addresses by party grandees and rising stars.

He lies neck-and-neck with Obama in national polls ahead of a November 6 election that should be the challenger’s for the taking, given the sour economy and stubbornly high unemployment.

Romney’s vice presidential pick was seen as crucial four years after John McCain electrified conservatives by choosing inexperienced Alaska governor Sarah Palin, only to see her wither in the national spotlight.

Democrats have portrayed Ryan as an extreme, budget-cutting friend of the rich who would gut beloved social programs.

But Republicans have used the selection of the seven-term congressman, whose budget plan is the party’s blueprint to fix the flagging US economy, to breathe fresh life into a race that had been in danger of drifting away from Romney.

Ryan took his chance in the convention spotlight to assail the president’s record, saying Obama’s promises of hope and change had fallen flat after four years of fiscal recklessness, ballooning debt and joblessness.

“It all started off with stirring speeches, Greek columns, the thrill of something new,” he said.

“Now all that’s left is a presidency adrift, surviving on slogans that already seem tired, grasping at a moment that has already passed.”

His address, carried live on cable TV across America at prime time, contained a clear pitch to working class and middle class Americans who may find it hard to identify with Romney’s background of wealth and privilege.

Analysts agreed that Ryan gave a strong speech, but the burden is now on Romney to use his own address on Thursday to energize voters and close the still-yawning likability gap with Obama.

The Obama campaign had upped the pressure on Ryan in the hours leading up to the speech, releasing a new web video accusing him of favoring outdated top-down economics, tax cuts for the wealthy and the replacement of the popular Medicare program for the elderly with a voucher system.

Speeches earlier on Wednesday by Senator John McCain and former secretary of state Condoleezza Rice focused on foreign policy — which has taken a back seat to the economy in the campaign — saying Romney would restore US leadership in the world and accusing Obama of letting down Israel and other allies.

Romney was meanwhile preparing for his own address on Thursday, when he will formally accept the nomination and make his own case to a prime-time audience in perhaps the most important speech of his political career.

He took to the stage briefly on Tuesday’s storm-delayed opening night of the convention to give his wife Ann a kiss after her well-received speech, which sought to humanize a candidate often seen as stiff and awkward.

She delivered her side of the bargain, blending a targeted pitch to vital women voters with a personal narrative about Mitt that dwelt largely on their all-American love story, their wholesome family and his winning attitude.

“This man will not fail,” Ann Romney said. “This man will not let us down. This man will lift up America!”

Explainer: What’s life like in an airport transit zone?

NSA leaker Edward Snowden has reportedly spent the last week in the transit zone at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo International Airport, although journalists have been unable to spot him.


What can you find in a transit zone?

Hotels, restaurants and unfortunate souls. You’re probably familiar with the public portion of a transit zone, which typically offers plenty of amenities. Sheremetyevo airport’s transit zone encompasses three terminals and includes both the V-Express capsule hotel and one wing of the Novotel. Travelers can buy a Vopper from Burger King or nosh on a Cinnabon.

There’s a separate area, however, that few travelers ever see: the detention rooms. Almost all international airports have these spaces, where refugees and others with uncertain immigration status wait to be admitted to the country or shipped back from whence they came. Human rights advocates say the transit-zone detention facilities in Eastern European airports are among the world’s worst. They are one- or two-room suites with more detainees than beds and sometimes just one toilet for every 20 people. The airlines are usually responsible for detainee care, and some of them allegedly scrimp on food and medicine. There is limited contact with the outside world, and in the worst transit zones, like some in Bulgaria, Romania, and the Slovak Republic, refugees are given no opportunity to meet with a lawyer or file an asylum claim. The rooms in some transit zones are locked, although detainees are usually allowed to wander parts of the airport when no other travelers are around. People have spent as much as 20 months living in the transit zone in Sheremetyevo airport. (The most famous transit-zone dweller was Iranian refugee Mehran Karimi Nasseri, who stayed in Terminal 1 of Charles de Gaulle Airport for 17 years, but he moved freely within the terminal.)

Snowden could be relaxing at the Novotel or stewing in a detention pen, depending on how Russian authorities have decided to treat him. But there’s a third possibility, which requires a bit of background to understand.

Governments established the first transit zones as spaces where national tax laws did not apply. At the time, international travelers had to obtain transit visas even if they stayed inside the airport. Processing all those visas eventually became a burden, and the tax-free transit zones became areas where immigration laws didn’t apply, either.

National immigration authorities soon realized that the transit zones could be used not only to eliminate administrative hassles, but to exclude unwanted people. International law — as well as domestic law, in most countries — provides extensive protections for refugees. The principle of non-refoulement, for example, prohibits governments from sending new arrivals back to countries where they will be persecuted. However, if a refugee sets foot only in a transit zone, some countries argue that she hasn’t technically arrived in the country, and she can be sent home without legal protections. Although the European Court of Human Rights rejected this position, many countries have vastly expanded their transit zones to enable them to accommodate refugees while still maintaining the right to deport them.

Transit zones can now refer either to physical spaces or to amorphous legal concepts. The transit zone around Paris’ Charles de Gaulle Airport, for example, includes hospitals and a court more than 12 miles away. Detainees who travel from the airport to these facilities are legally considered to be moving inside a floating transit zone. The size and shape of a transit zone is therefore a matter left to the discretion of national authorities, and it’s possible Russian authorities have taken advantage of this legal technicality. If Edward Snowden isn’t sleeping at the Novotel or in a detention room at Sheremetyevo airport, he may be living in his own personal transit-zone bubble virtually anywhere in Moscow.

Explainer thanks Thomas Gammeltoft-Hansen of the Danish Institute for Human Rights.

© 2013, Slate