The soft bigotry of low expectation

Speechwriter for George H. W. Bush, Michael Gerson, is credited with the phrase, ‘The soft bigotry of low expectation’ used by his boss at the NAACP's 91st annual convention.

I do not have the experience to speak in relation to African Americans but do feel qualified to speak to the situation of people with a disability in Australia. Such persons find themselves in an environment that seems almost designed to encourage service providers to aim low.

Nowhere is this more apparent than with the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS).

There are more than 800,000 people receiving the disability support pension[1]. The cost exceeds $17,000,000,000 a year or approximately $540 per second
(every minute, every hour, every day … ).

You’d think Government would be keen to reduce this. But, no.

Instead, people with disability are being offered bushwalking, further education, field trips, social outings, bowling – you name it it’s negotiable, without any priority on economic independence.

Why doesn’t the Commonwealth, through its agency the NDIA, put employment front and centre?

I believe it’s because of an underlying ‘soft bigotry’, what psychologist Wolf Wolfensberger might have referred to as the ‘wound’ of being cast in the role as burden of charity/object of pity. To some extent, this view permeates the field of disability employment. Many seem to believe that people with disability should have a bucket of money (wage subsidy) tied to them or should be automatically referred to the Supported Wage System because people with disability are inherently of less value.

With 30 years’ experience in disability employment and having seen many thousands of people with disability make the jump from welfare recipient to full-time, independent taxpayer I can tell you that the role of ‘burden’ does not fit.

I develop this point in chapter four (Aim High) in The 10 Demandments – how to improve employment services for people with disability’. Everyone involved in developing full inclusion for people with disability needs to aim high, to look for maximum participation in the best paying, most suitable role for every individual.

Employment First calls for genuine equality, not tokenism, anything less risks succumbing to ‘soft bigotry’.

- Martin Wren