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Wednesday, 9 May 1984
Page: 1850

Senator TOWNLEY(5.11) — First of all, I congratulate the Australian Science and Technology Council on the production of the report 'Technology and handicapped people'. I, like Senator Coleman, have not had it for a long time but from an examination of the areas with which I have had time to deal I can say it is a very good report. I, unlike Senator Coleman, have not been surprised by the details of the number of people who are handicapped. Over the years as a chemist and through the Senate committees that I have been on I have come to recognise just how large is the number of people in the community who have a handicap as defined by the system which is used in the report, which is, I think , the World Health Organisation system by which it decides whether people are moderately or severely handicapped. Perhaps one of the reasons why we do not all recognise how large is the number of handicapped people in the community is that for a lot of them it is very difficult even to get out of the house. It is extremely difficult, particularly for those who have arthritis, are blind or have disabilities of that severe nature, to get into the community. Therefore, we do not see many of them, but it is important for everyone in Australia to recognise just how many people there are whom we should be helping as much as we possibly can by both the established technology, which is doing a lot of good things, and the newer technology which may be a little more expensive and therefore may not be as easy to provide for such people but which is something that we must work towards in this country.

Senator Coleman —Offset by community costs.

Senator TOWNLEY —Certainly there is a community cost in helping these people. If we can make them more productive and make their lives more enjoyable-that is the most important thing-I would like to see that done. Everybody here must know some people who are badly handicapped in one way or another. Those of us who are able to get around and have most of our faculties, although sometimes in this place I doubt that--

Senator Watson —Your hair has fallen out.

Senator TOWNLEY —My hair has fallen out. One of the reasons why I do not worry about my hair falling out is that I know of the things other people have to put up with. It is a minor thing compared with what some people in this community have to put up with in just getting out of bed or moving across the room and making themselves a cup of tea. For the information of the Senate, I will repeat the details on the number of people who are handicapped. Section 1.10 of the report states that 8.6 per cent-nearly one in 10-of the population is handicapped and a further number is disabled but have no subsequent handicap. But in total 13.2 per cent-that is about one in six-of the community is disabled . The range of technology that is available to help these people is very wide and is becoming wider. It starts with just the simple things that make life easier for people who have difficulty with all of their faculties. I hope that this report is widely read. I particularly encourage the establishment, as proposed in recommendation 4 of the report, of rehabilitation engineering centres in each State. I believe that these should be associated with universities and that each university should be asked to establish an area in its engineering department which could help people and that this be done in conjunction with civilians who are more involved in this area.

I believe the amount of research and development that we are doing in Australia in this regard is not nearly enough. It is mentioned in recommendation 5 that we should be doing more. As we have no established large scale programs of research and development directed at helping disabled people, maybe that is something that the Ministers for health from each of the States could look at and work on in conjunction with the rehabilitation engineering sections at the universities of this country. It is something that we should do; it is something that we owe to those people who are not as well off as ourselves.