26th April, 2022 Social Media?

One of the big, early questions for this site is how can we best communicate with you. Webpage; e-letter; Facebook; Twitter; Instagram, Linked-In; etc, etc. Obviously, at the moment, our objective is just to try everything that works. We’re building the aeroplane as we’re trying to fly it.

But it might be time for a re-think, as Morning Brew suggests:

“Netflix and Facebook, now called Meta, have lost most of their gains from the past five years. Remember when Facebook hit the $1 trillion market cap club in 2021? Now it’s worth $533 billion.”

Today the world’s richest man, Elon Musk, is currently bidding US$44 billion to buy Twitter. This seems to be an enormous amount to spend on a (currently) loss-making business that has only ever turned a profit during two reporting periods (both of less than a year). He would seem to be paying a premium for control, which suggests he wants the forum to mirror, in some ways, his views. In none of these apps are you getting news and information that’s curated to ensure (a) accuracy or (b) relevance and balance. The apps can better be described as machines to grasp your attention (and dumb you down).

We actually don’t believe any of these particular formats will survive intact. Media is too important to be left to the social market and something will evolve to replace these as services for delivering news and information.

Something, we hope, more like ability.news.

30th March, 2022 A Budget for Disability?

It’s the big question: ‘what does this federal budget mean for the disability sector?’ Turn to the Budget papers, as ability.news did yesterday, and the answer appears simple.

The Government is providing record funding to the NDIS as more people with significant and permanent disability benefit from the scheme. In the 2021‑22 Budget, the Government is providing an additional $13.2 billion over four years. In total, funding for the NDIS is expected to grow to $122 billion over the next four years with contributions from the Commonwealth and states and territories.

But what does this really mean and, more particularly, how does this interact with actions of the NDIA where [according to Helen Dickenson and Anne Kavanagh];

The latest National Disability Insurance Scheme’s (NDIS) quarterly report shows the average plan size per participant fell 4% between 2020 and 2021 [which] confirms what many disability advocates have been warning about for some time: that the government is seeking to rein in costs of the NDIS by reducing individual plans.

What’s the reality?

Over the next few weeks ability.news will continue dissecting what actually occurred last night and pushing hard to find the answers.

And note that plural – answers. It’s important to realise how massive this sector is (although the exact time-period of Treasury’s figure of $122 billion above isn’t spelt out).  This would appear to suggest that some people will do very well out of the spending, but this doesn’t mean that everyone will necessarily be a winner . . .

21st March, 2022 People with Disability

Dr Peter Gibilisco has just written a thoughtful piece in John Menadue’s blog, Pearls & Irritations. Should it be, he asks, “people with disability or people with disabilities“.

My frustration arises when public debate about vital social policies for people who need assistance allows the term “disability” to be used in ways that are confusing . . . to fit in less dysfunctional disabilities like a broken leg. The term “people with disability”, is not only poorly constructed, it then creates a scenario such as using the term “people with a disability” where it can be used as an optional disability. 

This is exactly why most Australian disability organisations use the word ‘disability’ as an uncountable noun, like ‘hair’.

My children, for example, admit I have hair (although they don’t think I’ve got much of it). I am also a person with disability – badly smashed hip (decade’s record for the number of fractures in RNS Hospital), various other injuries and, most disastrously of all, an acquired head injury (although back when it happened it was called a brain injury. Such are the changing fashions of word use).

The thing is that it’s difficult to specify all of these or to refer to the degree of severity, which has anyway changed over time. It doesn’t make sense to use the word ‘disabilities’ unless you are referring to particular conditions.

This is why our style guide always prefers the term, “people (or person) with disability”. It’s simple and correct.

It’s modern usage, and it’s time dictionaries caught up.

14th March, 2022 News as a ‘habit’

We’re spending a lot of time at the moment on what techies call the ‘back end’.

Instead of writing news stories about disability we’ve been busy developing a seamless internet platform to display our journalism together with a way of resourcing better content (and not just relying on volunteer contributions). What we’re seeking to do is have enough fresh and compelling content on our pages to make ability.news a habit.

We know ability.news is successful when our community finds visiting this site a great way of starting the day

An article in the e-magazine Psyche discusses this by examining the way news can become a habit. It’s a way of ensuring we’re all ‘on the same page’ and carrying on a national conversation – and that will be critical as we approach the election

Habit is the foundation of the routines that comprise the vast bulk of our everyday lives. When we are not disturbed, we live our practical lives without engaging in anything like a cautious assessment of what it is we are doing at any given moment. No conscious deliberation or reflection is required to brew morning coffee, or to catch the morning train to work. As the late philosopher Hubert Dreyfus said, habits are a part of our ‘everyday coping practices’.

That’s why, from tomorrow (today’s a holiday in the ACT) we’re going to have a daily ‘wrap’ of what’s happening in the disability sector. More coming soon . . .

25th February, 2022       The “banality of evil”

In 1963 writer and philosopher Hannah Arendt coined the memorable phrase ‘the banality of evil’ to describe the way ordinary people are influenced by the way society works to do things they might otherwise recoil from in horror. What occurred in the holocaust is completely and utterly different from the way people with disabilities have been treated in Australia. What remains, however, is the strength of her construction and use of the word, “banality”. Merriam-Webster’s definition is simple:

“1something that lacks originality, freshness, or novelty something banal COMMONPLACE”

It suggests that if people thought more clearly about issues they might not have acted the way she did.

The Disability Royal Commission is currently examining the experience of people with disability engaging with Disability Employment Services. These hearings are ongoing and we do not know what the eventual findings, if any, are likely to be.

A question asked on one witness by the Royal Commissioner recalled Arendt’s phrase. He asked if a document was “worth the paper it was written on”.

The question seemingly went to one of the core issues; responsibility. Were the businesses really attempting to properly train and provide sustainable employment? The response was, “it’s a pathway to getting there”.

Perhaps another question might be if that was enough.


10th February, 2022 An informed, impassioned view

In today’s Canberra Times, ANU Emeritus Professor John Warhurst makes some strong points about political reporting.

“We should encourage political behaviour which aims high, rather than low, and which aims to inspire higher standards not just in politicians but in the wider community. Otherwise, if it is excusable for politicians to behave in this way and to talk this way about one another, then it is excusable in schools, workplaces and on the internet.” 

He’s right and we recognise the Professor’s expertise. It isn’t, however, what journalism’s about and that’s why, today, we’re reporting on Senator Jordan Steele-John’s extraordinary emotional speech to parliament.

It’s inflammatory and brutal, but that’s precisely why it’s news.

That’s the difference between reporting a cry of anguish coming from the heart and cool, academic reflection. Yes, we will be producing as much dispassionate analysis as we can in ability.news, but we’ll always be striving to reflect emotion too.

We’re journalists, not academics. Our job – a crucial part of our mission – is to bring the drama of the moment to life.

The voices of People with Disability are rarely heard in polite debate. That’s why the Senator’s words were necessarily infused with power and anger and they need to be heard in context.

Sometimes the only way to facilitate reasoned debate is to allow the emotion to become the lead.

4 February, 2022  What are government’s real priorities?

In this week’s Public Sector Informant (part of the Canberra Times) former senior public servant Stephen Bartos makes an important point about government spending.

“Governments can also take advantage of a loophole in budget transparency – the budget line for “decisions taken but not yet announced”. At the last budget update, the mid-year economic and fiscal outlook (MYEFO), a record $16 billion (yes, with a “b”) was allocated for such decisions. A large part of that – exactly how much is secret – is for payments to pharmaceutical and other companies associated with pandemic response; for obvious commercial reasons the government does not disclose how much it has set aside to pay private companies until deals are finalised. Even so, there will be enough there to fund a very large number of grants programs. The attraction of this for governments is that during the election they can announce new programs and answer “How will you pay for this?” questions with “The money is already in the budget”. 

As ability.news has reported, actuarial consultancy Taylor Fry has suggested the NDIS is already costing something like $5 billion more than was originally being budgeted for and, by 2024/25, expenditure is likely to have blown out by a total of $15 billion.

It will be interesting to see if any of the $16 billion that was stashed away to fund grants programs that are widely regarded as election bribes will be spent on repairing the NDIA’s budget. My guess is that none of it will be and that’s why it’s important to realise – when the inevitable calls to ‘slash wasteful spending’ come after the new government takes office – that dollars are all equal. Every government dollar will still be used.

It’s just a question of whether we want to spend it on People with Disability, or railway station car-parks in marginal electorates.

2 February, 2022  The Media Environment

Day Two! Phew! It’s certainly not easy to start a new website, no matter how much you plan. Things occasionally go wrong (“sorry I sent you the wrong link, Maddie, and that I had your comment waiting three hours before I put it up, Robert!”) but hopefully everything will eventually all workout. This page is going to be used as an opportunity to provide some perspective – not just in terms of disability issues, but also in terms of the broader media and political environment.

Some interesting stats came out in America overnight. A solid 30 per cent of the New York Times’ (huge) growth over the past year hasn’t actually come from people wanting to read the website to find out what’s going on in the world. Yes, they’re reading the stories to keep informed but these people are subscribing to access the food section (recipes, cooking hints, and reviews); games (the NYT jas just bought the viral “wordle” game for millions of dollars); and its audio products. In other words it’s no longer just a newspaper but has transformed to become a wholistic “lifestyle services” company. The media is changing but this simply reinforces our determination to work harder over the coming year(s). An Axios story has the exact numbers: “of The Times’ 301,000 net new digital subscribers added last quarter, 134,000 came from its cooking, games and audio products”.

When a company as old, respectable and hidebound as the “grey lady” (another name for the ‘Times) stops being primarily about the news business, it changes. The NYT hasn’t reached that point yet but at some point its agenda will, inevitably, lose its focus. The selection of which news story should be pursued won’t be primarily driven by the need to keep people up to date with what’s happening and becomes instead shaped by audience engagement and interest. That’s not ideal for a marginalised community that depends on people retaining their focus while the problems and difficulties are worked through.

And that’s why, here at ability news, we’re determined to keep providing a straight, news-driven product – balancing good news against the bad; inspiration against the occasionally crushing pressures of everyday life.




If you’d like to help in any way please feel free to get in touch! 


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