The Federation Press

Promises Promises

Disability and terms of inclusion


The past quarter century has seen the Australian community and its governments commit to a full and equal citizenship for disabled people. Has the promise been fulfilled? How effective have these changes been?

Mike Clear focuses on NSW to find answers and engage their meanings personally and socially. He brings together research, analysis and the insights of disabled writers in a detailed and critical study, structured around three Parts:

  • personal dialogues that provide sensitive insights into personal experiences and the nature of a disabling society;
  • chapters describing and critically appraising the policy and legislative landscape; and
  • four critical perspectives on key relevant social issues: access, telecommunications, cultural representation and the politics of care.

He finds there have been important gains, based largely on human rights initiatives and the efforts and skill of disabled people themselves. However, the inclusion of disabled people is carefully managed by governments. It is ’turned on’ and ’turned off’ as ideology and policy priorities dictate.

Do these gains reflect a promise kept? Not while the systemic alienation of people who have impairment and often, if less directly, of their associates continues. And not, as this book reveals, whilst Australian economic, social and cultural systems remain so fundamentally unchanged.


The strength of this book lies in the editor’s reliance on the voices of disabled persons. Case studies provide insight into the uncertainty created as a result of frequent changes in policy. ... The author provides data and a theoretical model that support the insights gained from reading these personal stories. ...
Promies Promises is an outstanding addition to the literature on human rights and disability. ... A likely readership would include students in human services, medical sciences, nursing and users of qualitative methods.
I strongly recommend it for families and other disability advocates as well as for human services workers. - Journal of Family Studies, Vol 7(2), October 2001

Promises Promises documents the social justice struggle of people with disabilities in Australia and particularly New South Wales over the last 25 years. ... [It] presents an openly social perspective on disability. This approach views the impaired person not as a tragic problem of the individual, but as a product of a disabling social environment and hostile social attitudes. ...
The book shows the importance of and connection between reflection on personal experience; understanding the political context of this experience; and the development of a movement for social change. ...
Promises Promises is an essential book for students, academics, policy makers politicians, people with disabilities and anyone wishing to truly understand what a social and an emancipatory approach to disability involves. As such, Promises Promises is an important contribution to documenting the social justice struggle of people with disabilities in Australia and particularly in New South Wales over the last 25 years.
However it is more than this because it is based on people with disabilities telling their stories, involves a broad spectrum of the disability community, and presents an informed critique of the policy and legislative changes. Promises Promises is a significant contribution to disability studies in Australia.
Nothing stands testament to the quality of the book from a disability perspective more than the fact that the NSW Minister for Ageing and Disability, the Hon Faye Lo Po, refused to launch the book on the grounds that it was too controversial in content and critical in its analysis of the government. - Disability Studies Quarterly, Vol 21(4), Spring 2001

Promises, Promises is one of the first books published about Australian disability politics. Clear, the editor and principal author, challenges the reader to feel and comprehend the divergence between disability policies promulgated by the federal government and the state government of New South Wales, and the lived experience of people with disabilities. ...
This is an ambitious work informed by a participatory research process and committed to a social perspective on disability. Clear’s purpose was to test whether the full citizenship promised by successive governments had eventuated. A variety of information sources were used, the most important being the stories of people with disabilities.
Part I, Dialogues on Disability, presents five transcripts of interviews with people who are experiencing different types of impairment. ... These accounts reflect differing aspects of social barriers and, for some, breaking through to fuller lives. One woman with motor impairment tells of her battle to establish her life independent from her protective non-English speaking background family and her partner, at the same time as she was studying at a tertiary level. Another tells of her difficulties in getting her psychiatric condition and addictive behaviour understood and treated fairly. ...
Part II, Promises Forestalled, fills in some background for legislative actions that support the rights of people with disabilities. ... As Clear states ’The difficulty of reaching and transforming the deep and interrelated dimensions of disabling and economic practice are evident.’ While calls for equitable change continues to come from disability advocacy organisations, governments appear more interested in managerial attributes of service providers.
Part III, Social Forces in Personal Lives, is a group of four powerful essays written by disability activists. They are well researched and challenging. Mark Sherry ... strongly supports the relationship of systemic marginalisation with continuation of access barriers. Lynne Davis’ work on Representation and Disability questions pseudo-representation of the interests of people with disabilities as made by charities. Christopher Newell and Gerard Goggin ... list the battles by disability advocacy organisations to make TELSTRA, Australia’s statutory telecommunications provider, responsive to the requirements of people with a variety of impairments and economic disadvantage. Joe Harrison ... questions the medical, charity and managerial models of care for their disregard of the social construction of disability. He also recommends people with disabilities should look at citizenship issues.
Promises, Promises does make the reader aware of the difference between government policy professing equity and the experience of people with disabilities. ... [It] is a most useful contribution to disability politics, community studies and the public service ... - Disability & Society, Vol 16(5), 2001

Table of Contents

Part I - Dialogues on Disability

Life, learning and activism
Diana Qian and Mike Clear
My battle with bullshit
Alice and Jenny Green
Families in touch
Trevor Whiddon and Jenny Green
Murphy’s memories
Tony Murphy and Jenny Green
Workable spaces
Sondra Wibberley and Mike Clear

Part II - Promises Forestalled

Mike Clear
The forms of promise: disability rights whose time has come
The forms of promise: policy and service developments
Changing and uncertain progress
The persistence of alienation
Personal lives in unaccommodating systems

Part III - Social Forces in Personal Lives

Exploring the social and political dimensions of access
Mark Sherry
Representation and disability
Lynne Davis
Twenty-five years of disabling technology: the case of telecommunication
Gerard Goggin and Christopher Newell
Models of care and social perceptions of disability
Joe Harrison


Information, Research and Rights-based Contacts
ABS Accommodation Figures for People with Disability and Handicap in NSW and Australia
Employment Statistics for NSW and Australia
The Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission Figures Relating to the Disability Discrimination Act 1992

Contributors to the Telling Stories Project
Notes and References
Selected Bibliography

Of interest...