There are a whole bunch of myths that go along with being disabled.

There are the myths that we’re all pitiful victims of welfare and charity, or romantically tragic figures. We’re eternal children or objects of inspiration and bravery.  

But no myth is more prevalent than the myth of the bludger, the undeserving rorter determined to rob the taxpayer of their hard earned dollars. And it seems like the Daily Telegraph, a News Limited publication, is determined to continue promoting that lie.

That’s not a controversial statement. Last week the Telegraph published an article titled, ‘National Disability Insurance Scheme: Funding going to animal whisperers, soul counsellors and spiritual coaches’. Horse whispering, energy healing, yoga and soul counselling classes are all being billed to taxpayers, the newspaper eagerly proclaims. You’re getting taxed more, the Telegraph tells the public. The tone of the article is damning – while the taxpayer is getting ripped off by those greedy disabled people, ‘alternative therapy’ providers are getting rich quick.

It would be a shocking statement if it was true. There’s only one problem. It’s not.

Hippotherapy and other evidenced based therapeutic interventions have been available to disabled people through state systems for years and there’s no real controversy about providing equine assisted physical therapy. The idea that disabled people are accessing ‘horse whisperers’ – a term used around horse training – is romantically and inaccurately linked with the film, which portrays a young woman who is taught to reconnect with her horse after becoming an amputee. Dramatic as it may be to imagine pretty disabled women being coaxed into rehabilitation by a suntanned Robert Redford lookalike, it’s simply untrue.

As for the claims that disabled people are accessing ‘soul counselling’ and ‘energy healing’, they’re no more based in reality than the Telegraph’s views on contemporary attitudes towards disability. I pity the poor Press Council, the official body that monitors good standards of media practice – they have enough to do without addressing endless complaints by disadvantaged groups who are constantly fighting to eliminate stigma.  

The Daily Telegraph has been a past focus of scrutiny by the Press Council, especially when it comes to the way they have portrayed disabled people. Over the past few years, the Press Council has considered a number of complaints and found that some Telegraph’s stories were ‘unfair, inaccurate and breached standards’. There was the front page article in last year’s paper – ‘Bludgers’ Disgrace: Booze Drugs Dole Rort’, with a secondary heading that read, ‘Exclusive: Crooked doctors helping layabouts get out of finding a job’. The full report was headed, ‘Cynical bludge makes us sick: Dole grubs shirking work’. The year before, the Telegraph ran a story about a welfare right’s group helping disabled people to access the disability pension. Their story was titled, ‘Rorters sharing tips to get on disability pension: Bludge School, how to fudge a bludge” and claimed that an online forum and other agencies were giving would-be ‘bludgers’ tips on how to persuade doctors to put them on the pension. And the year before, the Telegraph published a story publishing an article that included a large headline, ‘Slackers & Slouch Hats’, above which was a secondary heading ‘NSW Disability Support Pensioners now outnumber Australia’s total war wounded by more than 44,000’. The Press Council concluded that the implication that a high number of DSP recipients were ‘slackers’ was offensive and that the Telegraph had breached the Standards of Practice relating to offence, accuracy and fairness.

In a climate where disabled people are constantly stigmatised and depicted as undeserving, that’s bad enough. But what was worse was discovering that the journalist who wrote the story had been quietly lurking within a large social media group of 31,000 people, collecting information from NDIS participants to arrive at her wildly inaccurate conclusions. Small wonder that hundreds of angry disabled people and families have signed a Press Council complaint this weekend. We have had enough.

The NDIS offers huge opportunities, including finding work and having the same opportunities as other Australians. But if media outlets continue to stigmatise disabled people, we’ll be stuck in the same old attitudinal paradigms we’ve been stuck in forever. Time to change the narrative as well as the way disabled people are supported in this country.

Sam Connor

Sam is a disability activist, consultant and social media assassin.  She spends far too much time working on disability issues and far too little time patting her bulldogs.  To connect with Sam, find her on Facebook.

This post is brought to you by Clickability. We’re working towards a better disability service sector by helping users share their ratings and reviews. We invite you to write a review.

Reply to this blog post