Bunuba man calls for better disability services in Derby

Published on Friday, 3 December 2021 at 2:31:58 PM


For Derby resident Victor Patrick, 64, the days of “spastic homes” and “mongloid children” do not seem so long ago.

The Bunuba man, who was born in the waters of the Fitzroy river in 1957, has cerebral palsy, and as a toddler was flown to Perth for multiple surgeries, where he was housed with a white foster family and at a “spastic home”.

“I didn’t know the word discrimination as a child, I just knew that people didn’t like me, because I had two things – disability and Aboriginality” says Patrick, speaking to the Shire from his comfortable Derby flat, where he is growing flowers to attract more birds and bees to his garden.

Patrick says he used to frequently cry and feel angry at the routine discrimination he experienced, but it was his culture that eventually got him through.

“Even though I wasn’t allowed to learn language or go to initiations, there was something special in my life, and that was Fitzroy Crossing. The spirit of my people was burning in me and that kept me going.”

Patrick has trained as an Aboriginal Health Worker, but in 1992 his life took an activist bent when he attended the world congress on disability in Canada.

Now, Patrick agitates for change, especially in remote and Indigenous regions where he says access to services and facilities for disabled people remain poor compared to the cities.

“My heart is beating to keep me alive, and your heart is beating to keep you alive, and therefore you and I have a right to equal participation in our town.”

Pavements need improvement in Derby to make them a smoother ride for the rising number of mobility scooters, and disability access toilets need to be fitted at numerous businesses, including Sporties and Kimberley Sound, Patrick says. The post office door also needs replacing with an automatic one, as many disabled people in town struggle to open it.

“There needs to be more proactive services, where carers see people for people, not just clients,” Patrick says.

“It seems to be a paper issue sometimes, not a heart issue. There needs to be more genuine care.”

A day centre for people with disabilities in Derby is Patrick’s current passion-project. He would like to see it offer arts & crafts activities, cooking facilities, a music room and a hang-out space for families to gather, both indoors and outdoors.

Health facilities such as a speech pathologist, an all-access gym and a physio would also be beneficial, Patrick says, making the facility “a one-stop shop” rather than having scattered, disparate services around the region.

“People with disabilities in Derby do not have enough places to go,” Patrick says. “At the moment most disabled people just stay at home. Getting the walker frame or the wheelchair in the car goes into the too-hard basket. And there’s a skilled aspect to it as well, families do their best, but they often don’t know how to offer the best care.”

In his years living in Derby Patrick has joined various committees and boards, worked as a DJ at the radio station and participated in Aboriginal health care. It’s a long way from the young man who was employed for 50c an hour at a shelter workshop in Perth in the 1970s, feeling frustrated at the limitations society put on disabled peoples lives.

“When I was housed at the St James Spastic Centre we used to drive around in an old bus with the words St James Spastic Centre, and we used to go to a special school,” Patrick recalls.

“We stood out in the crowd. We were treated like stupid kids. Things have come a long way since then…but we’ve still got more to do.”

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