Time: our most precious commodity4 min read
By Roger Loveless T
I was speaking to a disabled person recently who has advocated tirelessly within her capabilities on behalf of the disabled community. Unfortunately she shares with me the frustration of the loss of our most precious commodity, robbed from us due to the daily grind of our lives. So what is it?
Just time. A simple four letter word. We have to look on as people make decisions that affect our lives, with no idea how those decisions impact on those disadvantaged by disability, often through no fault of their own. We see local council, central government and other organisations apparently wishing to consult on a wide variety of issues. Do they really want to consult, or are they just looking for some degree of legitimacy to make decisions over our heads?
As an example, I recently became aware of an initiative of my local council that purported to be seeking the views of the elderly, so that their views could be considered in their planning processes. This was about three years ago. Nominations were called, members were selected and the intention was to meet monthly to provide feedback to council. I spoke to a member recently about what it was doing, and discovered it quickly had ceased to operate. He spoke of one so called opportunity to be involved, but it turned out only to be an information session on a project for which the decisions had already been made. In effect the members were not being given any opportunity to undertake the function for which they were selected. Their time had been treated as of no value, and of course had been used up, so was unavailable for more productive use. In this situation, the members’ time is not credited with any monetary value, and not only have those representatives of the community lost out, but the paid staff who should have been acting on the consultation outcomes, have been wasting their time as well.
Unfortunately, over recent years, councils and others have successfully lobbied for the right to limit “costly” public consultation and to be able to make “executive decisions”. This has allowed staff to have a much greater say on decisions, at the expense of both elected members and the public’s opinions. However, all too often staff have blinkers on, and only see their own preferred outcome as acceptable. They overstate the benefits and understate the costs. They use the “half a tunnel” excuse to allow budgets to blow out, and then elected members are torn between conflicting emotions, especially if they supported the project. Half a tunnel, or anything that has to be completed to serve its purpose, is no use to anyone half finished. The consequential knock-on effects are that the funding shortfall comes from less obvious areas including basic maintenance and accessibility upgrades.
For advocates struggling with the daily grind that is a part of living with a disability, seeing this happen is doubly frustrating. Firstly, if they wish to be a part of the conversation, they must respond in a reactive way, often trying to introduce issues into a directed conversation that has not deemed these issues relevant. Secondly, much of their available time is used up, and their ability to advocate for better outcomes for those with disabilities is severely curtailed or even lost entirely.
As a professional engineer in a past life, I was responsible for many projects, and although some went over budget, none of them went over by anything like the percentages that that are all too commonplace in local government now. Is this because staff are incompetent, or are they deliberately underestimating costs to get their pet projects “over the line”?
Although I am more familiar with physical access issues, it is unfortunate that the same thinking often crops up within welfare and health related conversations. Some researchers, who can also be persons with disabilities, all too often get an idea they become passionate about, and fail to recognise there may be a better way of achieving the desired outcome. By using the academic method of disseminating information, with many carefully itemised references, they may impress their colleagues, but almost completely shut off communication channels with those who may be affected.
Once used, time is lost forever. We must make the time we have used beyond that required for the daily grind make a difference. Although it may be limited, that time needs to be recognised by everyone as valuable, and the messages should not dismissed merely because the messenger has neither the time nor the energy to advocate as forcefully as their able bodied acquaintances.
Do we go along with controlled consultation processes and let others ignore what we know will lead to more inclusive and less discriminatory outcomes? Do we look the other way and accept a society that treats our time as of no consequence?
I think that disabled people should be equally valued.
It’s about time, don’t you think?