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International Day of People with Disability 2016 Awareness Campaign

For International Day of People with Disability 2016 (IDPWD), DSC ran a digital awareness campaign on social media, sharing personal stories from a number of Victorians living with disability. Click on the thumbnails below to read stories from these individuals.

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Tony Clark

Tony ClarkI have a fundamental view that I see my blindness as a great strength. I don’t see it as a problem. However society looks at anyone with a disability and sees what they can’t do rather than what they can do. The only way this can ever change is to prove through action and achievement.

Change happens from the top down and I took the view that if you really want to effect change, it has to be done from the inside – that meant joining a political party to have a voice In Federal Government and in State Government in Victoria. There’s no elected representative who brings the benefit of lived experience of disability. When 21 per cent of the population identifies as having a disability, we need representation to be a voice at the table of decision.

The only way this will change is if someone has the courage to stand and be that voice for change. That was my motivation to put my hand up for preselection in 2010, 2014 and then 2016.

Tony Clark
Candidate for Deakin in the 2016 Federal Election

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Tony ClarkIf you don’t have a level playing field, then you have to take some proactive actions to get the ball rolling and positively discriminate. It’s not tokenism, that’s a word used by the ignorant to maintain protectionism.

One of the things I’m doing within the Labor Party is to establish a group called Inclusive Labor. This group will advocate for people with a disability inside the political framework, to push forward and say that these are the policies that we need to improve so that we can make sure people get equal opportunity to provide education and compete for jobs.

The group’s been running for twelve months and we’re looking at expanding. We’re inviting people from across the party, and recruiting people to join the Labor Party so that they too can have a voice. The reality of politics is that it’s about votes and numbers – it’s democracy in action. If you make the choice to get involved, then you get to have a say.

Tony Clark
Founder, Inclusive Labor

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Tony ClarkWe need to start thinking differently about disability. Social reform needs to be supported with the appropriate economic reform. We’re not doing that at the moment. As a community, we see disability as a cost when it should be seen as an investment.

We have to improve educational opportunities for people with a disability so they can engage, get better outcomes and compete for jobs. We have to proactively intervene for example, the Public Service should have a quota of five per cent of its employees to bring the benefit of disability to the workforce from top leadership positions down.

That would mean that when recruiting for a job, they would look to interview five candidates including someone with a disability. The fundamental philosophy shifts so that people with disability begin to be seen as valuable. It doesn’t mean that they get the job, but at least they get in the door which is patently not happening at the moment.

People want to work, and we have to change the community attitudes about the value that people with disability bring to the workforce.

Tony Clark
Advocate

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Janet Curtain

Janet CurtainAt the beginning of the year, I was asked by Diversity in Disability to run a parent support group for parents with children with disability. We brought in different speakers for people to gain information about how to help their children. I realised that I was able to contribute information just by being myself. They could see that their children could be positive active people in their communities and fulfil their dreams and goals.

It really epitomised what I want to do in my life and how I want to project my disability into the community. It was giving back just by being myself, I didn’t even have to say much to demonstrate to the parents of the group that disability is not a life sentence, it’s an enrichment to life.

Janet Curtain
Advocate, support group leader, mother

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Adam James

Adam JamesI have a lot to give, and I know I can be an advocate for many people who have a disability and don’t get a chance to speak. That means I can be an advocate and speak up for them. That means I can have a voice. I’ve worked with organisations like VALID Inc, EDAR and Knoxbrooke Industries as an advocate.

I received the Inspire Award in 2016 for speaking up against abuse to young people, and speaking out in general. That was a great moment in my life.

Adam James
Advocate, and recipient of the 2016 Inspire Award

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Trish Malowney

Trish Malowney I am proud to be an Australian with a disability. I want to change the narrative from disability being something that we hide to something we can be proud of. It’s important for people to see that I have a disability, as it encourages others to step up and say that they can do it.

Having said that, I have always been empowered. There’s a great difference between those who have always been encouraged to fight, and those who are held back. I have great parents who encouraged me, and one of the defining moments in my life was being inducted into the Victorian Honour Roll of Women for my role in advocating for the rights of women with disabilities because my parents were able to attend and it affirmed all of their hard work.

Working in the mainstream sector is important for me. What I can do is to break through barriers, to get people access to mainstream employment, healthcare, justice, housing, built environment – the things that all the rest of us take for granted. Note that I include myself in ‘the rest of us’, because I’m empowered and I can speak up if something isn’t accessible for myself.

Trish Malowney
Disability Advocate

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Trish MalowneyI went to a disability-focused Pacific Rim conference in Darwin. They said that Australians with disability didn’t need to go to it because “everything was fine here for people with a disability, it’s Australia, we’re a first world nation”. I ignored that of course, and went anyway.

It was interesting to talk to the women there because the issues were exactly the same. It doesn’t matter where in the world you’re from, if you’re a woman with a disability, you’re more likely to be unemployed, more likely to have your children taken from you, more likely to be sexually assaulted.

There’s a need for more international dialogue like that, so I’m starting a new organisation called Disabilities without Borders. I’ve got connections in Sri Lanka, India, Singapore, Malaysia, Ireland and England. It’s time we started talking to each other.

Trish Malowney
International Disability Advocate

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Trish MalowneyI thought we won the NDIS battle, but it’s gone backwards. They claimed they ran out of money in the ACT…well, let’s find some money. The $162m for the marriage equality plebiscite would go a long way in the disability sector. Conflict between the states and the feds is a problem as well. We need one system across Australia. There’s still a lot of work to be done, and still many challenges ahead.

Remote locations are problematic for people with a disability. There may only be one service provider in your town. So there is no choice and there is no control for those people.

There’s also not a large enough workforce. So the question is, what do you let slide to make up the numbers? Quality, qualifications, values…on the one hand, there are people with disability who don’t think qualifications are necessary because they want to hire whoever they want. On the other hand, there are those who don’t have the ability to make those decisions. There’s got to be a balance in there to meet everyone’s needs.

Trish Malowney
NDIS Expert

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John McKenna

John McKennaI’m always amazed and frustrated how all the reference groups I’m on don’t have multiculturalism represented at the table. ‘Hi I’m Yang Zheng, I’m a refugee and I have a disability’…I’ve never heard those words. Don’t tell me refugees don’t have disabilities. They do, but where are they? They’re not represented.

Having a couple of pages translated into different languages on websites is fine, but I’d like to see more of it. Knowledge is empowerment for our communities.

Hence the establishment of China Australia Interpreting which is an online translation business where my business partner and I, along with a team of volunteers, look for a range of aged care related topics in Australia and have it translated to Chinese. It’s then put onto WeChat and goes to China and Australia. The purpose is to build up our subscriber base.

Chinese people who have invested in Australia should know what is available to them when it comes to looking after elderly parents. The feedback we’re getting from the Chinese community is very good. We’re seeing a number of Chinese government organisations coming to Australia to see what we’re doing with aged care reform.

Empowerment is about knowledge. I’m trying to empower our communities through making information and knowledge accessible.

John McKenna
Advocate, Disability Professional, Business Owner

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Hannah MacDougall

Hannah MacDougallYou can’t do sport alone, it’s all about the people around you. One of my Paralympian friends who won a gold medal in London said she could count 83 people who were directly involved with her winning that medal.

In my case, my Year Four sports teacher started my sporting journey by encouraging me to go to the zone championships for running and swimming. I then progressed to the state swimming championships where I picked up this tiny piece of plastic, a gold medal. I thought that was the coolest thing ever.

Then when I was nine years old and getting a prosthetic leg, I saw a poster on the wall of a guy with one leg and three massive gold medals around his leg with the caption ‘Paralympian’. I immediately identified with him and told my mum that was what I wanted to do. She tracked down a Paralympic coach for me, Don, who has been my mentor since then. He’s still my mentor, friend, manager – he opened my eyes to Paralympic sport and has been a crucial part of my sporting career.

Then there’s my mother who’s sourced coaches and other supports, my partner who made me the world’s biggest banner, and my step-father who got up every morning and drove me to swim training. The day I turned eighteen and got my licence and could drive myself to training was the happiest day of his life.

None of the world records or medals could have been achieved without these people.

Hannah Macdougall
Paralympian, Australian Paralympic Team

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Hannah MacDougallI made my first national team when I was twelve and got to travel to Phoenix Arizona. For the first time I felt as though I was with my people. I was walking down the mall with two or three wheelies, some arm amputees, some other leg amputees, some people with cerebral palsy – there was about ten of us parasport athletes. I was almost strutting with pride to be part of that movement.

The atmosphere at the Paralympic Games is just electric. You celebrate your own successes, but also that of your competitors. Wearing the green and gold at the pinnacle of sport is special.

The Paralympics are eye-opening as well, in terms of seeing what humans are capable of when we don’t limit ourselves. I’ll never forget just walking into the food hall and looking around and there’s this guy balancing this tray of food on his shoulders. Then he puts the tray down and you realise he doesn’t have any arms. Then with his feet, he flicks open these chopsticks with his toes and just starts feeding himself.

It makes you think – just what is possible when you don’t limit yourself? There’s a saying ‘Think outside the box’. I like to consider it as ‘Think like there is no box’, and don’t limit yourself at all.

To me, disability is a social construction. I see myself as having an impairment, or being an amputee. The word disability is what society places upon me to try and define me. We’re still rooted very much in a medical model where there’s something wrong with the person, as opposed to an affirmation model where we focus on celebrating differences and recognising what individuals can contribute.

Hannah Macdougall
Paralympian, Australian Paralympic Team

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Hannah MacDougallMy tagline is Ride with a Smile, Ride with a Purpose, and Ride in the Moment.

We can train to a certain extent our ability to be happy and to feel positive emotions, while acknowledging the full spectrum of emotions. We are human, we are going to feel pain, but when the sun is shining let’s go out and enjoy that sunshine!

In terms of purpose, I think it’s important for people to identify their purpose and values and what they’re willing to fight for – that’s the foundation for setting goals, and there are a myriad of health benefits associated with this.

To be in the moment is about brain-training through techniques such as mindfulness and self-awareness. These skills can impact your relationships, health, and life in general.

These are the three central tenets I live by, and that I want to help others find as well in the wellbeing business I hope to have in the future.

Hannah Macdougall
Wellbeing Researcher

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Ron Weiss

Ron WeissI work at IGA. I get the trolleys and baskets and clean them, and I work in the deli on a Wednesday. I’ve been there for ten years, coming up to eleven years. All the customers are my close friends, I get along with them all. I’ve made good friends at work.

Ron Weiss
IGA staff member

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Ron WeissI am really proud of myself. I sold some paintings last year and we donated toys and food for animals at the local shelter where I got my cats Lucy and Penny. I’m an animal lover, I really am.

Ron Weiss
Animal lover

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Ron WeissI’m part of Arrow, Melba Support Services Inc’s advocacy group. It’s with other people with disability and we come together and make plans. We’re doing a human rights roadshow. We spoke at council and we’re speaking at schools next year. Arrow was nominated for the Victorian Disability Sector Awards, for advocacy and promotion of human rights. We didn’t win it, but we’re going to work on it for next year.

The footpaths around the back of the building are all broken up, and I’m going to mention at the next council meeting that it should be fixed to make it easier for people in a wheelchair. It’s about speaking up for your rights, making sure the pathways are clear for people with disability.

From Megan, Ron’s friend and service coordinator: “Ron won the Rebecca Britt award last year. It recognises the honesty and sincerity that Ron has for advocating for people with disability and Ron’s excellent name and reputation in the Mount Evelyn area.”

Ron Weiss
Advocate

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Simone Stevens

Simone StevensI live in Geelong with my cat Buster, who is the love of my life.

I got involved with DSC in 2009 when I was in a desperate situation with a previous service provider. I wasn’t a strong leader then, and didn’t know how to advocate for myself. DSC showed me how it was safe to complain without getting punished for speaking up.

I’ve now worked with organisations like Women with Disabilities Victoria, Geelong’s Disability Advisory Committee, Barwon Disability Resource Council, VALID Inc, and National Disability Services.

Now in 2016, I am a confident person who is no longer afraid to speak up or speak out about matters relating to advocacy and the rights of people with disabilities.

Simone Stevens
Advocate, Communications Officer at VALID

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Christian Astourian

Christian Astourian One important moment in my life is when I graduated from the University of Melbourne with a degree in Computer Science in 2001. Before I started my degree, I had just come back from Italy so I hadn’t even thought about going to university. When I was in Italy I had a Diploma of Accounting, and I was hoping to find a job and continue to be an accountant. Even though I knew my diploma was not completely recognised in Australia, I thought I could do a short course for recognition.

I went to a disability employment service when I came back from Italy because I was looking for work and hoping to get a job. This service basically said to me that I would never be able to get a job, and that I should be happy with my pension. That it was the best thing I could do in my life. That made me really sad and frustrated with the ignorance of people working in that service.

After I got my degree, I went to another employment service. They said to me, “Christian we have a problem. You’re too qualified, I don’t think we can help you.” Because I had a university degree, they didn’t think they could help me. Unfortunately, it’s a common experience for many people with a disability who try to go through employment services. They have to rely on their own networks. There is still a lot of ignorance in society in how people with disability are perceived.

Disability employment services are useless. They may be useful for those with mental health issues, disabilities that are not visible, or a minor physical impairment. But when it comes to people with cerebral palsy, I find them to be hopeless. We need mainstream employment for everyone.

These experiences pushed me to want to do more.

Christian Astourian
Advocate

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Christian Astourian Finishing my Computer Science degree was a great achievement, but I didn’t really wanted to work with computers anymore. I thought I could do much more in the community working with people and making a difference to other people with a disability.

The first organisation that I got involved with was Cerebral Palsy Support Network in 2001. I started by becoming a member of their committee of management, then after a year and a half they gave me the opportunity to become President of the organisation.

I was President for five years. During that time, two important things happened. One was that we managed to get recurrent funding from the Department, as we did a good job in lobbying the government. Secondly, we created Melbourne’s longest cake – a 50 metre long cake we created in partnership with Crown Casino. That was an event we had for three years in a row for two purposes – to fundraise and to raise awareness to the general public.

After my role at the Cerebral Palsy Support Network, I got a job with the Migrant Resource Centre North West Region in 2005 for two days a week as Policy and Communications Officer. After that, I became a Coordinator and then a Program Manager for ‘Diversity in Disability’. We provide services and self-advocacy for people with a disability who come from a CALD (culturally and linguistically diverse) background.

This year we ran five different support groups to bring people together and develop skills and confidence to speak up. One of the things we do is to empower people through activities they enjoy. For example, we have a music group, a creative writing group and an art group.

Christian Astourian
Former President, Cerebral Palsy Support Network
Program Manager, Diversity in Disability

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Christian AstourianThere’s still a long way to go. We are still very backwards especially when it comes to accessibility of buildings, shops, everything related to the private sector. Motorised wheelchairs and scooters can’t enter some buildings because of safety concerns. I find that to be discrimination of a type. For me to get into those places, I need to get into a manual wheelchair which has to be pushed by someone else. Where is my independence? Where is my dignity? I deserve to be respected. As you can see, we have a very long way to go.

I also have some concerns about the NDIS National Disability Insurance Scheme, particularly with new private for-profit companies who will come into this field and provide disability services. They have no understanding or experience when it comes to disability. I think it will create a lot of problems, and people with disability will need to have the confidence to speak up and say that they are not happy with the way that they are treated. It’s more than just choice and control – sometimes people don’t know they have choice and control.

Quality service and to be respected as human beings is what people with disability need. The only way to achieve these two things is for people with disability to speak up, otherwise it won’t happen. You can have regulations, but that alone is not enough to implement change. People need to be empowered.

Christian Astourian
Advocate

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Julie Sciberras

Julie SciberrasEducation is a privilege. In different cultures and countries, sometimes education among women isn’t considered a priority. That was the case in my family. That’s been an issue. My catchphrase is ‘Knowledge is Power’. That’s absolutely vital to everyone – knowledge is power.

I have an acquired brain injury from a childhood illness, which I’ve managed to put in the background and continue with education. I was quite ill one year and the education system was telling me ‘your level of understanding is not at a level that is acceptable’. True to my prove-you-wrong attitude, I managed to achieve quite a high standard in education.

My first certificate was the Year 11 Leaving Certificate, and then I went on to complete a Computer Operator’s Certificate and found white collar employment in the Victorian Public Service. I also have a B.A. in Community Development and I hope to increase my understanding of life for people with disabilities.

Julie Sciberras
Advocate, DnD Project Officer, Support Group Facilitator

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Fiona Smith

Fiona SmithWe need people with disabilities to be involved in all opportunities for community and public decision-making to make change happen. Our social networks, community and economy needs all people to be included for a healthy and vibrant society.

My goal for Victoria by 2020 is to have at least 5 people in the Victorian Parliament that openly identify as having a disability. Tripling this number for local government also make sense by 2020. Will each of the major parties take up this challenge?

A good way for the Victorian Parliament to demonstrate its commitment to the inclusion of people with disabilities in 2017 would be to immediately allocate money to make all parts of Parliament House accessible – starting with a front entrance! Put people before built heritage.

Fiona Smith
Lawyer, Disability Rights Activist and Former Chair, Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission

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Lauren Henley

Lauren HenleyDisability has been a life-changing experience for me. I lost my sight in a car accident about ten years ago. I joined Blind Citizens Australia soon after this, and was introduced to a number of positive role models who were blind or vision impaired. I felt so at home – these were people who just got it. They understood my experience and they felt like family. In fact, they still do to this day.

I look back now and wonder what my life would’ve looked like if I’d never had access to all of this, to the strength I’d been able to draw from other people. Would I have been able to achieve everything I’ve achieved in the last ten years? I don’t think I would have.

My advice to anyone who finds themselves on a similar journey now or in the future, is to connect with other people. It’s such a powerful thing. Health professionals who don’t have lived experience of disability simply can’t offer the same level of comfort, or the same sense of community.

Lauren Henley
Policy and Administration Coordinator, Blind Citizens Australia

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Lauren HenleyBefore I lost my sight I was a Parks and Gardens apprentice, playing with chainsaws and ride-on lawnmowers. I had to find a new career path after I lost my sight. That’s when I got into policy and advocacy. I didn’t think I had the skills to get where I am today, but other people believed in me and supported me.

I was 22 when I first became President of the Newcastle/Hunter branch of Blind Citizens Australia. I didn’t really know what I was doing at that point, but because other people put their faith in me, I wasn’t going to let them down. Running the branch gave me experience with things like taking minutes, writing agendas and chairing meetings – things I had no exposure to when I was working in Parks and Gardens.

Having a safe space to develop these skills provided me with the confidence to re-enter the workforce. I never would have thought I’d have the opportunity to work at places like the Australian Human Rights Commission or the YDAS – Youth Disability Advocacy Service. But here I am!

Lauren Henley
Policy and Research Officer, Youth Disability Advocacy Service

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Lauren HenleyI think some people see me with my cane and immediately take pity on me, but they shouldn’t. I have a rich and fulfilling life. Blindness isn’t always the tragedy people think it is. I don’t regret losing my vision and I’m not going to sit home and feel sad about it – because that would just be a waste of a life.

My blindness in itself does not make me feel disabled. It’s the way people treat me that can make me feel disabled. When people respect me and treat me with the same dignity that they would show towards anyone else, my life is better.

Sometimes people just can’t see past the impairment to the person underneath. I’m just like anyone else though – really! Strike up a conversation with me about anything other than the fact that I can’t see. It’s frighteningly rare, and it’ll really make my day!

Lauren Henley
Advocate

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Chris van Ingen

Chris van IngenMy disability can make every day seem like Mission Impossible. My Mission Impossible is not about saving the world. It is about the simplest day to day tasks like pushing a button in the lift or putting a cup to my lips to drink but just like Ethan Hunt I always win in the end.

Living with a disability has taught me to have a never-give-up mindset because if I do not think that way, I wouldn’t even get out bed. I have the mindset of a special forces warrior or an Olympic champion but because I do not have gold medals around my neck people do not see the victories I have every day. To me I am a champion because I can do the grocery shopping for my family.
In my motivational talks, I tell people that any goal can be achieved and no obstacle is too big to overcome. The reason I know this is because my disability is the Mission Impossible I take on every day.

Chris van Ingen
Actor, presenter

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Maree Georgakopoulos

Maree GeorgakopoulosAccept who you are and don’t put yourself down or criticise yourself. Having confidence and believing in yourself is very important. Don’t think about “I can’t do this, I can’t do that”, think about what you can do. I thought about what I wanted to do, which was childcare.

I used to be with Northstar Specialist Employment Services and they helped me get into childcare. I was very happy when I started. I’ve been in childcare for five years now. I’m volunteering at a childcare centre two days a week. I work with three-year-olds, and I help in the kitchen preparing the food. I really love it.

I also go to the gym and do lots of classes – Zumba, Body Pump, Pilates, Yoga. I like yoga because it helps to relax your mind. I like Zumba because you’re always happy and smiling.

Maree Georgakopoulos
Childcare worker, gym junkie

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Tim Ferguson

Tim FergusonAt the opening of the 2016 Paralympics, wheelchair athlete Aaron Fotheringham (`Wheelz’) wheeled at high speed down a six-storey high ramp, somersaulted and landed perfectly.

Paul Nunnari is a Paralympic athletics competitor from New South Wales, Australia. He was hit by a car at the age of eleven and is a wheelchair user. He has competed in wheelchair athletics events in three Paralympic Games. He was also on Australia’s Got Talent, acrobatically spinning from a rope in his wheelchair.

Maddison Elliott has right-side cerebral palsy as a result of a neonatal stroke. She brought home gold for Australia in the 100m freestyle final in a Paralympic record time of 1:04.73.

Tiffany Thomas Kane was born with hypochondroplasia and is of short stature. When she was fourteen years old, she won three bronze medals for Australia, including the 50m freestyle with an impressive time of 0:34.41.

My great mate, Quentin Kenihan, has been in the public eye all his life. He first came to prominence as a kid on A Current Affair with Mike Willesee. He’s since created his own TV series, award-winning short films, live comedy shows, a public speaking career and recently published a bestselling memoir (Not All Superheroes Wear Capes [published by Hachette]). And, to top it off, he starred in the recent blockbuster movie Mad Max. Russell Crowe describes Quentin as ‘the toughest man I’ve ever met’. Quentin has Osteogenesis imperfecta, a condition that makes his bones brittle – he’s had over five hundred broken bones in his lifetime. But he’s had achievements most of us would envy, and there are more to come.

As for me, I have secondary progressive MS. I recently co-wrote and co-directed a major movie (Spin Out), did a world tour with the Doug Anthony Allstars DAAS LIVE, co-wrote a play for the Edinburgh Festival, developed an orchestral performance piece (Billie & the Dinosaurs) and taught comedy screenwriting at NYU. But compared to those people above, it’s chickenfeed.

Are you exhausted yet? Feeling inadequate? If you’re able-bodied, you should be. If you have a disability, you won’t be at all surprised.

The fact is people with disabilities (PwD) can perform wonders.

But despite their high achievements, the labour force participation rate for PwD is 30% lower than for people without disability. Graeme Innes, Australia’s former Disability Discrimination Commissioner, blames ‘the soft prejudice of low expectations’ that many employers have against PwD.

Sure, people with disability might need to have special consideration to account for their condition, whatever it may be, but once they are set up in a workplace, they’ll participate and contribute like anyone else. In fact, people with disabilities take fewer sick days than people without.

You see, a disability is just that – one disability. Usually, the unaffected faculties of PwD work just fine. Once a disability has been accounted for, employers discover they have workers who truly value the opportunity to work, who go the extra mile. Best of all, customers and clients look favourably upon companies who engage people with disabilities. (A banking executive told me having tellers with disabilities makes customers think twice before unleashing their tempers at the bank’s shortcomings.)

Screen NSW has recently launched Screenability, an initiative that’s placing PwD in film and TV production roles. The results have been extraordinary, with the new workers already making great gains in these challenging industries.

So, if you’re an employer, don’t discount hiring people with disabilities. We can work as long and as hard as anyone else. And we make you look good to your customers!

And if you’re an everyday citizen, remember that disabilities don’t discount a person from leading a fulfilling and productive life in the broad community. Unless you can spin somersaults in a flying wheelchair, it’s time to raise your expectations of people with a disability.

Tim Ferguson
Comedian, actor, director
(Photo by George Fetting)

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Maria van Gaans

Maria van GaansI was born with a double cleft palate, I’ve gone through so many operations since I was born. Since then I’ve know that I have had hearing problem but never got a chance to look into it.

After I arrived in Australia in 1996, my sister brought me to an ear specialist and I received a hearing aid for my left ear, my right hearing was still ok at that time. When I gave birth to my youngest daughter in 2006, I lost my hearing aid and I couldn’t afford to get another one. My sister’s friend gave me her husband’s old hearing aid and I was using that.

My sister read an article in the local newspaper about Better Hearing Australia Victoria Inc asking for the donations of old hearing aids for people in need. I rang them and luckily they were willing to help me to hear properly. I was able to access the Victorian Hearing Aid Bank and was fitted with a pair of reconditioned hearing aids.

I’m so excited and so happy to hear people talking, even whispering because I had difficulty hearing them before. Now I can hear my family properly. Before they were always repeating words three times for me to hear what they were saying.

Maria Van Gaans
Mother and wife

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Emma Norton

Emma NortonI’ve always loved theatre and drama. I go to a lot of different shows with my mother in Melbourne. I’ve seen the Rocky Horror Picture Show on stage two times.

I’m part of a theatre company in Melbourne, Weave Movement Theatre. I’ve been acting for my whole life, since I was a little girl. It’s a lot of hard work, and I did get stage fright once but I got over it. I went from being nervous on stage to being confident. You have to believe in yourself and feel confident in yourself, and know more about yourself as a person.

It’s very important for me that I send the right message for people with disability – to believe in yourself, to feel confident, and to be open to the community and be yourself.

Emma Norton
Actor, dancer, presenter

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Ben Kh

Ben KhSince I was a little boy, I always loved to draw. I always got the highest marks in art. I drew all of the cartoon characters that I used to watch. My love of art led me to university and to study industrial design. Following this I started work as a graphic designer with one of the most famous comic magazines in Iran.

I believe all artists need to have freedom. If they have freedom they can draw anything they like and they can be very creative and can grow. This way they end up drawing very good artwork. Unfortunately this freedom is denied to many artists and because of this I had to consider my safety and my options and make the very hard decision, which was to leave Iran. Fortunately I was able to come to Australia.

I received two hearing aids from the Victorian Hearing Aid Bank in 2014. This opened many new opportunities, especially learning English. I am a fluent English speaker now. My art and photography has been published and I have had some work commissioned.

Ben Kh
Artist

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Christine Williams

Christine WilliamsI’m very proud to be a member of my local Salvation Army in the City of Wyndham. For me, it’s a wonderful illustration of the contribution that people with disabilities can make to their community, that you can be part of your community. It doesn’t matter what your situation is, we can all contribute. I just love being known as a Salvo.

Christine Williams
Salvation Army Senior Soldier

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Laurie Harkin AM

Laurie HarkinOver recent weeks, we’ve shared the stories of a number of Victorians living with disability. What these stories have demonstrated is that the lived experience of disability is different for everyone.

While I have a different experience of the disadvantage that many living with disabilities have, I think it is valuable to acknowledge now that I do bring a personal lived experience of disability to my role as the Disability Services Commissioner.

I am part of the generation of Victorians born in the 1940s and 50s to have polio. In my day, it didn’t matter if you were rich, poor, from the country or lived in the city, everyone was vulnerable. It presents in different ways – some people may be in a wheelchair, wear callipers, or use other aids. For others their disability may be less visible or not even apparent. Most people who contracted polio in those years, myself included, live with the ongoing effects of polio and post-polio syndrome.

Today is International Day of People with Disability. I am proud to be a Victorian with a shared experience of living with disability, and to be included in a community of diverse people with a wide range of lived experiences.

Laurie Harkin AM
Disability Services Commissioner

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Level 20, 570 Bourke Street,

Melbourne, Victoria, 3000 Australia

Call for enquiries or complaints - 1800 677 342

Email for enquiries or complaints - complaints@odsc.vic.gov.au