The Discovering Disability and Diversity program promotes the discovery and real understanding of key disability areas and promotes diversity, so as to enable all individuals, both adults and children across Toowoomba and the Darling Downs to experience this awareness in their own environment. The program is entirely experiential and brings lived experience of the presenter to every session.
This program is designed to allow students to experience and explore a wide range of disabilities. Instead of just talking about issues like dyslexia, intellectual impairments, vision impairment, physical disability and autism, and expecting children and adults to understand and empathise, they can participate in activities that simulate what it is like to be blind, hearing impaired, have Autism, or an intellectual impairment or a physical disability. This creates real empathy and understanding and in many cases a change in practice.
For children this understanding creates more inclusive classrooms and schools and often lessens bullying. Negative attitudes often exist because of a lack of knowledge. This is true for both children and adults. It also helps develop more collaborative and supportive classroom environments overall. For teachers, this real understanding and 'walk in the shoes' experience helps them to plan curriculum that supports the students and develop a teaching style that works for really creating inclusive settings.
The Discovering DisAbility and Diversity program was designed and developed by Sharon Boyce.
Sharon is committed to creating a world where real lived inclusion is possible. She believes by real hands on education and experience and by telling her story and the stories of others that barriers can be broken down and real understanding can be achieved. Her doctoral work is about documenting this process and she is very grateful to all the individuals who are supporting her on this journey.
Sharon has created a number of educational resources that support this work.
Her children's book Discovery at Paradise Island' is one of the only Australian children's story books that deals with disability in the family. She has also re released this book in electronic format mp3 and ebook and in OpenDyslexic font as well to make it as accessible as possible. Her educational resource kit is another first of its kind resource that deals with every topic you can imagine and physical disability. It does this by weaving personal story and picture and DVD together with policy documents and words.
Dyslexia Workshops and Information Sessions
Sharon also runs workshops about understanding dyslexia and exploring a lot of the information that surrounds it. The workshops are based on our experiential process and are all hands on and about sharing information. There are many definitions and ideas that impact in this area and we try to discuss and explore the many different ways this information can be used to help and support individuals with dyslexia. Each person is unique and their differences need to be valued and acknowledged. In all of our workshops this is the basis on which we build our pd session.
Sharon has a book Discovering Dyslexia – Experiencing Some Mysteries and Exploring Some Solutions.
The book pulls together lots of different stories and examples of dyslexia and shared experiences from my many different workshops and professional development sessions. Thank you to all the different people who have helped this all come together.
Sharon's story - the Beginning
I was born in Toowoomba and for 11 years was a fit, healthy, sporty child. I was never still for a minute and as all my teachers would attest, I was never quiet for a minute either. Some things never change!!!! I was diagnosed with Juvenile Chronic Arthritis when I was almost twelve. I was relieved to know what was wrong with me as I was tired of the endless rounds of doctors and tests. I never realised the consequences of that diagnosis or the changes it would bring to my life. I had no energy and was having trouble walking, but I was still glad to be able to name why I was feeling so different.
The changes in my life have been gradual and acceptance has been learnt. I had no idea what it was like to even be sick. After completing my schooling at Rangeville State School and Centenary Heights State High School, I began studying at U.S.Q. By this time my joints were becoming progressively worse and I was having trouble walking more than a few meters. I was lucky my Mum and Dad were willing to run me back and forth to my classes. They dropped me as close to the door as they could and picked me up so I could go home and have a rest in the breaks. I should mention here how lucky I am to have a family as supportive and caring as mine. My parents and sisters have sacrificed a lot to support me and help me with my goals. I would never have achieved half the things I have in my life without this support. They encouraged me when I felt bad and didn’t want to get out of bed. They put up with my complaints but most of all they taught me not to give up.
Sharon's Story - the early 2000s
In the last five years the program has been taken to over 1000 schools, preschools and childcare centres and we have spoken to hundreds of children and adults. Some of our most amazing results come from preschools and childcare centres. Children are so open and honest.
More recently the work with teachers and educators, in Professional Development experiential workshops designed to create understanding of disability and difference and in creating solutions for inclusive classrooms, has been one of the most impacting and rewarding and life changing areas of the current work I do. It has also led to my doctoral research work at the University of Queensland. I won the Australian Human Rights Award for Individuals for the program and that has lead to many exciting networks and introduced me and my work to many exciting people who I hope one day to work with on future projects.
I have also begun to speak at various events across Australia. I tell my life story but I intertwine it with the many stories of others I have met along the way. It is the sharing of these experiences that helps create meaning to my world.
Art has given me the chance to explore my creative side and to do something totally independently. I have been painting since I was 12 and as my body has changed so too has my art. I am always experimenting with new techniques and ideas. I love exploring colour and texture and I like layering colours, combining materials and mixing media. Art gives me the freedom to be myself. My painting is a celebration of the ideals of inclusion and each painting symbolises this. Some have a strong message and others are subtler. The link with the viewer is part of this process. The paintings aim to draw the audience in and involve them
Sharon's Story - 2010 and later
The last few years have been very exciting as well as very busy. I was absolutely thrilled to be recognised with a Human Rights Award for Individual Service to Community. To have received this national recognition for a disability and diversity awareness project was incredibly exciting. It is not just my own work that has made it happen though. My family has been there every step of the way and encouraged and inspired me to make a difference and more importantly not to give up when things seemed tough. I was very lucky to meet some amazing people such as Graeme Innes from HREOC and Julian Morrow of 'Chaser's' fame at this event. I also won the Queensland Regional Achiever Service Award for 2012 and the Australia Day Citizen of the Year Award 2013. It is so humbling to be acknowledged by your own community for the work you do.
I was also re elected to be part of Toowoomba Regional Council’s Access Committee. This role is one that is exciting and challenging and is all about giving back to the community in which I live and work. Toowoomba has some great attractions and access for people with disabilities is a high priority for the region. I have also been part of the advisory area training taxi drivers on how to operate with a diverse community; and advising the transport department on its wheelchair accessible buses and ways to make travel easier for people with disabilities.