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.
Amidst all the other things I do I still work at USQ online running two courses in the Faculty of Education in inclusive education and early childhood art education. I really love working with the students and have a good working relationship with everyone at USQ. This year I designed and developed some online professional workshops for the students, which have been very well received. These can be observed on my web site at www.discoveringdisability.com.au
The interactions and feedback from these sessions about exploring Autism, Asperger’s Syndrome and intellectual impairment as well as many other areas within the teaching environment have been some of the most rewarding work I have ever done. To have mothers, students, teachers, in fact the many shared stories of engagement have been the best thing that has come from this project. We developed an online support network that really explored the many issues of inclusion. It is these networks and community stories that make this project worthwhile.
I have also been doing a lot of workshops for teachers and teacher aides across the region. I have also started doing motivational speaking. I enjoy sharing my story and along the way hearing those of other people. I have also been part of the Queensland Government ministerial advisory committee exploring early childhood intervention and creating practical solutions and directions to help support people with disabilities in Queensland. This role is stimulating and rewarding as there are many exciting and supportive things happening in this area.
In early May DDD worked with all of the fourth year pharmacy students at the University of Queensland. The students got to participate in our hands-on experiential workshop exploring both physical as well as hidden disabilities. There was lots of fun and laughter, as well as important conversations and questions about feelings, emotions that were generated through the process and even more importantly critical reflection about the link between lived disability and community pharmacy and the general workplace support and information role the students will perform. The commitment and enthusiasm of these students and their desire to learn more about disability and difference was very encouraging.
I was excited and honoured to be the keynote speaker for the NDS – National Disability Services annual conference held at Jupiter’s Casino on the Gold Coast last year. With over 450 delegates it was a great event to be a part of. There was exciting discussions based around the many current topical issues around disability. There was good information about current government directions and policy and the many interesting issues surrounding the NDIS. There were some great speakers and I met many many people who are really supportive of new and exciting and innovative approaches to caring and disability and real lived inclusion. We need an industry that believes in entitlement. People with disabilities have an entitlement and a right to good quality flexible care that they are in charge of. They need to be able to choose what they want. What they need and how it is done for them and how they can best live their lives.
It has to be their decisions as it is their life. It was great to represent our region of Queensland at this conference.
Diversity Week at University of Queensland was great we had an amazing time talking to students and creating a canvas of many handprints and comments gathered from people around the world. It was a real celebration of diversity from across the region. You can see the process in action on the website at – http://www.discoveringdisability.com.au/index.php/diversity-week-at-uq
I have also set up a new research institute called Institute of Inclusive Education and Research. This is my research institute that links all my areas of passion within education and research together in the one space. There will be specific focus areas and sections for early childhood education and the new national curriculum areas especially a focus on the Early Years Learning Framework and its links to diversity and Inclusion. There will be a section for teachers and university students and beginning teachers. There will also be a support area for Teacher Aides as well. There will be specific resources dealing specifically with Physical disabilities, Hidden Disabilities and a special literacy’s area linking Dyslexia and my current research and resources about this fascinating subject area.
As a preferred supplier to PSCQ DDD can also provide training for early childhood centres across the region and also for their staff especially in the areas of curriculum development and inclusion around the Early Years Learning Framework. The Professional Support Co-ordinator for Queensland (PSCQ), is a project set up to support the work of early childhood educators in child-care settings, and it has engaged us to introduce active learning in about 200 centres by using DDD-style workshops. As the early years is my central focus for all change and early intervention is my passion I am very excited by these new links across the community to create stronger inclusive practice.
In my role of chair of the ministerial regional disability council I have been involved in many exciting regional projects over the past year – from the launch of disability action week last year in Ipswich, the multicultural festival in the Brisbane Roma Street Parklands to this year’s events coming up next week. Pictures and media from these are also to be seen on the Discovering DisAbility website.
I have also been asked to present at two more national conferences this year. One is in Adelaide in October – dealing with early childhood intervention and one in Brisbane in December – exploring higher education pathways of real support for all. These presentations will showcase the work of Discovering Disability & Diversity and will show how experiential disability awareness linked to the individual’s role in life can create real understanding and planning for real inclusion and changed practice.
Working with carers and the disability industry overall has been very exciting and challenging this year. We have worked with Breakaway and Blue Care and many other organisations within the Toowoomba region. This part of our work is increasing and leading to many different roles and creating new networks of education and support within the region. I also now have Melissa who works with us and helps me in many of my workshops.
I have also begun the process of becoming an access auditor for both physical as well as quality systems. This is a steep learning curve but one that will allow me to work within communities to make all areas accessible and able to be enjoyed by everybody. It will also help me to create more links to all areas of the population in order to educate the community about difference and about breaking down barriers.
I am part of the Leaders for Tomorrow program. I was chosen as a participant and now I am the Queensland facilitator. The aim of the program is to help people with a disability become leaders and develop leadership roles within their communities and across Australia. It helps with training programs and mentoring as well.
My writing and research has also been expanding with my new book on Dyslexia being released in June this year and my children’s story book Discovery at Paradise Island – all versions – even an ebook available on itunes – and Educational Resource kit update available for sale. You can buy these on my website store.
Understanding problems with reading and creating solutions that will allow individuals with difficulties to participate more fully in society and with their education is really important to me and I am passionate about supporting more understanding within the education process for both children and adults with these issues happening in their lives. I am also writing units for the courses we will be teaching through the institute – in the areas of disability, educational support and early childhood education.
I was involved in the opening of Disability Action Week in Toowoomba with the Mayor – Paul Antonio. Later in the year I will be working with Toowoomba City Library to run disability awareness workshops for staff. We did this last year and our workshops this year will build on these links and educational ideas.
The last few months have been really exciting and energising for me. Real change is happening. Over the past couple of weeks I have had the privilege of working with, meeting and speaking to a large number of people who really believe in living and learning about real inclusion. I am also on track with my research and am really enjoying the actual process of my PhD. The work in the community with young children through to university academics and company directors is both rewarding as well as humbling. There are so many people within our community who are living with and supportive of disability and diversity. It is a privilege to work across this region with so many amazing and supportive people. Sure, there are problems and issues in every community, however together people can solve things and make a difference. Sometimes it seems like slow change – like peeling the layers of an onion. However change is happening, and any change is good and I think our region is very progressive in promoting and living inclusive practices.
When you have a high level physical disability and you rely on other people to help you with work and even play you have to sometimes make compromises to make things work. For me it is sometimes a struggle when I don’t agree with another’s principals or attitudes and even the way they treat you and you have to learn just to let it go and hold firm to your values and beliefs. An able bodied person may be able to just walk away and do their own thing but this is not always possible for a person with a physical disability. This does teach you resilience and also flexibility which is a key factor when working within this area. It is important though that you do not put up with abuse and that you set your values and expectations and don’t compromise your standards or beliefs for anybody.
I try to live my principles every day and try to promote real change everywhere I go. It is not always easy and there are some things I struggle with every day but if we didn’t have these things to overcome we would not have anything to challenge us and inspire us to greatness. I want to live my purpose. I want to create a better community for us all. There is a lot more work to do. My dyslexia book will be launched soon and I will finish my PHD this year or early next year. I have many directions I would like to explore. We will have to wait and see. Life is exciting and we must try to live it to the full.
My health has been a little unstable the past few months with emerging multiple kidney stones and changes in my main medication schedules for my Arthritis. This has caused some broken bones in my feet and some major swelling as well. It is incredible how certain medications can alter bodily functions so drastically. These things make you realise how fragile life really is and how important it is to make the most of every day and the opportunities you are given. I have even started to have fresh fruit and vegetable juice every day to try and re balance a lot of the chemical changes my medication has altered in my body. Anybody who knows me well will be quite surprised by this. I am definitely a bit of a junk food fan. But I have decided my health and my neck and my management of my Arthritis has to be a priority for me as my quality of life is essential so I can continue to participate in the work I do to further inclusion.
I was actually thinking about my life as I was writing this and thought it is often funny how life works out. My childhood dream was to work in a preschool. I not only got to teach early childhood teachers but also now get to work with the children in their centres everyday. As well as that, I get to work across all year levels and speak to a broad cross section of society. My life has been an amazing journey with many great opportunities. We should never underestimate how our life will turn out. There are adventures around every corner! I am lucky to have my family and faith and friends who support me on this journey.
Enjoy Life and Live it to the Full!!!!!