International Day of People with Disability - Stories in WA
To mark International Day of People with Disability (IDPwD) this year, NDS, supported by the Department of Communities, is excited to share five stories highlighting the achievements and contributions of Western Australians with disability, commencing Monday 30 November 2020.
IDPwD is a United Nations observed day aiming to increase public awareness, understanding and acceptance of people with disability.
Join the conversation and share your own stories highlighting the achievements and contributions of people with disability in WA. Download the Facebook frame, tag @DisabilityWestAust and use the hashtags #InclusiveWA #DisableStereotypes #IDPWD to take part.
Rebecca Evans: athlete, university student, disability and youth advocate
This week, to mark International Day of People with Disability, we are excited to bring you a series of stories which celebrate the achievements of West Australians with disability, in their own words.
Today we kick off with Rebecca Evans: athlete, university student, disability and youth advocate.
“The idea that you can’t have a disability and be considered an athlete is something I’m quite passionate about changing. Being a wheelchair user, specifically a power wheelchair user in my case, and being an athlete is not a combination that people deem possible. But that is exactly what I am! I definitely see myself as an athlete. I’m the only one in my family who can say they’ve represented Australia, and that’s a pretty good achievement!
“I’m a very competitive person by nature and so when I was introduced to powerchair football a few years ago I found something that I could do independently and I could be really competitive in. It was quite exciting for me.
“I wanted to find a hobby that I enjoyed when I finished high school and I finally had free time, so I joined the Muscular Dystrophy WA social group for young adults. There were a few people there who already played different powerchair sports but I was pretty definite that it wasn’t my thing. I don’t do sports! Then I thought I might as well give it a go. So in 2016, I went down for that first game. I tried balloon soccer, rugby and hockey. I loved them all!
“I played all those sports for a few years and I represented WA over east in National Electric Wheelchair Sports. But I wanted to play something more competitive and less reliant on physical abilities, so I tried powerchair football in mid -2017. I got my first specialised sports power wheelchair called a Strikeforce. That’s when my sporting career really advanced because in a day chair you can’t really compete on a level playing field because they’re not as safe or fast.
“In October 2018 I represented WA in the Nationals run by the Australian Powerchair Football Association and I realised that power football was my passion. Now it’s the only sport that I play. Last year I represented Australia in the under 21 team at the Asia Pacific Oceania Cup.
“Because I love it, I train about two to three times a week and I try and train with the juniors as well to get them involved in the sport.
“The Paralympics has gone a long way in breaking down the stigma of seeing disabled people as athletes. I think there is a stigma that powerchair athletes aren’t really athletes because there is this idea that it’s the wheelchair doing the sport, but I invite anyone to come down and give it a go and see that it is very much the athletes doing the skills!
“Growing up I was always encouraged to chase my goals. My twin sister Amy was too. Even when my goals seemed to have pushed the comfort zone of my family, such as my goal of moving out of home, they have always been supportive and never prevented me from following my dreams and aspirations.
“I started studying a Bachelor of Psychology at Curtin straight out of high school. Now I’m in my fourth year, I’m doing Honours at the moment and will graduate in 2021.
“I’m interested in research because I see how powerful research can be in changing attitudes. Since 2015 I’ve been involved in the Youth Disability Advocacy Network (YDAN) which is an organisation run for and by young people with disabilities. We advocate on issues that affect youth with disabilities, for example on education, employment and access.
“Dylan Alcott is one of the role models that I look up to. I aspire to succeed in sport and to be a successful disability advocate - both goals that Dylan is already smashing. To be able to look up to someone who is disabled and also is an athlete and disability advocate is pretty incredible.”
For more of Rebecca's story, you can find her on Instagram or Facebook @bec_l_evans
Photo 1: Trevor Collens
Photo 2: Michelle Coles
Callum Woods: artist, collaborator and fanzine creator
John Holdcroft: disability support worker from Workpower
Welcome to day 2 in our series marking International Day of People with Disability! Today we talk with artist, collaborator and fanzine creator Callum Woods and disability support worker John Holdcroft from Workpower.
Callum: “I was a pretty good at drawing when I was a kid. I was always drawing transformations, stuff like things turning into werewolves. I draw all the time. I like drawing movie characters and mash-ups and sequels to movies, like Chicken Run 2 when Rocky the Rooster turning into a Monster Rooster.”
John: “Callum and I first met when we started going to the shops together two years ago. He didn’t really know me very well and he was a little bit apprehensive.
“So I’d pick Callum up after school and we’d do a little bit of shopping because he spends a bit of pocket money each week buying cool stuff, like Transformers and Lego. Then we usually go to the Cannington office of Workpower, and Cal would show me all these drawings which were really, really cool. His favourite cartoon is The Loud House which is a Nickelodean cartoon and he’s very good at doing drawings in the style of The Loud House which is very specific, very cool cartoon style.
“Initially when we were getting to know each other he’d tell me to draw things and I realized that he liked me to draw them in his style rather than my style, so we kind of mucked around with a bit of a ballet going back and forth doing some interesting drawings.
“Then we started looking at making a comic book. We worked on it for six or seven months and we had a lot of material. Callum likes to draw characters from other movies, we realised we can’t put them in a comic book because they’re other people’s characters. But then I got him a Mad Magazine and showed him that if we make fun of those characters and he also did his own version of album covers.
“He’s amazing at recreating logos for films, he can recreate them really quickly. He’s great at spacing and they’re amazing.
“We decided to check out EB Games, Cash Converters and JB Hifi. We wanted to talk to managers about recreating video game and movie sleeves for pre-owned games and movies that had lost their covers. Sometimes they just get a disc but there’s no box art. He’s good at logos.
“Callum and I have a friend we visit who owns a comic shop in Cannington called Chaos Pop Culture. We are planning to create a fanzine or comic which can be sold on the counter so we are working on putting it together. We’ll have a collaborative ‘John and Callum’ artwork magazine that we can sell. It just takes a bit of time to get all the artwork together.”
C: “Now I’ve got an Instagram page for my art: @callum_draws_cool_stuff. Check it out!
Joe Salt: customer service trainee, sports all-rounder and Eagles fan
Continuing our series celebrating International Day of People with Disability, today we feature Joe Salt: customer service trainee, sports all-rounder and Eagles fan.
“I love coming to work. I’m a trainee at the City of Perth. I’m doing a Certificate 2 in customer engagement and I’ve been with the City of Perth since I got a traineeship last year. I’m getting really close to finishing my Cert 2.
“My favourite thing about work is Excel, I’m a gun on Excel! I also love working with my colleagues and helping them with their jobs. Every day I catch the bus to work. I put my music on and relax.
“At work I sort out the return to sender mail, I do parking refunds for the parking machines, I do the residential parking permits and I check the City of Perth carpark cards and I put the numbers into an Excel database for returned cards.
“I have another job too. It’s at ParaQuad in Shenton Park. I catch the bus there too. On Tuesdays and Fridays I sort through the donations. I look for soft toys or towels. I love doing all that. The people there are nice too.
“I love all sorts of sport. I play footy with my mates, we play for the Wembley Magpies. I play forward or middle, sometimes back – I play all over. I like playing forward the best because I’m goal hungry! For my birthday, my friends from work all came and watched me play.
“I play cricket too for the Wembley Districts Cricket Club. I got the cricket uniform with a new hat and a training shirt.
“Long distance swimming is the other thing I do. I swim for my club, Superfins and train on Mondays, Wednesdays and Saturdays. Each year I do the Rottnest Swim Thru, the Coogee Jetty Swim and the Busselton Jetty Swim. Last year I was the only swimmer from WA to compete in the Down Syndrome Australia swimming championships in Brisbane. I came home with a silver medal and two bronze medals.
“I don’t know which is my favourite sport. I love all of them! I might go to Tokyo (Olympics)! I go to the gym as well. It’s a new gym called Total Movement. I like pumping my arms!
“I really like the West Coast Eagles. My whole family loves the Eagles. I like seeing all the games at Optus Stadium. I’m a season member. I use my Companion Card to go with my dad and his friend.
“On Wednesdays I do Voiceworks, that’s a choir. I love singing. When I was at school I was in the Chapel Choir and sang every Friday at mass. I graduated from school, John XXIII College in 2018. I was given the School Service Award for my services to the chapel choir.
“I’m also training to be a health ambassador for Down Syndrome WA. I’ll talk to medical and allied health students at universities and workplaces about Down Syndrome and the best way to support a person with Down Syndrome when they visit the doctor or hospital. Like everyone, people with Down Syndrome like to be treated with respect and patience and have their voice heard.
“I definitely don’t like sitting around and doing nothing. I love to be busy!”
Photo: Trevor Collens
Tyler Hartfield: poet, songwriter, Nick Cave fan and Year 11 student.
Today is International Day of People with Disability! To mark the occasion we’re featuring the achievements of Denmark teenager Tyler Hartfield: poet, songwriter, Nick Cave fan and Year 11 student.
“I have always enjoyed writing in all senses, and music has started to play a big part in my life too. Music has helped me get some of my emotions out of my brain where they tortured me. I began getting into Nick Cave when it was suggested I listen to his music and I related to him in a lot of ways. His hectic, roller coaster style really suited my thoughts.
“At school, I was in a great music class with some good friends. We talked about my music interests and that I had written a song. They listened to it and suggested they put some music to it and it just went from there. Each week they played out my brainstormed ideas. They looked at my hopes and turned them into music. We used apps on the iPad and with my music teacher Mr Power’s brilliant knowledge and my education assistant Jayne’s patience, we made it all fit together.
“The song we created, The One You Feed, has gone worldwide with over a million ‘likes’ since being featured on the ABC in August, which has made me feel on top of the world, but humbled at the same time. I have given interviews and photos to the local paper and my face was everywhere. I have performed with the band at school functions. I’m very happy about my looks nowadays because I’m seen as more than an unusual person on the outside.
“Having Nick Cave himself listen to my music and saying he loved it was amazing! I couldn’t have had a better honour. He actually listened to MY music!
“My music class has made a massive difference to being here at school. They make me feel included, normal, but most of all they make me feel a part of them - my mates.
“So getting famous was cool but not anything like how cool it felt to be part of a group of people who like me, respect me and don’t treat me in a special way because I’ve got cerebral palsy. They like me simply because they know me. I’m a very whole person now. I’ve been accepted finally without people making allowances.
“Jayne has supported me a 100 per cent in everything that I do. She constantly encourages me to be the best I can be in my academic and social life. I’m now in a place where I have a strong group of friends who like to be around me. Jayne never forced anyone to be my friend, so I had the knowledge that the friendships were genuine. However, she made a space for the bonds to happen. To be in class with her is like being alone - everyone trusts and loves her. It has made me feel happy and peaceful.
“I believe that if anyone has the right support and mindset they can do anything they dream of. I’m lucky I had a teacher who got to know me. My classmates don’t see my cerebral palsy, they just see me. Ultimately Jayne created a safe and managed environment for me to be more than my disability. I believe that Jayne’s obsession with inclusion is proof that we all belong and we are all worthy.
“I’m enjoying everything about my life right now. My aspirations are to keep writing music and become even more famous!”
Check out Tyler’s song on YouTube.
Photo courtesy of The Denmark Bulletin
Ben Aldridge: father, husband, business owner, disability and mental health advocate.
For the final installment in our series celebrating International Day of People with Disability this week, we share the story of Ben Aldridge: father, husband, business owner, disability and mental health advocate.
“After high school I took a gap year and attempted the Avon Descent. I had trained so hard over six months leading up to it, but I had a very dodgy kayak which broke so I didn’t actually complete it. I was really disappointed but instead of wallowing in that I decided to do the Bibbulmun Track instead. I did it by myself and it took me 10 weeks. It was amazing, I’ve got memories of that that will stay with me forever.
“I look back now at those two experiences, dealing with the disappointment of the Avon Descent and then hiking in the bush on my own, and I think those things really set me up in terms of resilience later on.
“I joined the military in 2003 at 20. I was never the best soldier. My uniform was often quite sloppy, my room was never tidy and I couldn’t have cared less. That was not my job, my job was out bush. I was never going to be promoted, I was never going to make my way up the ranks because in order to do that you needed to play along.
“But I was fine with that. I was posted to Townsville and then deployed to East Timor in 2006. We were part of rapid response team. It meant you could get a phone call and you could be overseas within 24 hours and that’s exactly what happened.
“We were the first non-special forces combat troops in East Timor and the whole place was in riot. It was not just the military and the police, it was people who were taking advantage of it to try and improve their situation and it was full on. During that time it was pretty hard, not much sleep, constantly on the look-out, in a constant state of readiness.
“I would never go back and change anything because if I did I wouldn’t be who I am or what I am. But a few things happened in East Timor that left a few scars, and when I came back I was suffering Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. But this is only apparent with self-reflection, due to lack of education around mental health and lack of openness about it. I needed to be this big strong man that society expected me to be, a man has to look after his own stuff and he doesn’t seek help. I kept making excuses like ‘of course I’m going to be having nightmares’, ‘of course I’m going to be jumping at loud noises’, ‘of course I’m going to have a few drinks because it helps me sleep better’. And that was the spiral I went in.
“The support was there, so you go through your debrief and screening afterwards but so much when it comes to mental health is honesty, and when you are lying to yourself that you’re ok you automatically lie to others that you’re ok. The PTSD was missed in my screening. It was unfortunate. On top of that, I didn’t want help. In the six months after I came back from East Timor I went from being a casual drinker to having the beginning signs of true alcohol addiction.
“Shortly after that me and some mates did this amazing around Australia trip. We drove from Townsville to Perth taking all the back roads.
“I woke up one morning in Kalgoorlie with a court summons in my pocket and no memory of the night before. So I went down to the police station to ask what happened. The duty sergeant from the night before was still on duty and he came and had coffee with me, and it ends up he’s a veteran which was very lucky for me. The night before they caught me doing the roof run in Kalgoorlie. All the buildings along the main street in Kalgoorlie are all joined together, so if you climb up to the top you can run from one end the other along the roofs. They caught me doing that blind drunk. Apparently I ran from them, I took a swing at them, I should have gone to jail. But the sergeant on duty had served in Rwanda and he understood what was going on and thankfully I only got charged with break and enter. But this was my normal, I was doing stupid stuff.
“Two months later, I had my accident. 31st of March, 2007. We had just come back from out bush on exercise and headed out for a meal. I had a few drinks, then I thought ‘yeah let’s carry this night on’. After a few drinks, I thought I better go home., Along the way there is this steep hill with a great big cliff with a beautiful view over Townsville and a road at the bottom. So there I was with a full bladder doing my thing standing there taking in the view and I lost my balance and fell 30 feet, 10 metres, down into the grass on the side of the road. 10 metres is a long way to fall, when you stop and think about it. I’m lucky to be alive, I should not be alive.”
“My next clear memory is three weeks later in ICU, waking up to my girlfriend and my mother with very concerned looks on their faces. Eventually I’ve woken up and the doctors have proceeded to present me with a new reality. With spinal cord injuries, there is so much uncertainty in the first stages. I smashed by my sixth vertebra and dislocated my seventh forward and it severed about two thirds of the way through my spinal cord and then crushed the rest of it. The way I describe is it looks like a squashed sausage on a barbecue. It’s an absolute mess.
“My military training helped a lot in this period because you learn very quickly in the military that you can only control what you can control. The rest of it, keep a wary eye on it but that’s all that you can do. So what can I control? Physically and mentally, that’s how I dealt with it. I couldn’t control what my future looks like, what I can control is within myself. Mind you, I didn’t come to this conclusion immediately. I grieved for ages. When you go through a major trauma you go through a grieving process.
“I’ve gone from being this physically active young man whose only qualifications were I could lift heavy things, I could run, I could shoot, I could blow things up and I could drink like a fish. That’s all I was good at. To a quadriplegic. Everything was just ripped out from underneath me.
“Coming to the realisation that this is what I’ve got, I’ve got to make the most of it. It provides the impetus for where I am today.
“I came back to WA and eight or nine days later, I met the woman who is now my wife. That was in 2007.
“Rehab helps you rebuild you are. My wife was one of the nurses at Shenton Park rehab. I never imagined anything would happen, she was this bubbly young nurse who lit up the room with her smile and was really great. We’ve been married 10 years now.
“When my son was born, I really started thinking about my drinking problem and thought is this who I really want to be? I started seeking professional help and managed to get it under control. I’ve learnt to realise when I’m drinking it’s a band-aid for my mental health. I started working, and for the first time in my life I was working in an office job. Forrest Personnel put me on the front desk, so I had to tidy myself up mentally and physically.
“I started to get really frustrated around society’s ignorance of disability. At the age of 22, when I had my accident I knew nothing about disability, what I thought I knew was that it should shut up, sit in the corner and be grateful for what it’s got. Now I know so different. Why get angry with society about this? Why not do something to fix it? And that’s where the inspiration for 30 Foot Drop came from. It was originally going to be a brewery! I’m a home brewer although ironically I don’t have time for it now because 30 Foot Drop has got so big. That was my original plan. But here we are.
“I named my business after my accident, because when you stuff up that badly you’ve got to own it. Come on, peeing off the edge of a cliff and losing your balance, who does that!
“I took the leap. I’m renting an office, I’ve got four employees, I’m working on projects around leadership and disability through some amazing grant funding. I’m building up this team around me and learning the joys and the struggle of juggling being a husband, being a father, being a businessman and being an advocate.
“I do all of these things and making sure I come home every day and my mental health is still good. I’ve learnt that my mental health is my biggest disability. I’ve made all these adaptations to allow me to drive and that sort of thing, but it’s not the physical side of things that slows me down and stops me. It’s the brain.
“So much of advocacy work is based on passion. I believe that disability should not be seen as charity so I refuse to go down the not-for-profit route, but it’s all about balance and figuring out how much you can do.
“My advice in life is to make sure you continue to celebrate the small steps along the way.”