|L to R: Dino (my Dad), Ida and Ombi|
As part of my work at Inclusive Leisure Victoria (ILV), which does policy and advocacy work around the inclusion of people with a disability in the recreation and sport sectors, I attended a meeting yesterday at YDAS, or Youth Disability Advocacy Service. I know, the acronym is a bit of a clanger, but the work they do is amazing. The first few lines on their home page state:
“The Youth Disability Advocacy Service (YDAS) is raising voices, expanding choices and creating change for young people with disabilities in Victoria, Australia.
|L to R: Effie (my “Greek mum”), Ombi & Vicky|
What was I doing and who attended the meeting? May I begin by saying that Dr George Teleporos, who is the coordinator of YDAS, runs monthly Saturday meetings with a group of young people to discuss a range of issues which may affect them. Last year, before I began work at ILV, my organisation did some work with the YMCA around people with disabilities and positive body image, culminating in some posters which showed a range of people doing exercise that sat a tad outside the size 8, hot body image! YDAS wanted to take this a little further and ask the youth (with disabilities) themselves how THEY want to see youth/ people with disabilities depicted and portrayed! Thus, I was invited to come and speak to “the group”, and what a dynamic bunch they were! This is where I have to ensure that I don’t sound patronising, but as I walked into the room, surrounded by 15-some people with disabilities ranging from deafness to cerebral palsy, and including a couple of people who couldn’t talk, and have to tap out what they want to say on a keyboard, I suddenly felt very overwhelmed, and could feel a lump rising in my throat. I rode that wave, and sat and listened to them talk for a while!
Quite frankly, I was blown away! Blown away by their passion, drive and determination to make a difference! Blown away by their heartfelt desires to try and make a change in a society which is often so very black and white. Some spoke through an Auslan interpreter, others tapped on a keyboard, others spoke very slowly but very deliberately, but ALL made a point and ALL were heard. I sat back and listened to them talk about sexuality and sex, and decision making and caring versus support. I heard various people explain how they were not often seen as sexual beings due to their disability, but how in essence they were just like “everybody else” in their needs and desires. And as I sat there ( I clearly hadn’t spoken yet!) I felt a mix of admiration, inspiration and humility! These youths were banding together to chat about issues, in order to change their lives in a positive way, and for the better!
|Vicky and Ombi|
I have always been very open-minded about disability, especially having worked in the area on and off for most of my working life, as well as having grown up around my “Greek family” and my “sister” Vicky who is in a wheelchair and has cerebral palsy. My family and Vicky’s family lived only doors apart, so Vicky was always a part of my world, as was the rest of her family, of course. When I was studying at La Trobe, I also went on to work part time at a few leisure centres where I taught youth from special schools how to swim, and then later I worked for many years in some CRUs (Community Residential Units) as a recreation officer/ carer for people with intellectual disabilities. So, people other than “normal” have always been a part of my world and experiences. They have also helped me think outside the box, which I generally think I am pretty decent at doing anyway. They have taught me an incredible amount, and many have been a huge source of inspiration.
|Ombi and Effie|
Inspiration…why inspiration? The reasons are many, but I will go back to the group at YDAS yesterday. In the face of adversity, in a world where they are not seen as “normal”, they STILL push through the barriers and try and elicit change. Why is this so amazing? Because Mr Joe and Ms Susie Average does no such similar thing. The “Averages” plod along in their lives, with nothing really to worry about, but no real desire to make a change. And these are the very people who usually whinge about their lives! May I remind you that most of us have NOTHING to whinge about! What…you have put on half a kilo? Or, the hairdresser put the wrong shade of red in your hair! Worse still, the shop down the road didn’t have the shoes you wanted in your size! It’s all about perspective and relativity. I know, but all of this regularly seems banal to me, and was especially so yesterday, when I saw a group of people who despite their “disabilities” were out to make a difference.
|Dino, Ida & Alex|
What I saw in this group of people yesterday was the ability, not the disability; the desire and drive to make a change and simply have a sit back and “cop it sweet” attitude; I saw what people could do rather than what they couldn’t…and I felt very, very, very humbled! These are the people and situations that help shape my life, my world and my dreams! My dreams of a better and more equitable society!
I am often told that I am “too radical”, that I can’t make a difference, and that other individuals can’t either. I will not and can not believe that, and will spend the rest of my life trying to make a difference. In that group yesterday, I saw a bit, well actually a lot, of me…and I felt at home.
Together, we can change the world…although I admit, it’s going to take a little more time!
|Effie, Ombi & Vicky|
Dedication: This is for my “sister” Vicky. Thanks for being a part of my world and experiences. I love you lots.
What am I reading?
The Final Call, In search of the true cost of our holidays by Leo Hickman (finished)
The Media We Deserve – David Salter
“We must become the change we want to see” – Mahatma Gandhi