A glimpse behind the curtain: Patrick Heaton’s 2022 Nigel Webb Bursary trip

By Patrick Heaton

As the recipient of the 2022 Nigel Webb Bursary 2022, I was given the chance to travel to another community in Australia to broaden my network, meeting with nationally recognised leaders in disability. I travelled to Melbourne and country Victoria to meet with peers and professionals within the disability sector to learn as much as I could to help my community of Hervey Bay in Queensland.

The first stop on my itinerary was to meet with Miki, a support worker and the carer of a gentleman who is currently six months into 12 month-long intensive rehabilitation at the Royal Melbourne Hospital Acquired Brain Injury unit. The gentleman’s injury was caused by an aneurysm in the brain; he currently has no use of one side of his body and uses a wheelchair. For me it was a look behind the curtain, as I also have an acquired brain injury (ABI). Miki and I spoke about what it is like to be on the other side of the fence as a loved one of a person with an ABI. I could see the pain and stress that ABI puts on the immediate family and friends of those impacted. It opened my eyes.

Miki is a proud First Nations woman and on the Saturday she took me to Eurow in rural Victori (Ned Kelly once robbed Eurow’s bank!), to watch an all abilities football game. It was great! People aged from 12 to 60 of differing abilities all having a kick. Everyone was very friendly, and they put on a great BBQ after the game; I really felt a part of a community. I don’t think I heard the word disability once, it was just a great bunch of people from all walks of life having an excellent time.

On the Sunday Miki and I met at the Marvel football stadium as we both follow the same AFL team. She showed me around the members areas and the accessibility on offer to people with mobility issues. It was amazing to see the number of accessible toilets, food stalls, and a concierge. If you use a wheelchair, they will grab what you want and deliver it to you so you don’t have to struggle to reach the shelves or hot food areas.

I was fortunate to have a meeting with the Victorian Advocacy League for Individuals with Disability (VALID) CEO Fionn and Project Officer Anthony. We had a nice coffee and a chat about VALID’S advocacy and consultancy work VALID does with people with disability peers leading the charge for change and consultancy in the community. I also met with advocate and previous VALID CEO Kevin Stone. Mr Stone and I had a great chat about his TEAM training – The Empowering Advocacy Method. If you ever get the chance, have a chat to Kev and do his TEAM program – it is very good information and Kevin cares deeply about what he is teaching and has some great experience behind him.

One of the things I found myself doing during my trip was walking around the city area looking at the architecture and how they have adapted heritage buildings to be accessible, including raising all the tram stops to the tram floor height, so they are accessible. The hotel I was staying in was quiet, painted in friendly muted colours, and presented no sensory issues for me, but being so close to some of the best take away I have tasted presented some problems with my expanding waistline!

This trip has taught me that everywhere should be accessible and inclusive to all people in the community, not only people with a disability, but everyone, as true inclusion is access for all – Melbourne and its community are doing a great job of trying to bridge that gap

I’ll be honest, when I first applied to QDN’s Emerging Leaders Program after being encouraged by support worker, I was worried I wouldn’t fit in with the other people. I felt like it wasn’t relevant for me. I had been through a few tough years with my ABI and had increasing symptoms of anger, memory loss and anxiety, but I didn’t identify as a person with disability. QDN’s Emerging Leaders program opened my eyes, and I have found advocacy and consultancy, which I love. Prior to Emerging Leaders, I was so depressed with my lot, and I didn’t want to be near people, but oh how things have changed. Last Saturday night I had 12 people at my house for a BBQ, I was a host with the most. Those people I didn’t want to spend time with are now some of my closest friends and I found a meaning for myself. My next project is to establish a sensory friendly coffee shop meeting point for all, not only people with disability but the entire community, I have also been on the planning committee for Festable an all-abilities day for the community to showcase their talents of people with disability and services offered to people with disability.

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