From adversity to diversity…

On Wednesday I had the pleasure of attending two significant events on the disability calendar for 2013 – the Yooralla Media Awards and Senator Mitch Fifield’s address to the National Press Club in Canberra.

Both events show how far the disability sector has come in Australia. In recent years there has definitely been a shift in the mainstream media and in public perception towards people with a disability, thanks largely, to the creation of the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS). Inevitably the NDIS featured heavily in both events but the discussion about the disability sector was wide ranging and engaging so I thought I would take this opportunity to reflect on a thoroughly enjoyable and informative day.

Yooralla Media Awards

This was the first time I had attended the Yooralla Media Awards which recognise reporting across all media that has helped to challenge stereotypes that unfairly define people with a disability.

The quality and depth of coverage being rewarded was simply outstanding and I’m not ashamed to say a number of times I was moved by the engaging content on display.

The overall winner for 2013 was Joe Armao from The Age and Sydney Morning Herald for his beautiful and memorable photo of Julia Gillard and Sophie Deane which became synonymous with the launch of the NDIS. It is a beautiful moment Joe has captured and credit must also go to Sophie who I think has taken one of the most stunning images of Julia Gillard during her Prime Ministership ever.

I also had the pleasure of meeting Sophie’s mother Kirsten at the Yooralla event,  herself a well regarded disability advocate.


Sophie Deane a young girl with Down Syndrome poses with an image she took of Julia Gillard at the passing of the NDIS legislation. Credit Joe Armao (Sydney Morning Herald/The Age)

I can strongly recommend reviewing the award winners for 2013. All of the segments showed that there has been a shift in coverage from reporting that has previously focused on adversity and what sets people with a disability apart in society to a point where we are celebrating these differences and the diversity that exists in this sector across the country. I was so glad I attended.

Congratulations to Yooralla and all the journalists honoured on the day including our good friend at MS Australia Carly Findlay who was awarded a commendation for her online body of work over the course of 2013.

Getting a social media master class from Carly Findlay

Getting a social media master class from Carly Findlay

Senator Fifield National Press Club Address

The Yooralla Awards preceded another landmark event for 2013, the National Press Club Address from Senator Mitch Fifield Assistant Minister for Social Services and Minister responsible for Disability Services.

I say the event was significant because it was officially the first National Press CLub Address given by the Coalition Government during their term and it dealt with one of the most significant issues of our time, the continued rollout of the NDIS.

In recent weeks much has been made in the media of comments from key Government advisors who have indicated the NDIS is a prime candidate for review by the newly formed Audit Commission – established to identify waste and savings across the public sector. It has raised questions as to the continued rollout of the scheme and what plans the Federal Government has for the rollout over the next few years.

Senator Fifield (source

Senator Fifield (source

I must commend Senator Fifield on this point. He was clear and unequivocal when he stated “We must not leave Australians with disability wondering about whether reform of the magnitude of the NIDS will be able to stand the test of time. We need to give them certainty that the services provided to them under the NDIS will be here to stay. That is what everything I do in relation to the NDIS is about.”

The Senator did highlight however some key information that is emerging from the trial sites underway across the country and that is:

  • That the average cost of individual support packages are 30% more than expected
  • That it is taking longer than expected to implement plans
  • And that there has been greater demand than expected for the scheme

It is of course early days in relation to the scheme that according to Senator Fifield will be delivered in full by 2019 however it goes to show that we need to measure our enthusiasm around the scheme and make sure we communicate what it will cover, and perhaps more importantly what it won’t cover.

Managing these expectations will be an important piece of work for the whole disability sector to lead as will ensuring the needs of people with MS are at the forefront of the rollout so that everybody impacted by MS across the country gets the support they need to live their lives to the fullest.

For anyone interested you can view Senator Fifield’s address in full by clicking here.

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