Better understanding the workplace experiences of those who develop a physical disability in mid-career

Published in Centralian Advocate Newspaper
Tuesday 11 September 2018
By Anna Satharasinghe, Disability Advocate, retired (06.09.2018)

What lies at the heart of disability advocacy? For me, disability advocacy is an art and a science.
Disability advocacy requires both creative action and productive thinking in its work.
Disability Advocacy is a collaborative and guiding process of doing with. And one of the primary
focuses of that collaboration is an individual’s recognition and realisation of their rights.
Once upon a time, I worked as a disability advocate in Alice Springs. Working at Disability
Advocacy Service (DAS) I accumulated a mountain of fabulous, enriching experiences.
The most contagious laughter I’ve ever heard belongs to a woman I worked alongside, while
working at DAS. She is a wife, a mother, a fantastic story teller and she has the genetic condition
Fragile X.

At DAS I had the great experience of developing a rewarding affinity with a man living with
rhabdomyolysis. He would have liked to live Tennant Creek, closer to family in Elliot, but remains
in Alice Springs, and too young to be a resident of the nursing home in which he lives.
Parents often call into DAS. Navigating a too-efficient world for their child who isn’t mainstream can
be perplexing, confusing and exhausting. I admire the tenacity love can possess, and I’ve seen
raw tenacity in these parent’s indefatigable endurance.

At times, I see a world that encroaches on a person’s right to be different without being seen as

Too often prejudice against people with a disability, assumes their lives are bleak, desperate and
final instead of a life worth living full of self-confidence, innovation and independence.
At DAS, however, I also observed pride in people describing their complex situation living life with a
disability. A blind man I developed a rapport with only ever over the phone, described his anxiety
about ever having to leave the house, had a world opened up to him by simply allowing me to
arrange for a Guide Dog instructor to visit him in his own home.

Living and working in Alice Springs, I am frequently challenged to uphold the framework of cultural
safety. I have learnt to scrutinise the power relationships between worker and consumer. As I sat
one day under a Red River Gum, yarning with a woman who has bilateral below knee amputations,
and who must surely be a contender for having the world’s most twinkly eyes, I learnt how to listen.
And the way to listen, is to talk less. Many times since I have recalled this lesson of listening long
and hard first, before asking more questions.

I hope disability advocacy goes some way towards helping others to make new lives and worlds for
themselves. I know DAS will continue to treat people with dignity and about the power people with
disabilities have to stand up and say ‘I have a right to be treated equally to other people’.
I have learnt a great deal about the spirit of survivors working at Disability Advocacy Service, Alice
Springs. I thank the Alice Springs community for this opportunity, and express deep gratitude to my
clients, colleagues and mentors along the way.

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