People with disabilities have an encouraging new group of advocates. This is due to a successful program which recently ran in the Geelong area. The program was Leading, Educating, Advocating for Disability (LEAD) Barwon. It aimed to help people develop their ability to speak about their experience of the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS). The LEAD Barwon program was beneficial for all who participated in it. Yet its positive effects are also being felt in the Geelong and disability communities more broadly.
Learning through LEAD
The LEAD Barwon program was funded by the Victorian Government and run by the Committee for Geelong. A total of nineteen people participated. Thirteen of these were people with disabilities and six were family members or carers.
One of the participants was Jack Tori. He enjoyed being involved. “The program was great”, he says. “I’ve never been surrounded by so many disabled people. But I’ve never felt so normal my whole life.”
Scott Hutchins also found the program useful. He is now more confident when dealing with people. “The thing I learned about myself is that I need to speak up more about my wants and needs and not sit in the shadows”, he explains. “I discovered that I need to be more outspoken to get what I want, and how to do this.”
A bit more tolerance
For Linda Blaik, LEAD Barwon was “very much an eye-opener.” She says she was thrilled to be a part of it. As a confident speaker, presenter and fundraiser, she still learned a lot through the program.
“I am quite a tolerant person when it comes to people with disabilities anyway”, she says. “But it just taught me that little bit more. It taught me a lot of patience. It taught me that regardless of what your disability is, you can do it.”
Linda believes this sense of acceptance has extended beyond the LEAD Barwon group. “You can see that there is a different perspective in Geelong now for people with disabilities”, she comments. “I’m thinking there’s a bit more of a tolerance.”
Educating and advocating
This shift in attitude may be partly due to the publicity the participants of the program received. Many have been featured in newspapers and on radio. They have published blog posts, appeared in videos and spoken at events. All of this has no doubt helped educate people about living with disability.
However, the LEAD Barwon graduates have been helpful in another way too. They have provided valuable information about the NDIS to governments, service providers and other agencies. This feedback will help improve the NDIS for future recipients.
As Linda says, “I’ve done everything I can through LEAD Barwon to have them correct the mistakes that they have been making in the past.”
What really matters
Both Scott and Linda would like this type of program to be run elsewhere. They can see the benefits it has had for themselves and their communities. The leadership and advocacy of the LEAD Barwon group is already making a difference. Yet for Linda one of the program’s best gifts was also its most simple.
“It was just so good to be included”, she says. “And to be treated like what you had to offer really mattered.”
Learn more about LEAD Barwon and its participants.