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Don't DIS my ABILITY 2011: Ambassadors announced

2 November 2011

NSW Minister for Disability Services Andrew Constance has announced that the achievements and experiences of 15 ambassadors will help drive the State Government's Don't DIS My ABILITY campaign.

“The campaign has been designed to celebrate the diversity and achievements of people with a disability and will culminate in the United Nation's International Day of People with a Disability in December,” Mr Constance said.

“The ambassadors, who come from a range of backgrounds including the arts, business, sport, volunteering and teaching, will be sharing their stories to help generate awareness about people living with a disability and what is possible.”

The ambassadors include Tracie Sammut - a performer with Down Syndrome who has been awarded a mentorship through Accessible Arts. She is now sharing her skills in the fundamentals of acting and theatre-making techniques with students.

Georgia Cranko is a 21-year-old Newtown-based emerging artist who has Cerebral Palsy and uses Computer Assistive Technology. She received an honourable mention in the Dorothea Mackellar award for her poetry and is now building an interdisciplinary practice combining writing, photography, film-making and performance.

The business community is represented by quadriplegic Mark Bagshaw, the Managing Director of Innov8 consulting group who is passionate about demonstrating to the global business community the economic and business benefits of a more inclusive society.

From the sporting arena, Special Olympics softballer Melissa Eustace, Paralympic gold medal swimmer Tracy Barrell and wheelchair basketballers Rhys Baxter and CJ Grogan will inspire with their experiences and achievements.

The Minister said the theme for this year's campaign was technology and independence.

“These are timely themes as social networking is increasingly helping people with a disability to connect and overcome isolation and be independent,” Mr Constance said.

“It is also enabling them to access the right services to meet their specific needs, remain informed and have a say in the way disability services are delivered.”

“As part of the campaign, 100 events will be held across NSW. I encourage the community to take part in the events and meet the campaign ambassadors.”

For further information about the Don’t DIS my ABILITY Ambassadors, events and activities, visit or join in the conversation on Facebook or Twitter.

2011 Don’t DIS my ABILITY Ambassadors

Clarence John Grogan, known as C.J., is a young Aboriginal wheelchair basketball star who will play internationally this year after competing at all national levels. Originally from Darwin, C.J. was born with Fibular Limb Deficiency, which affects the long bones in the body. He is the first Aboriginal wheelchair basketball player at the elite level in Australia. He is currently both studying for his Higher School Certificate at St Ignatius College, Lane Cove, where he is a boarder, and competing in the National Championship Title at the Open Australian Championship.

Fiona McKenzie of Randwick was invited to join the NSW Disability Minister‟s Reference Group on Person Centred Approaches to represent people with an intellectual disability. This follows her outstanding work as a member, and later Vice Chair of the Board of Directors, of the NSW Council for Intellectual Disability. Her determination has driven her to compete in the Sydney City2Surf, running in her 10th race this year. Fiona also enjoys Zumba classes and reading mystery novels.

Georgia Cranko communicates without speech. Like many other 21-year-olds, the Newtown resident is studying at university and believes she can change the world. Georgia is already making this happen. Born with Cerebral Palsy, she uses her wit and humour to counteract prejudice. As part of last year's Don’t Dis my Ability campaign, Georgia devised and performed a solo piece, 'Living Within Context' exploring the challenges and triumphs of life with a disability. She is a founding member of the Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) interest group, AAC Voice.

Gerard O’Dwyer of Guilford is an actor and a spokesperson for Beyond the Square, Parramatta Riverside Theatre's dedicated performing arts program for people with a disability. Gerard's credits include the Tropfest short film, Be My Brother, which won him the best actor award. This year Gerard, who has Down Syndrome, won a best male actor award for his role in the short play, Beautiful, performed at the Newtown Theatre and Nida's Parade Theatre. You may remember Gerard in the government advertisement, CareCareers, which won a Bronze Award for Best Television Commercial.

Hannen Abdallah speaks in Arabic and English about giving people with a disability from non-English speaking backgrounds a voice. As a „Community Voice‟ for the Multicultural Disability Advocacy Association and a community educator for Vision Australia, the engaging and energetic Harris Park resident is being heard. Hannen has a learning disability and is vision impaired. She is a member of the NSW Council for Intellectual Disability and the NSW Network of Women with Disability and loves belly dancing.

Julie Stonestreet of Glenfield loves travelling the world despite her chances of even getting out of bed having been considered slim. Julie, 37, was born with 14 fractures caused by Osteogenesis Imperfecta (or Brittle Bone disease). One hundred fractures and 26 operations later, she is still defying the odds and living her own life. Julie lives independently and teaches tourism at Wollongong and Bankstown TAFE. She has travelled to the United States, including New York, plus Bali, Singapore and islands in the South Pacific.

Kate Boyd goes to work at Woolworths each weekday. After leaving school, she had completed a TAFE course on Career Education for Women. Kate‟s contribution to the company and to the community earned her selection as a Woolworths Hero. The St Ives resident, 35, has an Acquired Brain Injury. Through the Brain Injury Association, she gives talks on road safety to schoolchildren and lessons on how to behave towards people with brain injuries. Kate lives independently and does not have a carer.

Dr Mark Bagshaw of Pyrmont believes that addressing the problems of economically disadvantaged people makes good business and economic sense. As the Managing Director of Innov8 consulting group, he is in a position to prove the economic and business benefits of a more inclusive society. Mark, a quadriplegic, is a recipient of a number of awards including the Australian Humanitarian Award for his work as a social reformer.

Education, he says, plays a crucial role in developing a just society. Mark uses his previous corporate experience as Business Development Executive for IBM to help businesses and corporations to see the light.

Melissa Eustace loves dancing and softball to an Olympian degree. The Turramurra resident is a founding member of the Special Olympics Dance Performance Group and has performed at numerous corporate and charity events. She was a bronze medal winner as a member of the Australian Special Olympics Softball team at the Special Olympics World Games in Athens this year. Every Easter since 2008, Mel has swum the annual 1.5 kilometre Rock to Rock ocean swim on the NSW Mid-North Coast.

Nick Gleeson of Padstow combines his love of athletics and global adventuring to inspire others. An accident at the age of seven left him with a retinal detachment. Nick successfully represented Australia in athletics and blind cricket. As a speaker, Nick brings his sporting and travel adventures to life. He has twice crossed the finish line in the New York City Marathon, carried the Sydney Olympic Torch, raced up the 1,576 steps of the Empire State Building, completed the gruelling 90-kilometre Comrades Marathon from Durban to Pietermaritzburg and lived to tell the tale.

Rhys Baxter is an experienced wheelchair athlete who is always willing to mentor. Rhys rebuilt his life after an injury that left him paralysed from the chest down. A move to Sydney saw him presenting road safety talks for Wheelchair Sports NSW. The Five Dock resident now works full time for Spinal Cord Injuries Australia, helping people with spinal cord injuries to live full and rewarding lives. Rhys plays in the Australian National Wheelchair Basketball League, and in the NEC Wheelchair Tennis tournaments. Recently, Rhys was selected for the Frank Ponta Cup at the Australian Institute of Sport, a development camp matching new players with experienced Australian players.

Saxon Graham of Vaucluse is an actor and international golfer. At 38, Saxon has represented Australia at the Australasian Games in Christchurch. In 2007, he won a silver medal in golf at the World Summer Games in Shanghai. As an actor, his credits include the television series GP, A Country Practice, Heartbreak High and House Gang. His has worked for 18 years at Meals on Wheels, as well as for the Special Olympics in Homebush, Woolworths and the Holdsworth Community Centre. Saxon is this year's Woollahra Council Citizen of the Year.

Steve Ripley is an actor who fulfilled a dream by appearing in an Australian theatre production of Children of a Lesser God. The play reflects his life as teacher of Auslan and independent living skills to young deaf people who have vision impairments. Gradually deaf and blind, the Claremont Meadows resident has supported parents and families of children who are deaf or are hearing impaired. Currently, Steve works as a Communications Trainer with people who are deaf and blind.

Tracie Sammut of Carringbah is a Logie-award winning actor who has appeared on All Saints, Home and Away and House Gang. Tracie, who has Down Syndrome, began her career at 14. She appeared in the 2007 Australian feature film Clubland as well as the short film Francis and Annie. Tracie moved to the other side of the camera for the short film Be My Brother in 2009. Recently Tracie completed a Professional Development Community Partnership with the Australian Theatre for Young People as a drama teacher. An accredited coach in gymnastics, she represented Australia at the World Games for Special Olympics held in Athens in June this year.

Tracy Barrell OAM is currently writing her autobiography. Her story involves having to overcome peoples‟ attitudes toward her disability as a triple congenital amputee, despite her considerable achievements. The Benora Point mother of two boys won two swimming gold medals at the Barcelona Paralympics in 1992. Tracy considers her most prestigious award to be the Order of Australia Medal she received in 1993. She retired from international swimming in 1994 but continues to play sport and has represented Australia at Sitting Volleyball.

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