TEN years ago, my best friend Nat had a stroke.
One day she was busy at work; the next minute, she was fighting for her life in Canberra Hospital after a blood clot entered her brain.
It would take Natalie Wentworth-Sheilds, then 50, months to regain the ability to breathe, swallow, and speak independently.
"The stroke rendered me like a newborn, so I needed bloody-mindedness to get this far," Nat says.
"It's been an interesting journey. I am completely accepting now, but it's taken a lot of work with my partner Mark and, of course, from me.
"Also, my positive outlook has been primary to my success, as well as the support of various therapists."
International Day of People with Disability is on Friday, December 3. Organised by the United Nations, the day aims to raise awareness and acceptance of people with disability.
The annual day probably would have been like any other for Nat if she had not had that stroke and been confined to her wheelchair.
But the day is now close to Nat's heart, having suffered years of frustration not being able to walk on her own.
"Being in a wheelchair can be quite challenging when you want access to places," she says.
"Many places say they are wheelchair friendly; however, they neglect to tell you there are stairs before you can even enter the premises.
"So I need someone to help since the stroke robbed me of my balance. I have to work at it constantly.
"I now view the disability sector very differently because I am part of that cohort. We are under-valued and, in many respects, unsupported, and I would like to help fix that.
"I also realise there's a lot of people out there who are very caring and go out of their way to support and help.
"When something like this hits you, it's an eye-opener to see who cares. I feel blessed I have been supported through the whole thing, and my husband has stuck by me."
And I feel blessed I still have my best friend.
Four years after Nat's stroke, another great friend died of a brain haemorrhage, aged just 54.
International Day of People with Disability (IDPwD) is being celebrated internationally on December 3. It aims to increase public awareness, understanding and acceptance of people with disability and to celebrate their achievements and contributions.
The theme for IDPwD 2021 is 'Leadership and participation of persons with disabilities toward an inclusive, accessible and sustainable post-COVID-19 world'. The goal is to promote inclusion through the removal of physical, technological and attitudinal barriers for people with disability.
The Disability Trust is committed to keeping their participants safe and connected, with the barriers presented by COVID lockdowns being an opportunity for innovation over the last 12 months.
One such initiative was the 'Weekly Challenges' which enabled residents across their properties to collaborate and use their creativity to remain connected. Their Accommodation Services team arranged a series of challenges to keep everyone busy, connected and having fun. This resulted in a lot of activities, dancing, producing videos for our paramedic and hospital heroes as well as enjoying a tasty and inventive bake-off.
Another highlight of the year that helped them to celebrate inclusion and remove barriers was the performances of the Music Makers dance group. They were able to perform live on Saturday, November 19 after a couple of delays due to COVID. After rehearsing online, the Music Makers were able to perform an opening item for the online Your Voice Your Choice conference in October, followed by a live performance at The Pavilion, Kiama in November.
Despite the rigours of working through COVID, The Trust has seen some expansion of services this year, especially in accommodation services for people with a disability. They have also partnered with KidzWish Foundation in Wollongong, to expand services to children with disabilities.
A new CycleAbility program was introduced which aims to see more people with disability experiencing the positive benefits of cycling. Through the support of their partners and various fundraising events during the year The Disability Trust was able to purchase modified bikes for their participants to use in the program and the bikes were also in high demand for residents to get some exercise in a safe environment during COVID restrictions.
As we emerge from lockdowns, it's important to consider the barriers to inclusion faced by many of the 4.4 million Australians who live with disability, especially those barriers that prevent full participation in the community.
For further information about The Disability Trust please call 1300 347 224 or visit disabilitytrust.org.au
ABOUT one in six Australians will have something special to celebrate on December 3.
The United Nations has proclaimed the date the International Day of People with Disability.
According to the latest data from the Bureau of Statistics, about four-and-a-half million Australians have disability or one in six of the population.
Under the 1992 Disability Discrimination Act, this includes people with total or partial loss of their bodily or mental functions, total or partial loss of a part of their body or the presence of organisms causing disease or illness.
The federal government has been on board with the annual International Day of People with Disability since 1996, providing funding to organisations and communities wanting to raise awareness of people living with disability.
There are also ambassadors promoting the day. While we await this year's ambassadorial announcement, 2019's ambassador, sportsman Kurt Fearnley, wants to encourage more Australians to take part in the event.
"People with disability are entitled to the same respect, independence and choice as others," Fearnley says.
"We need to talk honestly about the barriers in society that prevent this and work together to break them down."
The theme of this year's international day is "Leadership and participation of persons with disabilities toward an inclusive, accessible and sustainable post-COVID-19 world".
Schoolchildren are encouraged to enter the Grow Inclusion schools competition, where schools can win $4000 of learning resources, equipment or software of their choice. Visit idpwd.com.au/growinclusion for more information.
Local communities are also encouraged to participate in the annual day by holding activities, such as a sausage sizzle, morning or afternoon tea, sporting game or concert.
ORGANISATIONS can show their commitment to the International Day of People with Disability by planning and acting.
Encourage workers with disability to "have their say" on December 3.
Discuss issues of access and equity in the workplace.
Consider creating a disability action inclusion plan that could include policies and initiatives to assist disabled staff in their day-to-day duties.
Think about a lunch where employees with disability can share their experiences.
Jack Sharpe works as a mascot for Domino's Pizza in Dapto and Emma Scollary is a customer service team member at Woolworths in Shell Cove. Their dream jobs couldn't be more different, but both have all bases covered, thanks to Greenacres Kickstart Careers Program and two local employers.
Emma's shift at Woolworths may see her serving customers in the deli, working in the bakery, in fresh food or out on the floor in groceries. At the same time Emma is completing her Certificate III in Supply Chains and Operations through Greenacres.
Jack can be seen dressed as Pepperoni Pete, Domino's pizza mascot, in Dapto every Wednesday from 4-6pm. Be prepared for an entertaining experience as Jack likes nothing more than to enthusiastically dance for passing traffic and engage in dance-offs with anyone who will take him on.
According to Dapto Domino's franchise owner, Marty McGloin, Jack is so good at the job he is creating bedlam in the suburb.
"Jack is probably the most popular guy in Dapto right now," Marty said. "Cars are slowing down, trucks are sounding their horns and people walking past are copying his dance moves.
"He is just so much fun with this incredible energy and infectious personality - when you meet him you can't help but smile."
Jack had a life changing experience at age three, when he saw Disney on Ice, and this led him to spend the next 17 years dressing up, designing his own characters and making his own costumes.
"It has just been amazing. I love it so much," Jack said.
"When I put the Pepperoni Pete costume on, I feel like dancing straight away and I just dance the whole time."
Greenacres trainer Nicole Pickett said the Kickstart Careers program provides opportunities for people with disability to develop the skills they need to be job ready.
"I enjoyed doing the courses and work experience in the SLES program [Kickstart Careers]," Emma said.
"The trainers were very helpful and kind. They taught me how to behave in the workplace and to be safe. I love my new job and I learn new things every week. My favourite days of the week are my workdays."
Emma's mum Kim added, "Emma's ability to engage with others, especially with people she meets regularly, has been apparent since she was very young. Those who meet her never forget her smile and friendly manner. These qualities were recognised by the staff and management of our local Woolworths."
Greenacres Kickstart Careers is funded under the NDIS School Leavers Employment Support program (SLES). School leavers with disability that want to become job ready or would like to engage in a Taster Program, should contact Greenacres on 4222 6200.
For nearly 90 years The Cram Foundation has provided disability care and support to residents of the Illawarra and Shoalhaven.
This history of care and support has led the organisation to where it is today as a widely recognised provider of support services with a particular focus on individuals with higher support needs.
Now, the organisation has openings for individuals to become part of their family, with the opportunity to move into a variety of specialist disability accommodation facilities in the Illawarra.
The Cram Foundation has multiple vacancies in its facilities in the Albion Park and Dapto area, ranging from a two bedroom apartment to a shared living, four bedroom home. Ved Stajic, manager Accommodation Growth at The Cram Foundation, said these homes have been designed for people with disability.
"The houses are tailored for individuals with complex support needs. Rooms have provisions for ceiling hoists, the bathrooms and doors are larger to enable greater accessibility."
At each of these sites is a lively, supportive environment where people with disability are able to live their lives to the fullest.
"The residents like to laugh and have fun. We're looking for someone who could fit into that environment," Ved said.
What sets Cram apart is the personalisation within each home.
"We've had participants paint their room bright green and bright pink and if that's what they'd like and what makes it feel like home then we help them with that," Ved said.
The Cram Foundation provides 24 hour support at all of its facilities and residents are provided with staff ratios that are tailored to their specific needs.
The Cram Foundation employs two registered nurses and staff are supported with ongoing training and professional development to best meet participant needs.
"The staff are well trained in the complex needs of residents," Ved said.
"Individuals are welcome to contact Cram to organise a time to visit the existing accommodation facilities with vacancies and to find out more about our new housing opportunities under development."
Ultimately, however, the accommodation provided by The Cram Foundation is about supporting people with disability to live the life of their choosing.
"We had a resident who had come out of hospital after 10 years of not being able to engage in the community and we've helped him attend his daughter's wedding. One of the first outings in almost 10 years was going to see his daughter get married," Ved said.
"That's the stuff that really makes me proud."
Interchange Illawarra is excited to be marking 40 years of serving the Illawarra community.
Since their foundation in 1981 they have supported people with disabilities, and their carers, to live full and meaningful lives.
From very humble beginnings, Interchange has significantly grown their team of paid staff and volunteers, but at heart they are still just a very big family.
With uncertainty around large gatherings, especially for the vulnerable community, Interchange is celebrating with an online simultaneous picnic.
Participants, their families, carers, volunteers and support workers are invited to join this special event, held on Friday, December 3, 2021, from 6pm-7pm.
Invited participants will be encouraged to decorate their picnic space and dress in the Interchange colours of red and purple.
They will also be provided with a mystery 'Party Box' with instructions not to open it until the signal is given at the event.
The picnic will feature entertainment from Sophie Wallis and Circus WOW.
Interchange encourages the broader community to say happy 40th birthday with a photo or video message that may be featured at the party or on social media in the leadup to the big day.
They are also seeking historical photos of Interchange events and activities over the last 40 years.
Special thanks is given to Interchange's major sponsor, Webb Financial, who has committed to making this celebration happen. Other sponsors include HLB Mann Judd, Heard McEwan, Money Quest, RAMS, Wests Illawarra and SWA Financial Planning.
"We are excited to bring this special celebration to the people who choose Interchange for their support needs, their families, volunteers and workers," said Jake Pearson, CEO, Interchange Illawarra.
"Forty years is a huge achievement for a small but mighty organisation. We are very proud of the work we do to assist people with disabilities to discover activities they love, maintain friendships, and live full and meaningful lives."
Interchange Illawarra provides a choice of services for people with disability and their parents/carers. They offer flexible support options, caring for not only the physical wellbeing of participants, but also encouraging the discovery of new talents and abilities, forming friendships and enriching lives.
Interchange team members are professional, yet still friendly, warm, and interested in the lives and experiences of the people they support.
For more information see interchangeillawarra.org or call 4227 1079. For sponsorship opportunities, to send your birthday messages or historic photos contact Tessa Parsons, event manager on firstname.lastname@example.org