Awards are Great, but Employment is Greater to People with Disabilities0
On January 17th, at an intimate morning tea of invited distinguished guests, along with very worthy recipients of various award categories, I was named Moreton Bay Region Citizen of the year 2019.
As honoured as I was to be nominated I never expected to win. I had my 15 minutes of fame long ago. I didn’t think it was necessary to be awarded for what I did.
I remember the first big media interview I did with King of Breakfast radio, Spencer Howson, on his breakfast show at ABC Brisbane. The producer asked what to call me? I thought Elisha was just fine but they wanted to know my title. Disability Advocate seemed to be the adequate description and from that day onward that’s what I became known as. Confession time… I never set out to be that. I just wanted to be able go out with my family and get out of my car safely without falling over. Just as accidental as my crusade to change the community attitude around disability parking, was my campaign to get my community to understand an inclusive community isn’t possible without disability access, and access is about so much more than ticking boxes and slapping a symbol on it. I didn’t set out to be anyone’s inspiration. I just wanted to be treated the same in my community as I was before my acquired disability.
It hasn’t been all morning teas, photo shoots and interviews though. It’s been work. Damn hard work. Research and deciphering legislation. Gathering and filtering data. Using the government’s own information against them. Despite that, I’ve built quite a profile for myself on this platform. It’s partly because of this profile though that I’ve felt an obligation to take on far more work than I should and none of it was paid. Volunteering is rewarding, but most of the time when people volunteer, they do something they enjoy, or want to do. For me it was reading legislation, meetings and quite often, confrontation. It was hours, sometimes days of preparation for a case at the ADCQ that someone had asked me to assist on that ended up being me doing all the work. It was having to explain to that person that sometimes their expectations were unreasonable and help them understand the definition of inclusion. I didn’t make many friends doing what I do. But I got stuff done. I persevered. That’s just who I am. I like to finish what I set out to achieve, and that’s why, after 5 years of canvassing my local council, presenting them with evidence for need and the mutual benefits it could provide, they finally agreed we needed a Disability Access and Inclusion Plan. A living document that showed intent. A set of guidelines that helped a community understand how to be inclusive and provide better access.
The day it was handed down at the council meeting I was invited along. At the time I felt like it was another obligation. It was a long way for me to travel and at the time I wasn’t very well. At that moment they declared it an adopted policy I was overwhelmed with emotion. I realised that 5 years of work, of battling the same obstacles day in, day out, of asking why not, had finally come to pass. I’d accomplished what I had actually set out to do. Now I could finally rest.
With this award though comes media coverage which renews interest of me in the community. Suddenly everyone who wants social change wants to speak to me. And so it begins. The flattery, the mission and then… the grab. We want you. You’ve got what it takes. We can’t do this without you. But you can. And you are going to have to. Because as flattered as I am that you think I’m the right woman for the job, I’m so very tired. I need a break.
What the media won’t tell you about the Citizen of the Year 2019 is that the week she was presented with the award, she was suicidal. Trying to understand what is going on with her Medically after re-diagnosis she felt like she’d been living a lie for the past 7 years. Still reeling from the breakdown of her marriage, from losing her home, her family, her life as she knew it, she was not the woman they have known in the past. She was broken.
I am broken. I am slowly putting the pieces of me back together and I promise you I’m not going to hurt myself. I have so many preventative factors right now. I have my incredible children and surrogate grandchildren. Amazingly supportive friends. A whole new life to plan out. I’m not going to sugar coat it for anyone though. I’m struggling. Last week I couldn’t afford to eat. If it weren’t for the generosity of my incredible sister I would have been living on pasta and gravy. She rescued me with a gift card to buy groceries. My friends dragged me out of the apartment to socialise. My GP checks in with me frequently and reassures me her door is always open. She’s absolutely amazing and tells me every visit how proud of me she is for fighting to survive this. I’m so grateful that she’s shared her similar personal story with me. I feel like I can survive because of others who show me that they have. The most important thing I know about this though is that it’s going to take time.
For so long my purpose has been fighting for everyone else. Right now the only purpose I can manage is to fight for myself. I’m tired. I don’t want to be your inspiration. It’s such a huge expectation to live up to. I don’t want to disappoint you.
I can’t help you with your project or campaign right now. You need to know though that you can do this. I did it and for the most I did it on my own. You’ll find support along the way in many places, but mostly it will be you doing the work. You need to be prepared for that, but nothing great has ever been achieved without hard work.
I’m grateful for the support I’ve had along the way but I’m also well aware sometimes that support had an agenda. Many people have raised themselves using my profile. Their recent absence has not gone unnoticed. Still I’m eternally grateful for every bit of help to get me there.
As a community we can do better. People with disabilities have a wealth of knowledge. It’s time to start paying them for that. Awards are great but they don’t put food on the table.
So right now, I’m not the right person for the job. You are. You’ve got this. Just don’t burn yourself out before you get there.