I love performing and I like to make people feel good when they listen to music. What I want to contribute is I want to sing and I want to make people feel things through the music. You can feel it. You can feel that there’s energy when you sing, like a room will go quiet. Like when you do karaoke in a loud bar, if you can get that whole place to be quiet. I can sense that absolutely. You want to pick music that has to do with how you’re feeling or music that you can relate to having felt before. I think of a time when I felt that way and work on singing the song with that feeling. I had a woman who said, “Oh my gosh, I cried so hard one of my fake eyelashes almost came off.”
This is my biggest achievement. Going in and doing a mainstream fringe show. That’s really huge. At His Majesty’s Theatre and we sold it out, twice. That’s big enough. Now we’re going to try and do it regionally. The big dream is to tour the world and make music, to make people feel something, whatever it is.
My achievement is that anything I do, I give it 100% focus. I never throw in the towel until I’m satisfied or I’ve lost interest. When I was five back in Vietnam, my goal was to climb trees. My family said, “You can’t. You have no legs.” It took me two years. Then I set my goal on climbing a coconut tree, about the height of a two or three story building. My older brother couldn’t do it. It was the most exhilarating thing.
Now I’m a champion power lifter and a tax payer and a parent. That’s the thing that I’m focussed on now. It’s the biggest role for me, to teach them about life. There was a rough time. It almost broke us as a couple. I’d get really annoyed when the kid doesn’t eat. In my childhood if you didn’t eat, you got a smack and you starved. We got some help. I’m better now, learning how to be a Dad, being the reliable person in the family, bringing in the income. It’s my biggest achievement.
Like the TV show says, “Neighbours become good friends”.
From the first-time I arrived to the Joondanna neighbourhood, it triggered the sense of returning home. The gracious welcome I experienced from the neighbours reinvigorated my euphoric appetite to live life. Earlier this month I celebrated my 40th birthday in my new home. I underestimated the work that went into throwing such a large event and began to doubt myself. In the space of a few hours, my neighbour Sue arranged a BBQ and prepared all the food for me. Another neighbour did a run to the bottle shop to restock drinks at her own expense. I sat back and watched. One by one these people walked through the door carrying plates of food, followed by two massive birthday cakes they had prepared themselves. As the night went on I couldn’t help but think about how blessed I am to have this community. Not only can I rely on them to come together to support me on such a big day, but they are also here for the little things like bringing my bins in, cooking and feeding me dinner, popping in to check on me if they notice a change in my routine. This is the community support system I could only have dreamed about in the past, Before I close my eyes at night, I count the blessings I’ve received and the tremendous fortune obtained knowing I have caring and supportive people around looking out for me and my well-being. I feel loved and safe.
I had some friends who lived in their own place. I wanted to spend some time there and imagine what it would be like if this it my home. I offered to do some cleaning for them, and told them they should go out while I did the cleaning. It was great. I liked being there on my own and doing the cleaning. I decided I wanted to have my own place.
I’ve been here a couple of years now. I keep it really clean, and I have my things just how like them. I like to make sure I’ve got things ready when people come over, like something for them to drink. I get people to take their shoes off before they come in.
It’s been great but sometimes I get a bit lonely, even with Ruby, my cat. I’ve been thinking I would like to share my house with someone.
This really is such a great workplace. When I get a new student group, I’m always interested in their background stories, like ‘Why are they here now?’ There’s so much diversity in their stories. I feel like I’m the learner. I hear their nervousness about being able to get through the course. I feel proud that they get to learn about disability support from me, as someone who needs good support every day. That’s the best part. We work together as a professional partnership to achieve their goal. Once they get to practice their skills out in the workplaces, the feedback we receive is positive and I always get good comments from my students about the fact of having a lecturer with a disability. It certainly helps them feel more comfortable about working in the disability sector. I am able to give them feedback, additional skills and confidence in order to empower them so they can empower the people they support.
When it comes to my advocacy and educating about Deaf culture, our history, our language, I believe in compassion first of all. It’s so important to me. Understanding that not everyone has had the opportunity to go through the things I’ve gone through and vice versa means knowing that they maybe won’t have the right ideas or say things the right way. I’d rather invest the time and energy in having a kind, open conversation, and share my lived experience as a Deaf butch lesbian. Isn’t it better to change minds and equip folks with the right knowledge about disability and sexuality than shut them down? That’s true courage. This year, I launched my own Auslan classes. I had so many anxieties about hosting my first ever event but I was pleasantly surprised by the massive turn out and enthusiasm I was shown. If you give to a community, the community gives back. Finding my Deaf community and chosen family has allowed me to come into my own – that’s my greatest achievement. This year, I got to fly to Paris for the World Federation of the Deaf Congress, as a Young Emerging Deaf Leader. It’s incredible – people all over the world will know my name. I’ve already built my own inclusive community here at home, but I’m going to expand my horizons to the rest of the world!
My family always has my back. They have always supported my dreams. I have learnt to stand up against people who had low expectations of me, and I proved to them that I can do whatever I put my mind to. I completed my year 10 work experience at a vet and got great feedback from the vet. I got 80% on my Biology Exam in year 10 which reminded me that I can accomplish my dreams.
Movement has always been important for me. When school was hard, I had to run twice a day, an hour in the morning and an hour in the afternoon to be able to regulate so I could sit still in class for the day. I run on a treadmill at home and I have run in some races as well. Twelve kilometres has been my best race and time. I have medals that remind me of my tenacity.
Halfway through year 11, when I changed schools, I had one of the biggest accomplishments of my life. I climbed my way out of a depressive spiral and suicidal mindset and met four incredible friends who welcomed me and accept me and my disability. I am slowly remembering my strengths and working through my trauma in therapy. I have learnt to embrace my disability and I’ve learned to love it, for without it, I wouldn’t be standing here today.
These days I choose to own my disability and be proud of what it means to me. My disability means I must live with some big challenges, therefore it has made me courageous. It means I have had to develop my resilience and find maturity at an early age, therefore it has given me great empathy toward other people’s struggles and a sense of what is really important. It means I often have to wait for others to help me, so I must be patient. This gives me time to reflect, be imaginative, creative and spiritual. It also means I burn more than the usual number of calories when I exercise. If I could bottle this one and sell it – I would be a millionaire! My Plan. Right now, I am at school. In three years I want to go to the best UK university I can possibly get into with my school grades. I am aiming high with Oxford as my ultimate prize. I want to become a Human Rights Lawyer and get experience helping reduce people’s suffering, particularly people with disability in Europe. I definitely want to return home to Australia one day and rejoin our leaders in the fight for acceptance and inclusion. I hope to be able to offer a valuable contribution to our society and culture.
I’ve wanted to be a massage therapist since I was 17. I’ve always been a tactile person. Ever since I was little, I was never afraid to go up to anything or anyone and feel them to get an idea of what they looked like. Being tactile is my way of seeing things, as I’ve been completely blind from birth. I finished my massage training in 2017, volunteered at lots of places and earnt a bit of money from massaging friends. I now work as a massage therapist, specializing in remedial and relaxation techniques. In the future, I want to have more skills and practice hot stone, reflexology, reiki and oncology massage. I’d like to work at events which will involve corporates, as well as massaging people with disabilities, and people in palliative care. When I’m not working I enjoy my friends, singing, listening to audio books, writing, exercising, animals and extreme activities like rock climbing and amusement park rides. I want to go to Queenstown, New Zealand in the near future to do all the adrenalin-rush activities like bungee jumping and canyon swings. At the moment though, I’m extremely happy with the job I have, and I couldn’t find a better job if I tried.
My team is the High Wycombe Bulldogs. We’re second on the ladder. Last game, we were winning, playing Wembley. I took a mark and kicked a goal. The ball went through the middle, right through middle. I love it. I yelled and screamed. I was on the bench in the fourth quarter. Xavier was hurt. I was holding the icepack on him, like a first aid person. I told him, ‘It’s alright Xavier, you’ve got this. We’ve got this in the bag, we’ve got this win in the bag.’ I love, I love the weekends the best. I love game days. I love getting goals a lot. I try my best. . . bend over, pick up the ball. Jessa passes it to me or I say, ‘I’m here!’ We’ve got three more games this season. One will be my 50th game. Sometimes I tell my team ‘It’s just a game, boys. Settle down.’ When the coach is trying to talk, I yell out ‘Yeah, one voice, boys.’ My footy mates, Corey, Matty and Robbie, come over for dinner every fortnight. I choose what Mum cooks. At the end of the season we’ll have a beer and a trophy night. I might get one for ‘team player’. I’m gonna put that in my room. First one. I love it.
I volunteered at Supanova for the first time ever, it was so good. After volunteering for a while I had a lunch break and got really good food there. I'm going again next year. People came dressed up as Batman and Scarecrows. My favourite was the person with ‘fear’ and ‘toxic gas’ on their hands. I like being a volunteer but I like wearing costumes, too. I welcomed people and asked them if they wanted a show bag. There were comics in the showbags. I wasn't dressed up. I wore a purple volunteer Supahero t shirt. I felt tired and good at the end of the day. I'd like to volunteer again next year on one of the days, and go another day dressed as the Hulk or Bruce Banner. My favourite actor is Mark Ruffalo and I'm also a big fan of The Incredibles and Iron Man.
I was fifteen months old when I got polio. There were no special concessions or anything. When my younger sister wanted to learn to swim, I said that it was something I could do, so I could go along. My coach had a small pool in his backyard, so you swam a few strokes and then you turned around. After two weeks he said, ‘Come and join a swimming squad at Beatty Park.’ I turned 14 on the 1st of July and a week later he said, ‘Oh, you’ve just broken a world record. I was selected to go to Tokyo in 1964 and came back with three gold medals and three world records. I’m still the youngest swimmer to win individual gold after 55 years. I’m hanging on to that record. I went to Israel in 1968 and won another three medals. The second standout in my life was when I came home from surgery in a wheelchair and started using public transport. It’s so easy. I told my sister, ‘This damned wheelchair has given me the freedom to get out and about more!’ To me the wheelchair is the best thing since sliced bread. I’m involved in dementia research because my mother had it. They asked me, ‘Now that you’re 65, how much have you slowed down?’ I said, ‘Look I’m sorry, I haven’t slowed down, I’m actually on six or seven committees now and I’m never at home.’ I’ve realised I can make little differences for people with disabilities.
I suppose it was when I was going out of hospital. I met a bloke there. I don’t quite remember his name but he encouraged me to start up a club or something. ‘What are you passionate about, Chris?’ he’d say, and I thought ‘My passion’s about Chess and my nickname at school was Crob, short for Chris Roberton, and I like coffee as well.’ I’m the founder of Crobs’ Coffee and Chess. The motto is ‘Keeping Disability in Check.’ When they’re playing, everyone forgets about the disability, don’t they? It’s all about the chess. On Wednesdays, I play at a homeless shelter in the city. On Thursdays, I go to a retirement village. On Friday’s I play at a café in the hills, City Farm on Saturdays, and another café, where it all began, on Sundays. The cafes reserve the tables and put the chess sets out. Mondays and Tuesdays are my weekend from chess. I don’t have a very good memory. That’s one of the drawbacks of my accident. I’m quite a good player but five minutes after I can’t remember what I’ve done. I’ve forgotten that I played yesterday, so I’ll have to go back and play it again (laughter). This is sort of my work to help or to encourage other people to get out. It makes me feel good in a sense that I’m contributing to society or chess-loving society. It helps me to get out of the house and have coffee as well, two very good things and I get to interact with other people as well.
I saw an advert for a ride to fundraise for cancer research at the Harry Perkins Institute of Medical Research so I went and helped on the support crew. The following year they had their first walk for women’s cancer and I thought, ‘Well, you know, I might only manage to cross the start line and then fall in a heap but I could raise a bit of money to help.’ This year my friend Nicole was having treatment for breast cancer, s6o I walked for Nicole. I do all different things to raise money but what I know about the walk and the people at the Harry Perkins Institute is that they just accept me. My disability doesn’t worry them. Nobody says, ‘You shouldn’t be here.’ They accommodate anything I need and they cheer me on. It’s fun. We dress up and people wear all sorts of silly stuff. This year I walked about thirty kilometres in ten and a half hours. The sun had just come up when we started and it was pretty much gone when I finished. It feels like an achievement. I got cryptococcal meningitis in 2003 when I was 31. I left hospital in a wheelchair and had to learn how to do everything again. Teaching was the only thing I ever wanted to do, so I felt like I’d lost me when I couldn’t work. I still struggle with that but the people who help at the walk let me know that I’m doing something else that makes a difference.
I’ve been into sport since I was young. I just love the fitness and strength. I feel so good when I’ve worked out. When I was fourteen, I was a junior Paralympian in rowing, shotput and discus. I competed in Sydney, Canberra and Melbourne and broke a couple of records. I’ve kept all my awards, certificates and newspaper clippings. I used to rock climb until the place closed down. I love to climb trees and onto a flying fox. Last week I went skiing with two friends. I skied four hours every day. I’m just the powerhouse! I always want more and faster. At the gym, I do boxing, the lat pull down, swimming and pilates. I love pilates, getting strong legs and strong core muscles. I’m trying to get my girlfriend to love working out, too. It took me about seven years to get my Certificate from the Australian Institute of Fitness as a personal trainer. I’m 26 now. When I got to the end of this, I felt awesome and fabulous. My motto is “Never Give Up”. It’s on my T-shirt. It’s a message to me and to other people. I’ve just got my first paying client. I’d love to have three or four clients every week. Yep, skiing and getting that personal trainer certificate are the best things I’ve done in my life. Qualifying as a personal trainer is my biggest achievement.
I studied Journalism. It was very challenging, I had many barriers and I faced a lot of discrimination at uni. They didn’t know anything about deafblind people, so I had to educate them a lot. Uni has given me more confidence and it’s helping me to help other people as well. Now I’m starting a Masters and when that’s finished maybe I’ll do a PhD, if I’m crazy enough. I know it will be a challenge for me but I’m very excited about my new study and the new opportunities it’s going to give me. Getting that degree was such a wonderful feeling, like I was so proud of myself that I had got that achievement, that I wasn’t a failure and I didn’t quit and I just kept persevering, you know. I had good days and bad days but I just kept going through because I had great support of friends and professionals that got me through it. I was so excited during my last day. Oh, I was jumping up and down! I had two exams and when they were done, I was dancing around my room. I was crying I was so happy and so relieved that it was over. That three and a half years is done. All that work and the late nights that I put in, it was all worth it. I am very proud of myself. I did finish my degree. I did achieve that.
I’ve got lots going on in my life and that’s the way I like it. For fun, I like to kick the footy with my friends in Kununurra, or sing karaoke at the pub on a Wednesday night. I’ve got a huge collection of Bombers gear. It’s all round my room. They’re my team. I’ve seen them play at the MCG. I’ve done lots of travelling with my family. Places like Singapore, Bali, Greece, Italy, Croatia and Vietnam. I went to America for my 21st birthday. My favourite place was Las Vegas. I’ve worked at Coles for the past four years in the meat section. I like the people I work with. I’m proud of having that job. About a year ago, I decided to get fit and tone up. I started going to my local gym and got some personal coaching. I work out on the treadmill, the weights and the pull up bar. I don’t eat chips anymore when I eat out. Some people who know me say, I’m self-motivated. I just do it, I keep going. I can do sets on the pull up bar now and I’ve lost seven kilograms. I’m proud of that, too.
I’ve always ‘talked’ through my paintings but I didn’t know how to talk with people. Now I’m learning Auslan to talk to people. I want to talk more now, especially about my art. I’ve always loved exploring things through my senses. It’s become the basis of my art work. Like light … I’m always exploring it. It fascinates me. For a long time all of my paintings were about light. I’ve used a lot of water colours to create the look of how light glows. I poured ink on Perspex and put light strips with a controller behind the Perspex. I made some light installations that have been exhibited in lots of galleries across Australia. I’m into beading now. I’ve always got plans for beads. I thread complex colour patterns on recycled copper wire from light fittings. Some days I do bead art for most of the day. My art helped me when I was grieving for quite a few years after my brother died. I installed my art in the old jail cells in Mandurah as part of a group art exhibition because that place showed how I was feeling. He’s gone now. I never used to be able to say that until we worked on these paintings and did a lot of talking with other artists and other people.
*Photography by Neil Mulligan.
Being indigenous and fair skinned, I was automatically a wild card. Then being on the LGBTIQ spectrum as well, I was already living somewhat of an intersectional lifestyle. When I acquired my disability, it became the triple factor. Some people call that triple disadvantage, but I think I’m more of a triple threat. Instead of trying to force myself to fit into a box, I decided to be me more unashamedly myself. Clearly there is demand for a new box, so why don’t we create that new box and make it more equal? I went on to be a self-published author. I rehabilitated my left hand, by making these flower sculptures which were featured through ‘Raw Artists’ in Northbridge. It was probably a year into my disability that I had the brainwave to use yoga to look after my body and teach other people to do the same. That was a really big journey because as far as I am aware, I am the only yoga teacher in Australia with my level of physical deficit. I’ve been the chair of an aboriginal suicidal awareness network, the first indigenous employee at the NDIS trial site, and the only indigenous member for the last two years on the WA Ministerial Advisory Council on Disability. The silver lining is that for all I’ve been through with my disability it equalled me exploring my creative side and from there it’s really blossomed.
I guess I always knew I wanted to be a mum. I had no idea the road to get there would be so wonderfully complex. Life changed dramatically when I had an accident when I was 30, where I sustained a neck-level spinal cord injury. I wasn’t sure if I could even be a mum, whether it was an unachievable dream. Together my husband and I started thinking very laterally of how we could pursue parenthood safely with my health in mind. After much discussion, investigation and years dedicated to it; we were matched through an international surrogacy agency to a wonderful woman named Beth in Oklahoma. We now have a beautiful daughter. Being a mum with a disability is incredibly fulfilling and challenging, all at the same time. I suppose no different to other mums in that way. My daughter challenges me to think creatively so that we can do things together. We find a way! I always had a sinking doubt that she might not identify me as her mum because I couldn’t do all the things that other mums can often do. I soon realized this was definitely not the case. She treats and loves me the same. She just knows there’s some special things that I can and cannot do. She thinks it’s pretty special she can take a ride on my feet or lap whenever she wants, and so do I!
Six years ago I got sick and was on life support for 7 days. When I woke up I had no vision and I couldn’t walk. It was crazy. I was thirty. My world’s never been the same since. But, you know, I’ve had so many different opportunities come my way now that I would never have had being a mainstream, stock standard, sighted person. Over the years, with the war on waste movement, it’s become important to me that I make some sort of contribution to the planet. However I can do it, I want to do it. I’m not hard core like a lot of people are but just want to use less plastic and not just buy brand new clothes all the time. I was always arty crafty. When I had to empty my home, put that on the market and then move into my Mum’s house, I came across all this stuff and I’m like, well we can use that for something else, it doesn’t have to be the purpose that it was made for originally. My enterprise is called Evie’s Emporium. It’s a reduce, reuse, recycle, repurpose initiative with a practice kind of priority. My logo is ‘Seeing Things Differently’. I help people see things differently from my personal point of view of not having vision and also about how things can be used differently.
I love my life. I’ve got three sisters, and eight nieces and nephews. I love them and they love me. I love my chickens and I like looking after them, I especially like getting fresh eggs for breakfast! As well as writing, I love sewing…big projects like wall hangings and bedspreads. I’ve learnt how to do this in my Design and Technology Tafe class. I sew presents and sometimes sell my things at a local market. Right now, I’m between jobs but I loved being a waitperson in a local café previously. In fact, hospitality work in different cuisines really interests me, especially Italian and Japanese. I volunteer in the kitchen at meals on wheels. I enjoy being part of the team that gets meals out to people who are elderly or stuck at home. I do work out at a gym and swim laps each week, cause it’s good for me, not ‘cause I really love it. Somewhere in my week I’ll enjoy doing some cooking at home, and eating out and going to the movies with a friend. My book success has spurred me on to write more. I have so many ideas. I’m also really keen to get acting and singing opportunities. Since I was a child, I’ve been dancing or singing in the ‘Let’s Shine Brightly’ event put on by the Albany Light Opera and Theatre Company. I wouldn’t miss this for anything.
If I think about my achievements, I go back thirty-four years when I first met Kaye. We were very different in age and circumstances. We have a set of twins, now active adult members of society. Achievement number one! We’ve had pressures with one child having a disability, Kaye having breast cancer and me with my leg issues, but it’s made us stronger. We’ve been married thirty-two years. Achievement number two. I’ve been a musician all my life. Now I just love to get up and play and I really don’t care what I play, I don’t care who I play for. Being taught how to improvise and how to just play, gives you freedom. I work with a couple of different bands. It’s been really interesting to see that their understanding of physical disability has grown because of me. I consider that to be an achievement as well. My work now is helping amputees to build their capacity and confidence in getting back to work. When you face the decision of having an amputation, or if it’s traumatic and you don’t have that decision, a lot of amputees will look at it after that and go well, how can I go back to work, what can I do? It gives me a sense of purpose and achievement. I don’t consider it to be a chore. Yes, it is a job, it’s an income but it’s more than that, it’s more than a job, most definitely because it’s something that’s going to change somebody’s life.