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  • Synopsis: Published: 2010-10-26 (Revised/Updated 2013-06-16) - Do not DIS my ABILITY campaign in New South Wales will be promoted by 21 people with a disability. For further information pertaining to this article contact: Department of aging, Disability and Home Care.

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Quote: "Mr Primrose said approximately 1.4 million people in New South Wales had a disability."

This year's Don't DIS my ABILITY campaign in New South Wales will be promoted by 21 people with a disability from backgrounds ranging from sport and arts to education and business.

The Minister for Disability Services, Peter Primrose, said the ambassadors would be promoting the International Day of People with a Disability on Friday, December 3.

"The ambassadors include Paralympic marathon gold medal-winner Kurt Fearnley and Professor Ron McCallum AO, the first totally blind person to have been appointed to a full professorship at any university in Australia or New Zealand."

Kurt Fearnley said: "I am a proud ambassador for Don't DIS my ABILITY and enjoy sharing stories of my success and the successes of other ambassadors with the community."

Mr Primrose said the ambassadors had a diverse range of abilities and through their achievements had become role models for the community.

"By sharing their stories, they will help to generate awareness about people living with a disability.

"As part of the campaign, 150 events will be held across NSW in the month leading to International Day of People with a Disability. I encourage the community to take part in the events and meet the campaign ambassadors."

Mr Primrose said approximately 1.4 million people in New South Wales had a disability.

For further information about the Don't DIS my ABILITY Ambassadors, events and activities, visit

The biographies of all 21 Ambassadors are attached. To arrange interviews or photo shoots please contact Amanda Quayle on (02) 8270 2086.

Don't DIS my ABILITY Ambassador profiles

Alex Jones is an actor, a well known advocate for people who are Deaf or have a hearing impairment and an inventor, not to mention being a Don't DIS my ABILITY ambassador since 2004. Alex's latest achievement is the development of Ai-Live , a real-time, word accurate speech-to-text captioning solution using broadband technology which featured and won on ABC1's The New Inventors. Access Innovation Media (Ai-Media), a company Alex co-founded, is conducting a large scale pilot of Ai-Live in schools, universities, TAFEs and workplaces across Australia. Alex is the proud father of son Tobian, who is also Deaf.

Audrey O'Connor is an actor, writer and dancer who at just 19 already has a number of film credits to her name. Audrey dreams of continuing her passion for the arts full time. However, like most aspiring actors, she already has a reliable back up plan, recently gaining work experience at the Sydney Theatre Company. Audrey will be seen next in the short film Secret, which is based on a piece of her creative writing and will be competing in Tropfest 2011. Audrey has Down syndrome.

Camilla Connolly is an artist, a mother, a public speaker, a writer, a lifelong learner and a woman with Asperger's syndrome. She is passionate about mentoring younger women and girls with Asperger's and other autism spectrum presentations. She lives in the small country town of Murwillumbah in northern NSW where she spends time parenting and painting, writing, studying and gardening with her beloved animals. Camilla believes in the need for communities to embrace everyone and celebrate difference.

Caroline Conlon has worked as an actor, tour manager, liaison officer, board member and artistic director and those were just the positions she held at the Australian Theatre of the Deaf where she worked for nearly 20 years. Caroline was born Deaf and attended mainstream schools. In her early twenties she discovered the Deaf community and sign language. Last year her work took her to Western Africa where she provided capacity building training to National Deaf Associations. Caroline is one of the longest serving Don't DIS my ABILITY ambassadors.

Fiona Given is a Policy Officer with the NSW Disability Discrimination Legal Center and has served on a number of boards including People with Disability Australia and the NSW Disability Council. The Newtown local is especially committed to achieving change for people like herself who use alternative and augmentative communication and people who have no or little speech. Fiona is passionate about travel and fulfilled her childhood dream this year when she traveled to Antarctica.

Gerard O'Dwyer is a man with a plan, not to mention a blue belt in karate. He is determined to achieve the goals he sets himself. The first on his list was to get a job. Tick! He works at McDonalds in North Parramatta four days a week. Next? To be a famous actor. He is well on his way, thanks to his involvement with the Up Up and Away Project for Down Syndrome NSW. In 2009, Gerard appeared in the Tropfest short film Be my Brother and was delighted to win the best actor award. Gerard enjoys swimming, dancing with The Merrymakers and practicing karate.

Janel Manns has been ranked number 17 in the world in women's wheelchair tennis. She is passionate about the sport which sees her travel the world to compete in tournaments. When she is not smashing winners on the court, Janel teaches Community Services, Health Work and Disability Work at the North Coast Institute of TAFE. She has paraplegia and through her passion for education is an advocate for social justice for all minority groups. Janel has two daughters and last year became a grandmother.

Jan Pike is horse mad and has been ever since the age of 27. She is an accomplished rider, a sport she credits with transforming her from being a spectator to an active participant. Jan lives with Cerebral Palsy Quadriplegia but says when she is on the back of a horse it allows her to dance, run and walk with her head held high. She has competed in two Paralympic games winning silver and bronze in Athens. Jan, now in her 50s, has her sights set on the London 2012 Paralympics.

Julie Stonestreet says she is one of the luckiest people in the world. She is 36 years old and was born with Osteogenesis Imperfecta (OI or Brittle Bone disease). She has made a habit of defying the odds from the time she was born with 14 fractures and her parents were told she was unlikely to survive. One hundred fractures and 26 operations later she is living a full life. Julie works part time as a tourism teacher at Wollongong TAFE and lives independently. She is also a globetrotter, having visited the US, Bali, Singapore, and islands in the South Pacific.

Krystel Keller is a singer-songwriter, musician and keynote speaker. Her uplifting, reflective performances and musical style fuse folk, rock, pop and modern country. Through her deeply personal music and lyrics she inspires and empowers her audiences. At six months of age Krystel was diagnosed with Bilateral Retinoblastoma (cancer of the eyes) and by the age of two she was completely blind. She regularly shares her story and music, speaking and performing at charity events. Krystel welcomed her first son, Jaden Malcolm, into the world on September 1.

Kurt Fearnley OAM is the "marathon man of wheelchair sports" according to his website. He is the undisputed best over 42.2km. Born without the lower portion of his spine in the small town of Carcoar in Western NSW, Kurt took up wheelchair racing when he was 14. He has gone on to win countless competitions including gold at the Paralympics in Athens and Beijing and successive New York marathons. Kurt continues to set the standard in everything he does and captured the attention of the world last year when he completed the Kokoda Trail.

Leonie Jackson is well on her way to leading the education revolution within the Deaf and hearing impaired community by changing the way thousands of students learn. Leonie is the head of the Education Access division at Access Innovation Media (Ai-Media), a company that has developed a real-time, word accurate speech-to-text captioning solution. As the mother of a Deaf child, Leonie is excited to know that her son will benefit from the technology her company has developed and is implementing across Australia. Prior to her current role, Leonie worked for the Royal Institute for Deaf and Blind Children for 18 years. She is also the Vice President of the Parent Council for Deaf Education NSW.

Mark Bagshaw is the Managing Director of Innov8 consulting group. He is passionate about demonstrating to the global business community the economic and business benefits of a more inclusive society. Formerly the Business Development Executive for IBM his consultancy work combines his corporate experience at the senior management level with his passion for social reform. Mark has quadriplegia.

Mark Breadner loves to surf, and is a yoga coach of elite sports-people, inspiring athletes including Ian Thorpe, Craig Stevens, Mick Fanning and Phil McDonald. He also volunteers with Operation Smile, an organization which sends teams of volunteers to developing countries to provide free surgery to correct cleft lip conditions. A self confessed adrenaline junkie, he was forced to reassess his life when at 22 he experienced chronic fatigue syndrome. Five years ago Mark lost his eye in a surfing accident and was able to use his practical knowledge of yoga to get back out in the waves.

Michael Bartels loves music and is happiest when he has a karaoke microphone in hand. He always gives 100 per cent, whether he is belting out the tunes, taking wickets on the cricket field, or representing the rights of people with an intellectual disability. Determined to change the way people view disability he joined the NSW Council for Intellectual Disability and has served on its board for five years. In 2009 he was appointed its Chairperson. Michael has represented NSW in indoor cricket for 11 years and played in the Lord Taverner's Shield Australian All Stars side in 2007.

Nick Gleeson is an athlete, accessibility advocate and global adventurer. When he was seven, an electronic swinging supermarket door hit Nick on the side of his head, causing a retinal detachment. Nick has had success in athletics and in blind cricket, representing Victoria, NSW and Australia. He has run the New York Marathon three times and completed the grueling 90km Comrades Marathon from Durban to Pietermaritzburg in South Africa. Nick describes himself as an ordinary person who has managed to follow his dreams - among them marrying Heather, who is also blind, and raising two teenagers, Peter and Belinda.

Rachel Lazarov is a survivor. Diagnosed with retinal detachment at 19 she fought a 30 year battle to retain her sight. In 2002 she was involved in a train accident which resulted in both her legs being amputated. Doctors told her she would not walk again but she is now walking, swimming and dancing with the aid of prosthetic legs. Rachel, who was born in Bulgaria, is the Chairperson of the Multicultural Disability Advocacy Association.

Robert Strike is unwavering in his determination to promote self-advocacy for people with intellectual disability. Robert was born with physical and learning disabilities and lived in an institution from age three to 17. Not one to dwell on the negative experiences of his childhood, as an adult he has pursued educational opportunities, which were limited when he was growing up. Robert works for the Intellectual Disability Rights Service where he educates people who work in the criminal justice system about the rights of people with an intellectual disability. He also volunteers with Self Advocacy Sydney and the NSW Council for Intellectual Disability.

Professor Ron McCallum AO is the first totally blind person to have been appointed to a full professorship in any field at any university in Australia or New Zealand. In 2002 he became the first totally blind person to be appointed to the Deanship of a law school when he was appointed Dean of the Faculty of Law of the University of Sydney. A long time advocate for disability and social justice, Ron was the natural choice when he was elected as 2010 Chair of the United Nations Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. He is married to Professor Mary Crock and they have one daughter and two sons.

Scott Reardon is an Australian water ski record holder and a world champion who dominates events as a skier with a disability and in able-bodied divisions. Scott's life changed when he was 12 when he lost his leg in a farming accident on the family property near Temora NSW. He is passionate about sport and is directing his energy towards developing his talent for it. Scott is currently living and training at the Australian Institute of Sport under coach, Iryna Dvoskina, and has his sights set on representing Australia at the next Paralympics.

Tracy Barrell OAM is a mum of two boys. As a triple congenital amputee Tracy has had to overcome people's attitude towards her disability. Sport has figured prominently in her life and she competed at the Barcelona Paralympics in 1992 in swimming where she won two gold medals. Her most prestigious award, however, is the Order of Australia Medal she received in 1993. Tracy retired from international swimming in 1994 but continues to play sport and has represented Australia at Sitting Volleyball.

Information from our Disability News: NSW Australia section - (Full List).


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