DY­LAN AL­COTT OAM

THREE-TIME Par­a­lympic gold medal­list and 2016 Aus­tralian Par­a­lympian of the Year Dy­lan Al­cott is now help­ing en­rich the lives of young kids with dis­abil­i­ties through men­tor­ing, grants and scholarships via the Dy­lan Al­cott Foun­da­tion.

The Australian Education Reporter - - FRONT PAGE - EMMA DAVIES

“We need to nor­malise disability and to alter the ex­ist­ing neg­a­tive stig­mas and prej­u­dice, turn­ing them into pos­i­tives.”

Q. How tough was school for you, as a kid liv­ing with a disability?

I’m not go­ing to sugar coat it; liv­ing with a disability at school was pretty tough at times. Kids can be mean and can make you feel re­ally ex­cluded.

I was em­bar­rassed about my disability. I think if there were books or learn­ing re­sources avail­able for stu­dents and teach­ers to learn about disability, then it would have made ev­ery­one feel more com­fort­able and I would have been treated just like ev­ery­one else.

When I was 13 I was bul­lied for be­ing dis­abled but if I had seen some­one on TV or ra­dio with a disability what a dif­fer­ence it would have made.

That’s why I co-founded Get Skilled Ac­cess, to shift and change per­cep­tions to im­prove the lives of peo­ple with dis­abil­i­ties.

I want peo­ple to be aware of disability, talk about it, and make it con­tem­po­rary, fun, and emo­tive – even hu­mor­ous – so kids don’t have to go through what I went through.

We need to nor­malise disability and to alter the ex­ist­ing neg­a­tive stig­mas and prej­u­dice, turn­ing them into pos­i­tives.

That’s why I’m so pas­sion­ate about what we do at Get Skilled Ac­cess, be­cause we ed­u­cate peo­ple about disability in an in­ter­ac­tive and fun way that has not been done be­fore.

Q. How do we change the per­cep­tions of disability?

Ed­u­ca­tion! We need to raise peo­ple’s aware­ness of disability and I think we are trend­ing the right way, but it’s mov­ing very slowly.

We need to main­stream ac­ces­si­bil­ity and disability and get it in front of peo­ple; for too long it’s been put on the back burner and peo­ple haven’t cared about it.

I want to help the cur­rent gen­er­a­tion of peo­ple with dis­abil­i­ties, but also help the next gen­er­a­tion live the lives that they want to live. That’s why Get Skilled Ac­cess ex­ists as an or­gan­i­sa­tion that can in­flu­ence gen­er­a­tional so­cial change.

Q. How can schools could im­prove learn­ing en­vi­ron­ments for dis­abled stu­dents?

Stu­dents with a disability don’t need to be wrapped in cot­ton wool; they de­serve and want to be treated like ev­ery­one else. How­ever, peo­ple with a disability do have dif­fer­ent needs and can re­quire ad­just­ments at school, which can be any­thing from an ad­justable desk to hav­ing flex­i­bil­ity in their timeta­bles.

It’s also re­ally im­por­tant to be open and check-in with the stu­dent on a reg­u­lar ba­sis to en­sure that they are com­fort­able and, if re­quired, make read­just­ments.

For the most part teach­ers are very con­scious of mak­ing their class­rooms in­clu­sive. How­ever, chang­ing at­ti­tudes that sup­port di­ver­sity and in­clu­sion can take time to in­te­grate so teach­ers should be will­ing learn and try dif­fer­ent things, col­lab­o­rate with the stu­dents, and find what works for their class­room so that peo­ple with di­verse abil­i­ties and back­grounds can suc­ceed at school to­gether.

Q. Should school staff to be trained in disability and ac­ces­si­bil­ity aware­ness?

Ab­so­lutely. With over 4.5 mil­lion Aus­tralians liv­ing with some form of disability, I think train­ing should be a stan­dard in all schools, for teach­ers as well as stu­dents.

We have stu­dents who have phys­i­cal and/or in­tel­lec­tual dis­abil­i­ties – you may have a stu­dent in your class­room who uses a wheel­chair or a stu­dent that has sen­sory is­sues – but this is all nor­mal. If we can ed­u­cate stu­dents at a young age, we can break down stig­mas and bar­ri­ers that adults with disability still strug­gle with to­day.

Not only is it im­por­tant that teach­ers and staff have a bet­ter un­der­stand­ing of their stu­dents with disability, but also to un­der­stand par­ents that may have disability.

We recently had one of our vi­sion im­paired as­so­ci­ates at­tend par­ent-teacher in­ter­views where he was given a print out of his child’s grades which he couldn’t read. Un­for­tu­nately, the teacher didn’t have an al­ter­na­tive method of com­mu­ni­ca­tion, or was not will­ing to try and de­liver the in­for­ma­tion to him an­other way.

This isn’t the teach­ers’ or staff’s fault, as they haven’t been trained to de­liver the in­for­ma­tion in an al­ter­na­tive way. It’s re­ally im­por­tant that we raise the aware­ness of disability so ev­ery­one can have an equal op­por­tu­nity and ex­pe­ri­ence.

Career coun­sel­lors can also play a ma­jor role in the de­vel­op­ment of stu­dents with disability, cur­rently there is not enough in­for­ma­tion to sup­port stu­dents on a mean­ing­ful career path.

Q. How did Get Skilled Ac­cess come about?

I wanted to change the voice of disability with fel­low Par­a­lympian Nick Mor­ris OAM and we co-founded Get Skilled Ac­cess; an or­gan­i­sa­tion that is born out of “real life disability ex­pe­ri­ence de­liv­ered by real life peo­ple with disability”.

We work with cor­po­rates, govern­ments and schools across the coun­try to ed­u­cate peo­ple about disability and break down stig­mas and bar­ri­ers that ex­ist in our com­mu­nity.

Q. How does your Foun­da­tion sup­port young Aus­tralians with dis­abil­i­ties?

I started the Dy­lan Al­cott Foun­da­tion be­cause I wanted to help young peo­ple with dis­abil­i­ties live the life they want to live.

We pro­vide fundrais­ing for grants, scholarships and men­tor­ing so they can over­come bar­ri­ers and achieve their dreams.

I’m re­ally ex­cited be­cause we’ve just run our first fundrais­ing cam­paign, Abil­ity Fest, an all-in­clu­sive mu­sic fes­ti­val at the Coburg Velo­drome that of­fi­cially launched the Dy­lan Al­cott Foun­da­tion by en­cour­ag­ing ev­ery­one – re­gard­less of gen­der, disability or race – to come to­gether in cel­e­bra­tion of live mu­sic which raised al­most $200,000 for the Foun­da­tion.

Q. What men­tor­ing, grants and scholarships are of­fered?

The Dy­lan Al­cott Foun­da­tion is tai­lored at ex­actly the kind of kid that I was; the kid hav­ing a tough time with bul­ly­ing at school, who doesn’t have ac­cess to re­sources to get out on the sport­ing field.

I want to help young kids, who were just like me, live the life they want to live. You don’t need to be a Par­a­lympian; you might want to be a doc­tor, or play in an orches­tra.

Our fundrais­ing efforts help us pur­chase ex­pen­sive and much-needed sport­ing equip­ment, pro­vide scholarships at lead­ing ed­u­ca­tion in­sti­tu­tions, and de­liver men­tor­ing pro­grams with in­dus­try lead­ers to give young peo­ple with dis­abil­i­ties the best pos­si­ble op­por­tu­nity to go out and achieve their dreams.

Q. Is there any­thing else you would like to add?

For the young per­son out there who is strug­gling with their disability – stop car­ing what other peo­ple think of you.

I thought that be­ing dif­fer­ent and hav­ing a disability was a bad thing and, for me, I in­ter­nalised a lot of my in­se­cu­ri­ties. I get it; it’s hard. I went through a re­ally tough time and I’m so glad I came out the other side. But for ev­ery id­iot that gives you a hard time, there are thou­sands of leg­ends worth hang­ing out with. You know you may have to do things differently, but that shouldn’t stop you be­ing the per­son you need to be.

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