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.
“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.