Ambassadors

Each year, ambassadors are selected from the arts, sports and business fields to support and strengthen the Don't DIS my ABILITY campaign.

   

Julie Charlton is 14 years old. Born with spina bifida and hydrocephalus, Julie wears ankle foot orthotics and uses a wheelchair when out and about. At age 7, Julie became Northcott Disability Services’ first client ambassador, travelling around NSW, speaking at schools and hospitals about inclusion. This lead to many more speaking opportunities, including Northcott’s Women in Sport breakfast. Sport is a passion of Julie’s – particularly wheelchair racing, shotput and discus. Her goal in life is to go to the Paralympics in Rio in 2016. She says her long term goal is to become an advocate for all people with ‘different’ abilities.

Photograph of Julie Charlton

John Hessey had a stroke that resulted in damage to his occipital lobes and legal blindness. John has always cherished his independence and has had an overriding optimism when faced with the challenges life presents. He has tried his hand at blind surfing and blind cabinet-making. John also has a blog and uses Facebook daily. John has trained for six years in the martial art ‘Wing Tsun’. It is through this training he says he ‘learned to see in other ways’. Since 2008, he has studied electrical engineering and designs and builds audio amplifiers. He has a guide dog called Angie.

Photograph of John Hessey

Liesl Tesch became a paraplegic at the age of 19 after a mountain bike accident. She returned to university in a wheelchair and threw herself back into sport, discovering wheelchair basketball. After 24 years and six Paralympic Games on the basketball court, Liesl made an inspired switch to sailing and went on to win gold at the London 2012 Paralympic Games. After years of volunteering as a sports coach in developing countries, Liesl established Sport Matters, a not-for-profit organisation that uses sport as a tool to unite communities. Liesl plans to defend her gold medal with her quadriplegic sailing partner Daniel Fitzgibbon, at the 2016 Paralympic Games in Rio de Janeiro. In the meantime, she plans to fit in a couple of Sydney to Hobart yacht races…

Photograph of Liesl Tesch

Andrew Meddings is a father, husband, businessman, truck driver, traveller, salesman and motivator. Andrew has had paraplegia since 2000. From Strzelecki to Silverton, Flinders Ranges to the Oodnadatta Track, he has travelled by truck and 4WD to nearly every corner of Australia. Abroad, he’s visited Vietnam, Thailand, England, Scotland, Ireland, Wales and the United States. A man with a seemingly unquenchable thirst for adventure, Andrew rides motorcycles, go-karts and jet-skis in his spare time. Andrew started and operates a pool and transport business. His is the only accessible truck driving instructor business in Australia and he has trained seven paraplegics to drive semi trailers and road trains. 

Photograph of Andrew Meddings

Yvette Smith is a disability advocate. In 2006, after an accident while rescuing her dog Russ, Yvette became a paraplegic. Seven years on, Yvette has found herself striving to reclaim the things that truly made her who she was before her accident. Having undergone years of recovery, rehabilitation, stress and sickness, Yvette is now in good health and is enjoying rediscovering her independence. Yvette admits she is a typically stubborn Taurus and rejects the phrase ‘disability’ instead preferring to explore, ‘how able?’ In 2013, she participated in the Youngcare Budgie Bolt, a five-kilometre run through Sydney which raises money for young people living in residential aged care.

Photograph of Yvette Smith

Young-Joo Byun is an actor, dancer, ‘Sign ‘n’ Sing’ performer and presenter. She is a tireless advocate of deaf culture and Korean culture. Young-Joo is a traditional Korean dancer who performs to promote awareness of Auslan and of people with hearing impairment. She has appeared on ABC TV’s Play School and is a member of the Inclusion Disability Advisory panel for the City of Sydney. In 2007, Young-Joo received the first Australian-Korean Women’s Day Award in recognition of her work with deaf and hearing-impaired communities. In 2013, she received the Austral-Korean Cultural Art Award. Young-Joo is an international ambassador for the Deaf Ministries International in Australia.

Photograph of Young-Joo Byun

Mike Smith was born prematurely, causing blindness, epilepsy and dyspraxia. He is proud to be an accomplished Braille reader. Music is Mike’s life. He currently plays keyboard in a band called The Bridge, made up of musicians both with and without disability. This year, the band has travelled to Europe to play at a number of festivals in Poland and the Ukraine. Mike writes much of the music the band plays and he has undertaken work experience at BAY FM and 2AAA FM radio stations. He has collaborated with two different musical artists to record one blues and one reggae album.

Mike Smith

Prue McCarthy was born with cerebral palsy and became one of the first people with disability to enter mainstream education within the Orange area by attending Clare Public School. She went on to attend Orange High School, finishing her HSC in 1992, and receiving the School Principal’s Award. In 1999, Prue has a degree in Social Science and is currently undertaking a law degree. Prue has bought her own house, in which she lives and cares for her 87-year-old grandmother. In 1987 she won the Australia Day Young Citizen of the year award. With a zest for travel, Prue has been to the UK, Ireland, Europe, Malaysia, Indonesia as well as exploring a large chunk of Australia. Next year, she plans to take on Africa. Prue works part-time at the Cerebral Palsy Alliance.

Photograph of Prue McCarthy

Liam Luff is a 15-year-old wheelchair track and road athlete. Although he’s only been training since July 2012, he recently made first place in the national championships in the 100m, 200m, and 400m for the T34 category. Currently in year 10 at Port Hacking High School, Liam wants to study finance after he graduates. He likes playing basketball, hanging out with friends and watching movies. At the moment he is enjoying making his way through George RR Martin’s Game of Thrones novels. Liam has had hereditary spastic paraplegia since birth, which affects his legs..

Photograph of Liam Luff

Shu-Hua Chan was born in Hong Kong and moved to Sydney with her parents when she was 13 years old. A woman of words, she is fluent in English, Mandarin and Cantonese. Languages give her creative ways of thinking and communicating and she uses this in her advocacy work. Having studied ceramics, cooking, office skills and retail, Shu knew she would be happier in open employment. She has been employed by the Multicultural Disability Advocacy Association (MDAA) as an administration assistant for 10 years. Through her work at the NSW Council for Intellectual Disability, and Community Voices with MDAA, Shu encourages many people to speak out for change. Shu loves walking, knitting, reading, art and meeting friends. She has an intellectual disability.

Photograph of Shu-Hua Chan

Tom Ferguson has been a volunteer at the Central Coast Disability Network for over 20 years. He has sat on its board, worked in the office and is now the facilitator for its Disability Advocacy Group. Tom has cerebral palsy, limited speech and mobility, but does not identify these as being a barrier to him giving to his community. He is a compassionate man and is enthusiastic about education. At the moment he is working on a project where he will speak to year 10 students at risk of dropping out of school. He hopes to instil a ‘can do’ attitude in the students and will focus on how to overcome obstacles. Last year, Tom competed in the national titles for Boccia in team NSW where they were awarded first place. In the future, Tom would to go into advocacy so he can help people with disability to exercise their rights. His main passion is accommodation for people with disability.

Photograph of Tom Ferguson

Jo Berry, 27 years old, has severe connective tissue dysplasia, which affects her entire body. Between the ages of 13 and 23, Jo went from walking, to walking sticks, to wheelchair. After adapting to life with a disability Jo was determined to finish her HSC and study social work at university. In 2010, Jo graduated with a Bachelor of Social Work (with first class honours). During her time at university, she was an active member of the social work and disability advisory committees and student support services. It was the beginning of Jo realising her passion for advocacy. Jo currently works part-time for Fighting Chance Australia, an organisation that pioneers new ways of offering employment, training and social opportunities to people with significant disability.

Photograph of Jo Berry

George Ayoub is 49 years old, and has been a quadriplegic for 47 of those years. He came from Lebanon with his family in 1967 and attended a special school in Kingswood. George established the Push and Power Sports Association in 1983, an organisation that provides specially modified mainstream support for people with disability. Joining the Physical Disability Council in 1995, George worked as a consultant to help establish Physical Disability Councils in five other states and territories. In 2001, he began work at the Multicultural Disability Advocacy Association of NSW as an advocate and IT support worker. George taught at TAFE for four years, specialising in disability studies. He is passionate about creating socially inclusive communities as well as addressing issues faced by people with disability who are from culturally diverse backgrounds.

Photograph of George Ayoub

Jacqui Meyers is a multidisciplinary artist who lives in Wagga Wagga with her husband Kane and Barney her Jack Russell dog. Jacqui and Kane married in 2007, having been childhood sweethearts since kindergarten. Her talent in the arts extends to painting, drawing, textiles, paper craft and performing. She is currently part of an exhibition at Wagga Wagga Art Gallery called 8 Artists, which is a project that saw emerging and established artists with and without disability collaborating together. Jacqui has also played leading roles in the All Abilities Theatre Company and has starred in the short film Love Ability. Jacqui has Down syndrome.

Photograph of Jacqui Meyers

David Napier says, ‘disability does not confine nor define me’ and that in many ways, his disability has been a blessing. He has been able to meet some of the most amazing and inspirational people on the planet and become a significant person in his grandchildren’s lives. David has a rare combination of Stiff Person Syndrome and Isaac’s Syndrome. He has a chin-controlled wheelchair he calls ‘The Beast’. He is the treasurer of the Camden Stroke Recovery Club, which he started with friends over seven years ago. He has also been a member of the Camden Council Access Advisory Group since its inception. David is the instigator behind Access Friendly, a grants program recently adopted by Camden Council to fund local businesses to install ramps in their entryways to make them accessible.

Photograph of David Napier

Donna Purcell is a Diversity Manager at Commonwealth Bank responsible for developing the Group’s approach to disability access and inclusion for customers and employees with disability. Donna previously worked as the Cancer Council NSW’s Volunteer Program Manager responsible for strategic development and engagement of volunteers across NSW. As a person who is blind, Donna is passionate about creating opportunities for people with disability to be part of an all-inclusive society with equity of access to education and employment. Donna has been married to husband Ric for seven years and is step-mother to daughters Renee and Rebecca. She has a penchant for antique and vintage homewares and has a collection of over 3000 pieces of vintage clothing and accessories.

Photograph of Donna Purcell

Jake Briggs is a 28-year-old Aboriginal man from the Central Coast. He became a quadriplegic after a diving accident in 2010. Jake is an assistant contracts administrator for Brookfield Multiplex construction company and a qualified carpenter. He says he has a lot of career goals ahead of him in the building industry even if he’s not swinging a hammer anymore. Jake is also the chairman of the Aboriginal Disability Network of NSW, which he is very proud to be a part of, as a Wonnarua/Kamilaroi man. He says it is really rewarding trying to build better outcomes for Aboriginal people with a disability.

Photograph of Jake Briggs

Lucy Reynhout has Soto syndrome and a moderate intellectual impairment. Lucy attends St Edmund’s School in Wahroonga, where she is School Captain. Currently finishing her HSC Lifeskills course and approaching the end of her school years, Lucy looks to the future with excitement. She recently learned to travel independently and relishes the freedom that comes with it. Lucy is currently doing work experience in the finance department of a large automotive business. Like any teenager, Lucy loves music, dancing and hanging out with friends. She also enjoys swimming and golf, having been named last year’s Upper North Shore Sydney Region Golf Athlete of the Year.

Photograph of Lucy-Reynhout

Darien Brown was diagnosed as severely autistic at the age of three. Despite refusing all efforts made by teachers and his parents to read to him, he was determined to teach himself to read. He similarly taught himself computing skills and music. At the age of eight, Darien discovered and embraced comedy. As a stand-up comedian, Darien cites Buster Keaton, Monty Python and Spike Milligan among his influences. Autism gifted Darien with a unique voice and perspective. In 2013, Darien launched himself in a one-man show at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival. He is also an accomplished singer, dancer, musician and impressionist.


Photograph of Darien Brown

See some of our ambassadors from past campaigns

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