Being the chairman of the Aboriginal Disability Network of NSW (ADN) brings a great feeling of pride and honour to represent on this level with my other colleagues as a collective voice on behalf of indigenous Australians with a disability.
One opportunity that arose through the ADN was a portrait photo session with Belinda Mason, an Australian world renowned photographer to be in her exhibition of indigenous Australians with a disability titled Unfinished Business.
This led to me getting a call to represent the exhibition on its first stop in the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland for a week with my wife Amy, and Luke O’Connell, an ADN representative.
When I told Amy, my fiancée at the time, she was ecstatic with joy and suggested we drop our wedding plans for the 30 November this year and elope overseas.So we planned to extend the trip for a further two weeks, one in Florence, Italy and another in Paris, France.
Before the trip, the whole idea of how we were going to deal with being on a plane for 20-odd hours, using foreign disability hire equipment, the functionality of our hotel rooms, my wheelchair coping in thousand-year-old cities with cobblestones and general access, etc.
We hadn’t really done anything like this in Australia – let alone overseas – since I’ve been in a wheelchair, but it all worked out in the end and I wouldn’t have changed a thing. I could count on one hand the amount of times where access was an issue (generally out on the streets), but don’t get me wrong – it was a bit bumpy here and there and a lot of restaurants in all three countries have outside dining if you can’t get in.
The United Nations was an eye-opener, seeing all the people from different walks of life in there for various reasons. For example, the US Secretary of State John Kerry was there handling the Syria issues
The exhibition itself was an awesome display with the lit-up 3D lenticular prints and so many powerful stories accompanying the portraits.
I ran into Ellen Walker from the International Disability Alliance (www.internationaldisabilityalliance.org/en) and we sat down and wrote down a resolution together on indigenous peoples with a disability, which will hopefully that pass the next council.
Florence, Italy was the highlight because I got to marry Amy my partner of 12 years up on Piazzale Michelangelo, overlooking the whole city of Florence. It was magic. The city, food, people, hospitality, architecture and art set the bar. The grotto on the back of our hotel was where Michelangelo studied as a nine-year-old boy in the first school of arts in the world.
Paris, France was amazing – so flat and smooth. We would walk/roll to a destination then all throughout Paris they have bike port stations, so we ride back to the hotel. The look on some people’s faces with me zooming through Paris with my lights on and Amy tailing behind was funny. At most destinations, like the Louvre or Eiffel Tower, I would get shown to the front of the line, which was great, especially to see the Mona Lisa painting where being in a wheelchair you have your own viewing section right up close.
It was a great experience and we are already conjuring up our next trip.
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.