From paraplegia to public sector: Jane Spring recognised for disability work

Posted 10 months ago by David McManus
The advocate has played a key role in advancing the rights and roles that people with disabilities play in the nation. (Source: Supplied)
The advocate has played a key role in advancing the rights and roles that people with disabilities play in the nation. (Source: Supplied)

After decades of work on behalf of Australians with disability, public sector advocate Jane Spring has been appointed to the Order of Australia (AM).

Jane Spring’s work has been foundational for disability advocacy in Australia, leading to her appointment as Chair of Sydney University Sport and Fitness — the first woman and first person with disability to hold the position.

“There are very few people with disabilities in leadership roles in Australia. As a paraplegic person using a wheelchair, I am highly visible, but also privileged to be able to advocate for a more inclusive society,” says Ms Spring.

“Through my work in government, in sport or on boards, I am always asking the question — do our services, our infrastructure and our institutions effectively enable people with disability to participate and to thrive?” 

Inspired by an interest in disability-inclusive communities, Ms Spring says she wants more people with disabilities to be able to live their lives, regardless of any physical impairments they may have.

“I want more people to be able to excel in their careers, to travel unimpeded, to experience the thrill of competitive sport or enjoy music, art and culture,” Ms Spring adds. 

“One thing I am particularly passionate about is ocean swimming. I want to see more Australian beaches [sic] accessible to people with disability, so that they too can experience the best life has to offer.” 

With a rich family history of public service which dates back to the middle of the 19th century, Ms Spring says, “I felt truly honoured to be considered for recognition in the Order of Australia. The importance of giving back to the community was instilled in me at a young age.” 

Jane is appreciative of the leaders in disability medicine, such as Dr John Yeo AO and Dr Sue Rutkowski. She says that people like them are making it possible for her to lead a healthy and fulfilling life following a major car accident that caused paraplegia in 1990.

Ms Spring extends her thanks to leaders such as Mick Garnett, Chief Executive Officer of Wheelchair Sport NSW/ACT, whose work creates opportunities for people with disabilities to enjoy sport with their friends and for children to join the wheelchair sport community and be mentored and coached by their heroes.

“Romilly Madew AO has boosted me and worked hard to enable me to swim in the ocean — our first race on the day of my 50th birthday in 2013 was the start of my favourite activity,” she says.

The life and legacy of Jane Spring is a testament to the change a person can enact, yet she has never lost sight of those who helped her to get where she is today. In particular, Lorraine Landon OAM from Basketball Australia assisted Ms Spring, during her time on the Board of Wheelchair Sports Australia to establish a national competition for women’s wheelchair basketball.

“ [I would like to thank] my husband Murray Clarke OAM who drove change to Rowing NSW regattas to achieve gender parity in races for men and women at regattas,” she concludes.