International Day of People with Disability (IDPWD) is tomorrow, a time to increase public awareness and creating space for everyone to understand and accept people living with all kinds of disabilities.
Disability advocates and ambassadors were picked to tell their stories of how they live with their disabilities for this IDPWD, and one of those ambassadors includes presenter, educator, and disability and gender equity activist, Akii Ngo.
With a long list of professional roles and positions, such as Accessibility Manager at Sydney World Pride, Senior Co-Design and Engagement Officer at the Victorian Disability Council and fashion model, Mx Ngo is proof that living with a disability shouldn’t stop you from achieving everything you want in life.
Mx Ngo looks at IDPWD as a day to encourage recognition and celebration, and highlight the achievements of people living with disabilities.
“[Tomorrow is about] showing that there is nothing ‘wrong’ with disability and you can live a beautiful fulfilling life of your choosing and your destiny, especially in a world without ableism and with accessibility,” they say.
“Being an advocate and activist is important to me because of my ability to represent the diversity within the community – to show the world that disabled can be powerful, unique, strength, resilient, adaptable and problem solvers – rather than ‘problems’ to be solved.”
Other disability advocates have highlighted why IDPWD needs to be celebrated. Uncle Willie Prince, another IDPWD ambassador living with cerebral palsy, believes the awareness day is incredibly important for the community.
He views the day as an opportunity to give people with disabilities the chance to “showcase our abilities, not our disabilities”.
A proud Aboriginal man who was removed from the Aboriginal mission of Cherbourg for treatment as a baby and then put up for adoption, Mr Prince sees himself as having a “double disadvantage”.
“I’m Aboriginal, and I have a disability,” he says.
“[But] I am a proud Aboriginal man with a disability… My Aboriginality is more me, not my disability.
“So, when I introduce myself to people, I am a proud Indigenous man with a disability, not, ‘a man with a disability and I’m Aboriginal’.”
Representation is important for the wider disability community
Now a strong advocate for themselves and others like them, Mx Ngo is especially passionate about violence prevention and gender equity advocacy within the disability space as they have experienced all forms of violence.
Just earlier this year, Mx Ngo was accidentally thrown out of their wheelchair and sustained a concussion, torn ligaments and a cracked rib while being pushed off of a plane by an airline crew member on their way back from Australian Fashion Week.
Instead of apologising, Mx Ngo told Daily Mail Australia the crew member allegedly became “defensive”, blaming them for the incident even though safety measures such as armrests or seatbelts were not used while they were being wheeled off of the plane.
This incident has only caused them to push harder for the consideration, acceptance and respect of those in the disability community through their advocacy work and professional positions within the sector.
Not letting it get the best of them, Mx Ngo has since been involved in an awareness and inclusion campaign by Australian fashion label, Sportsgirl, called ‘SG BY ME’.
They said that the campaign made them understand how much of a positive effect representation can have on other people with disability.
“It was just me front and centre with my wheelchair in all of these windows in this mainstream store… They weren’t trying to hide my chair, they weren’t trying to hide any aspect of me,” they say.
“People messaged me and they said that was the first time they’d ever seen anyone that looked like them represented.
“Positive genuine, diverse and non-tokenistic disability representation in all areas of our society – employment, media, fashion, beauty and politics is so crucial to show the world we can be so unique, beautiful, wonderful and active members of our society and communities!”
Fellow ambassador, actor and author living with Autism, Chloe Hayden, also speaks of the importance of representation in media – particularly social media.
Ms Hayden says social media give people with disabilities the chance to have a voice, while also actively changing the way that people view disabilities.
“Social media has a massive impact on the way that we view things… We’ve been left out of traditional media for our entire lives,” she explains.
“Reaching people that may otherwise have never heard about certain disabilities or had access to learning about certain disabilities, and just had access to unlearning and relearning what disabled people are like and what our experiences are.
“If I saw one person that was like me in the media, I wouldn’t have thought that I wasn’t supposed to be here.”
Mx Ngo, Mr Prince and Ms Hayden all speak of the importance of getting the general public involved in IDPWD to show those in the disability community that they are accepted and welcomed.
To view the full list of this year’s ambassadors and to hear their stories, or to find an IDPWD event near you, visit the International Day of People with Disability website.