And now, at last, a short preview of the film documenting some of the conversations I had about disability leadership during my trip to the UK. I will be travelling around the country showing the full-length film and talking about learnings from my trip over the next few months, so stay tuned for details. I’d love to see you there!! For now, enjoy and feel free to share.
Thanks to Blind Citizens Australia for their ongoing interest in my UK experience and particularly to Rikki Chaplin for inviting me to do this interview. Enjoy! Oh, and the film is almost completed, so watch this space!
Now that I have returned home, I thought a final post would be in order. My last few days in London were exactly what I needed. Not wanting to over-dramatise, I’m almost certain I wouldn’t have made it home without them. My time was spent with a good friend as mentioned in my previous post. We had a beautiful high tea, caught up with friends and family from Australia and saw “Matilda The Musical”. We, or more accurately, mostly Angela, also faced up to the very daunting task of packing my suitcase, which, whilst huge, was almost not huge enough to hold the insane number of presents I had bought for my children. The process essentially consisted of me producing seemingly endless items and then lamenting the fact that I had bought so many presents in an attempt to assuage my guilt at being away. Angela on the other hand remained her customary calm self and managed to fit everything in. There were some tearful farewells with friends and family, and plenty of promises that I would be back soon. (Not sure my bank balance is quite up to the task after all those presents though!)
After a very stressful taxi delay, we managed to make it to Heathrow just in time. My meet and assist experience this time was incredibly respectful and efficient all the way through to Hobart. I managed to get some sleep on all three sectors, which has made recovering easier.
It has been an indescribable relief to see my family and speak with family, friends and colleagues in recent days via phone. You’ll be pleased to know I have returned to sensible parenting and have been rationing the presents over several days. The kids are loving it. I must mention that in one of my first conversations with my daughter, she thanked me for buying her presents, but said she wished she had presents for me too. I thought that was impressive for a six-year-old!
Now that I’m home, I have really had time to take stock of the extraordinary opportunities I have had over the past month. I hesitate to mention any particular highlights, there are so many. But in general, the message I have taken away is that really high-quality access, whether that be to employment and on-the-job assistance, to leadership opportunities, to mentoring and training or to art work is critical to increasing expectations of people with disability and of society in general about the contribution we can and should make. That’s a very brief summary, you’ll have to wait for the film to find out more.
Finally, a few people and organisations I really want to thank. First and foremost, the Australia Council for making this opportunity possible. It has changed my life and will undoubtedly shape my future leadership journey, so thank you so much! The numerous people who have so generously given of their time and expertise to contribute to my learning and to the film I am making, I can’t thank you enough for the thought-provoking conversations we have had. To those who I tried to meet with and for various reasons beyond my control, was unable to do so, (you know who you are) I will be in touch to organise alternate ways for us to connect. Arts Access Australia board and staff for your unwavering support of me in undertaking this project, words are not enough to express my appreciation. Gaelle Mellis for convincing me to do this in the first place and for supporting me in too many ways to mention throughout. Family, friends and colleagues here and in the UK and Ireland for your incredible support. Finally, to my husband Vaughn who really has had the more difficult role in all this and has kept everyone, including me safe, well and happy, you are one in a million.
Thanks to all of you for reading and for encouraging me to keep posting. I have enjoyed keeping this blog very much and it will be great to look back on in the future. Obviously this is not the end of it, only of this particular journey. I will continue to post updates on the film and on leadership generally. So thank you again and stay tuned.
Well, so much for my commitment to more regular posts last week – clearly that worked well. I have no real excuse other than thte fact that I was so busy attending the Unlimited Festival at the Southbank Centre. Still, I thought I’d share a few observations with you now. I guess it’s better late than never.
The festival was really excellent on the whole. The experience of seeing work by artists with disability in such a high profile venue and being enjoyed by such a huge and diverse population was extraordinary in itself and Wendy Martin, CEO of the Southbank Centre is to be congratulated for her willingness to embrace it. (She is also a fellow Australian!) Generally I have also been really impressed with the quality of the work I’ve seen. Most of it had strong production values and was multi-layered and well developed to appeal to a broad audience. I laughed and cried regularly, some of the work was so beautiful and very moving and needs to be seen in Australia. In terms of access, I experienced the best and worst of it this week.
In the first show I saw, “The Dinner Party Revisited”, I had quite a traumatic audio description experience. The show was meant to subvert and make the audience uncomfortable, but in doing so, it rendered the audio description useless. The describer was an actor, not a trained describer and was doing things like describing the dialogue rather than the action. I eventually gave up on it in favour of Gaelle’s audio description which I have to say was pretty excellent! In contrast, I also saw many shows where the audio description was either part of the show and available to everyone or professionally delivered via a headset. I also had the most accessible (and hilarious) touch tour I’ve ever had prior to seeing Julie McNamara’s play “Let Me Stay”.
During the festival there were also plenty of opportunities for networking. I also continued to film interviews on disability leadership while I was there. I have made some excellent contacts and look forward to keeping in touch with many people. It was also lovely to reconnect with some Australian friends and colleagues.
Having said all that, I need to fess up to the fact that in the midst of all this I was having a pretty difficult week. I have been missing my kids loads and as exhaustion has increased, my ability to manage my response to that has decreased which has served to make me more exhausted and anxious. Consequently I have needed to miss some events in order to rest and have attended others where my mind has been in Australia. We also had a very unfortunate experience when the film maker who I am working with had her bag stolen which contained both sound and camera equipment and her personal belongings. It is a measure of her professionalism that she was more concerned about my film footage being lost than about her own losses. I can’t thank family, friends and colleagues here and at home enough for putting up with and supporting me this week, it has meant everything to me and has made all the difference.
Yesterday was my son’s 11th Birthday, so that was particularly difficult, but it is behind us now. Gaelle also left yesterday for the US. I have now been joined by one of my closest friends Angela Jaeschke, who some of you will know from her work with Acces Arts in Brisbane. I am looking forward to a few days of relaxation before I leave for home, family, work and of course, a massive film editing task ahead.
So it’s been a difficult but life-changing week. I have learned so much and am very glad I had the opportunity to see the festival. I look forward to the day when we can have an accessible festival showcasing high-quality work by artists with disability in a significant Australian venue. Let’s hope it will be sooner rather than later.
This week has been so full of exciting firsts that I have no idea where to begin. Ideally, I could fill at least three posts on it, but my energy levels don’t allow for that at present. In fact, I have to say that I am quite exhausted, but pleasantly so as long as I don’t have to deal with technological malfunctions, in which case it would seem I have a melt down. Tonight’s episode was in relation to PayPal, but I won’t bore you with the details, it’s all fine now that I’ve had coke.
This week began with a bank holiday in the UK which gave us the opportunity to hang out with some excellent artists and drink wine. On Tuesday, thanks to an old friend, I had the opportunity to visit the BBC and observe the recording of In Touch, a program about blindness and visual impairment which airs on Radio 4 each week. I also had the opportunity to meet the presenter. While there, it was fascinating to speak with people with disability who work at the BBC about how the organisation provides training, career pathways and on the job support to people with disability. Australian networks could learn a lot from this approach and I look forward to sharing my observations with them when I return home.
On Wednesday we went to Dublin. Our trip began in a rather lack luster manner, as both of us began the morning feeling quite up beat, but as soon as we entered Heathrow airport, began feeling incredibly sleepy. It was as though someone had put sleeping gas in the air-conditioning systems. Consequently, we remember little of the flight, so nothing to report there! After settling into our hotel and becoming aware that we had no mobile credit available to us in Ireland, we headed off to meet with the staff of Arts and Disability Ireland that the launch of their Disability Connect Awards scheme. The awards support the creation of new work, training and mentoring opportunities. Seven artists received awards. I was invited to be a guest speaker at the awards. I hope to share the speeches via my Audioboo account which you can find a link to on this page, providing I can figure out how to get the recording off my phone, (another technological challenge which appears beyond me today!)
On Thursday we spent some time with Executive Director of Arts and Disability Ireland, Padraig Nauton who we talked to at length on everything from audio description and captioning to audience development and of course, (you guessed it), leadership.
On Friday we were invited to be guests on a radio program which Padraig was presenting about the Arts and Disability Conect Awards. We spoke about the importance of raising the public profile of artists with disability and Padraig included some of my music as well as that of fantastic Australian band “Rudely Interrupted”. If you don’t know about them, Google them and enjoy! We also talked about Back to Back Theatre and their upcoming visit to Ireland. We had originally planned to remain in Ireland for the weekend, but decided to return to London on Friday evening so we could go to the Lord Mayor’s Libterty Festival, showcasing the work of disabled artists. I’m very glad we went. It was a fantastic experience both in terms of the work I saw and the access. I had access to audio description through a headset when I needed it and sighted guide as well. The audio description was quite different to what I’m used to in Australia, done in a more performative style and in a more expressive fashion which actually added another layer to the description and made the dance work in particular easier to follow for me. If you want to check out the program, and some of the work we saw, visit:
After the festival we had farewell drinks with Gaelle’s sister Tania and her daughter as they flew to the US today. We were sad to see them go and have appreciated their welcoming hospitality – nothing has been too much trouble!
Today I experienced a few more firsts which, along with on-demand audio description and a whole host of others are going to make the UK harder to leave. I spent the first part of the day with my Cousin Jason checking out the sights of London, oh and that necessitated my second solo bus trip, (I am in love with talking buses!!) Jason has lived here for 14 years, so is brilliant at guided tours. I have enjoyed reconnecting with him very much and he has made a huge effort to prioritise our catch ups!
This afternoon I caught up with Lee, my friend who works at the BBC for a shopping experience I will never forget, not sure my bank banlance will ever forget it either. We went to Debenhams where we spent over two hours with personal shoppers to find clothes. Both of us are blind, so the opportunity to have someone to assist with this as a free service was quite extraordinary. It clearly had an impact on me, I came away with more clothes than I’ve ever bought in my life, including some for my children!
I have never experienced anything like this level of service in Australia. No standing around waiting for someone to notice we existed and no waiting for twenty minutes until someone was available to assist. It took all the trauma I normally associate with clothes shopping away in the same way that talking buses have removed my very real fear of bus travel and audio description on demand has removed my constant certainty that I am missing something when I attend festivals and can only see particular events with audio description at designated times.
So a very full but satisfying week it has been with so much to digest and no time to do so now. I must add that there have been some difficult moments too when I desperately wanted to see my husband and children, like the fact that my daughter got a certificate on assembly and that my son got positive feedback on his school work. My daughter who is 6 has become very confused about where I actually am, (I know how she feels at times!). The other day she asked,
Mum, are you travelling all around the world today?” and “Mum, can you put me to bed now please?” But as some very wise people have commented to me, my kids will ultimately benefit from the fact that I am doing this and I will be back with them before I know it. So for now, I am trying hard to stay firmly in the moment. Family, friends and colleagues here and at home are making that possible.
This week we attend the Unlimited Festival at the Southbank Centre. I’m looking forward to it very much. I have many people I am hoping to meet and film during the festival as well. I will try to post shorter and more regular updates next week, but make no guarantees. Thanks to all those who have provided feedback on this blog, I really appreciate you reading and sharing your thoughts and I look forward to hearing more of them.
The title really sums up my weekend. For those of you who are already getting ready to click away, assuming this post has nothing at all to do with the actual subject of this blog, disability leadership, I promise it has everything to do with that, trust me!
This weekend I had the opportunity to visit my cousins Peter and Audrey. I first met them some 25 years ago when they stayed with our family in Australia when I was 12 years old. During that trip, we spent a lot of time together, me playing the piano and singing for them and them attempting to skill me up in the Yorkshire dialect, (I’m a slow learner where that’s concerned.) Anyway, towards the end of their visit, I came home one day and was presented with a keyboard. I had never had one of my own before and had always dreamed that one day I’d wake up on Christmas morning to find one waiting for me. But instead, these wonderful, warm and generous people whom I hardly knew had given me this gift just because they could, just because they felt moved to do so.
I have never forgotten that gift and I have never forgotten them. It, along with many other small milestones and generosities by family, friends and colleagues has been one of the reasons I do what I do as a leader. I understand the power of seeing potential and enabling it and I understand the power of sharing knowledge and resources. So I could never have visited the UK without visiting them. I was unsure how we would reconnect after 25 years, but I needn’t have worried.
We had a wonderful time together and lots of laughter. I also met their daughter Lindsey and her sons for the first time as well as catching up with their son Richard and his wife Pam who I had met in 2008 when they visited Australia. We had a wonderful celebration for Richard’s 50th Birthday.
So I have learned some things from all this. I will never let years of distance be an excuse for not reconnecting with people I care about and I have confirmed that blood really is thicker than water. On a logistical note, I also learned that the British do train travel incredibly well. The assistance I received was excellent, apart from a rather bizarre experience of being guided to sit in a seat reserved for someone else. (Luckily the gentleman in question was understanding and helpful.)
I finished the weekend by continuing the family theme and catching up with my cousin Jason. I saw him last weekend as well, but it was lovely to chat with him now that I am free from jet lag. The week ahead includes meetings at the BBC and a visit to Arts and Disability Ireland as well as more opportunities to talk with individuals. I can’t wait!!
My first few days here have been hectic, but definitely rewarding on so many levels. It may sound strange, given I have travelled thousands of miles across the world, but one of the highlights has been spending face-to-face time with Gaelle Mellis who is travelling with me. Not only has it been lovely to reconnect, it has also been incredibly helpful to have someone travelling with me who has been to the UK before, knows London and has an extraordinary range of connections here. I feel very privileged.
One of my goals for this trip is to make sure I can share the highlights so others can learn from the leadership journeys of experienced leaders with disability. So I have been working with a wonderful film maker who is doing a great job of capturing the conversations. So far, I have been intrigued by the early themes which I have noticed are emerging. For instance, the critical role of mentors with and without disability, the importance of the Access to Work scheme which provides individualised support and equipment for people with disability in the UK to supporting leaders and concerns about the recent cuts which have occurred. My strongest response though has been a sense of relief that there are so many leaders with disability in the UK who are just getting on with the job and clearly doing so extremely successfully. It is one thing to read about this on a website, but quite another to witness it in action. This equally strengthens my conviction that this is both possible and necessary in Australia.
In addition to meeting with some really fascinating people, I have also been enjoying listening to lots of interesting accents and musing on the importance of British post codes to enable taxi drivers to navigate amongst other things. The taxis are so different here and the drivers really are very helpful. I have also had the opportunity to catch up with a couple of good friends from Australia for dinner.
But the final word for this post must be about Gaelle’s sister, who has opened her home to us. Before she leaves us for America next week, she has gone to really extraordinary lengths to make my life easier. For example, I have a truly woeful sense of direction and seem unable to figure out which side of the island bench in the kitchen is closest to my bedroom. I’d like to blame jet lag, but nobody who knows me would let me get away with that. I explained that this situation is perfectly normal and that I would be fine in a few days. But she decided to fast track my orientation by taping a marble to one corner of the bench and a bolt to the other so I could easily tell which way to go. That’s a level of access I’ve never encountered in a house before – I was impressed!
I am looking forward to spending the weekend with family and then another week of meetings in the UK and Ireland.