Safeguarding the future conference - Canberra, 23-24 May 2024

The Australian national flag

Congratulations to Dylan Alcott – Australian of the Year 2022

On Wednesday, 26 January 2022, athlete, Paralympian, philanthropist, media commentator and advocate Dylan Alcott became our Australian of the Year for 2022, and we couldn’t be more excited! He’s a powerful advocate for the rights of people with disability to live a good life and to have authentic access to everything that encompasses.

This is the first time in the award’s 62-year history that a person with a visible disability has received this honour.

In his acceptance speech, Alcott captured the essence of so many of the principles that we embrace here at Imagine More.

Here are some of our favourite parts of his speech: you can read the full address here.

What he said about his purpose

“My purpose is changing perceptions so people with disability, people like me, can get out there and live the lives that they deserve to live”.

Perceptions of others are powerful as we know unconscious bias can lead to low expectations of people with disability.  It’s exciting that the Australian of the Year recognises this and is driven to change perceptions.

We also know that advocacy that draws on the framework of Social Role Valorisation can have very positive outcomes for people with disability.

A large part of the work we do at Imagine More is sharing stories about ordinary, positive, and typical life experiences where people are included in school, employment, home and relationships. Sharing stories allows people, both with and without disability, to see what’s possible.

What he said about helping people with disability to live their best lives

We’ve got to fund the NDIS, first and foremost, and listen to people with lived experience and ask them what they need so they can get out and start living the lives they want to live and remind ourselves that it is an investment in people with disabilities, so they can get off pensions and start paying taxes, just like their carers and their family members as well.

Alcott is talking about people with disability and their allies holding a powerful vision for a good life; one enriched with an abundance of typical and age-appropriate experiences.

The NDIS has undoubtedly changed lives, but we believe that funding alone isn’t the answer. Relationships and valued roles are so important to all of us, and it is no different for a person with disability.

We encourage people with disability to spend time creating their vision for a good life. When this is written down, shared with allies, and referred to often, it becomes a powerful tool for keeping everyone’s efforts focused on the desired outcome.

What he said about employment (hooray!)

We’ve got to keep improving more employment opportunities for people with a disability as well. Of those 4.5 million people, only 54 per cent of them are involved in the workforce.

The unemployment rate is double that of able-bodied people. Both figures haven’t moved in 30 years.

And, guess what? We’re not just ready to work, we’re ready to take your jobs, alright? We are coming. We are coming. But we’ve got to get those opportunities.

There are still way too many barriers to meaningful employment, especially for people with intellectual disability. Disability employment services tend to focus on “readiness” rather than actively helping people find valued and well-paid employment. Congregated, low-paid, and devalued workplaces are still the ‘go-to’ option for many people. Underemployment is still a considerable concern.

As Alcott said, people with disability are ready for work; they just need the opportunity. So let us know if you have a job opportunity for someone, and we can provide some ideas to take the next step.

We believe that the best time to get ready for valued employment is during high school. That’s why we’re so invested in our School to Work series of webinars and workshops. But it’s never too late to find a fulfilling work role.

What he said about people with disability having a seat at every table, and why this is good for all Australians

And lastly, we have to have greater representation of people with a disability absolutely everywhere. In our boardrooms, in our parliaments, in our mainstream schools, on our dating apps, on our sporting fields, in our universities, absolutely everywhere, so we get the opportunity to start living our lives just like everybody else and I promise you, you won’t just enrich the lives of us, but also yourselves in the process.

Research has consistently shown that authentic inclusion benefits everyone, not just people with disability.

What he said about the importance of always holding the highest expectations for people with disability

My advice is to you, non-disabled people. It’s time for you to challenge your unconscious biases, leave your negative perceptions at the door and lift your expectation of what you think people with disability can do. Because it’s always more than you think.

We couldn’t have said it any better!

We look forward to having a powerful advocate for people with disability in the spotlight throughout 2022. The timing couldn’t be better!