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Scholars hear from award-winning writer & disability advocate

Posted: 1 December 2023

Maldives, Sri Lanka, Disability, In Australia, Inclusion, Scholar,

Ahead of International Day of People with Disabilities, Carly Findlay OAM, an award-winning writer, speaker and appearance activist, spoke to Melbourne-based scholars at the Australia Awards Scholar Symposium on 24 November. The event was attended by 75 Australia Awards scholars, including 51 from South Asia & Mongolia, and was streamed online to enable all scholars and alumni to participate.

Carly, who identifies as a proud disabled woman, shared some reflections on her life’s journey, from being born with a lifelong genetic skin condition called ichthyosis form erythroderma, to growing up in small town Australia, going to university, and becoming a writer and disability advocate.

Carly addresses the Scholars Symposium.

She opened her remarks by welcoming the example of Sri Lankan alumna Dr Samitha Samanmali, who had used the networks she developed during her time as a scholar in Australia to benefit her work with fellow wheelchair users and amputees.

Carly spoke about the broad spectrum of disability and the ways in which people with disability face systematic discrimination. She noted the importance of shifting the binary perception stemming from mainstream media coverage of disability that disabled people were either abusing welfare entitlements or Paralympians, but rather to see them as an asset, good problem solvers, and valuable to society. She called on scholars, as emerging leaders, to remove disabling barriers that make life harder for disabled people, such as a lack of accessibility.

“The really important thing is to make spaces accessible and welcoming so that disabled people feel welcome, feel a part of society and feel like they can talk about their access needs and their disability if they would like to, and also go on to advocate for disability or whatever issue they want to advocate for… One of the really important things for you as leaders in all of your fields is to bring people into your spaces and have a look at who’s not in the room, and create space for those that are not. And the way to do that is create accessibility.”

Carly with other panellists (from right to left), Sri Lankan Consul-General Sandith Samarasinghe, Dr Simona Carbone, Carly Findlay OAM, Cassandra Fernando MP, panel facilitator and scholar Lam-ya Mostaque, and DFAT speaker Iris Yam

In providing advice to scholars on how to be allies and support disabled people, Carly highlighted the importance of listening to disabled people.

“You can listen to people’s experiences around disability and see that disability is not homogenous, that we all have different experiences.”

For International Day of Persons with Disabilities, Carly recommended that scholars read books written by disabled people and watch television programs produced with disabled people and then share the content with their networks. She advised disabled people to connect with others online and to consider membership of the Disability Leadership Institute

Five people sit on a stage, the one second from left speaking into a microphone while the others look towards her. In front of them is a table of 8 Australia Awards scholars

Carly speaking on the panel on the subject of Diversity in Leadership amongst Diverse Changemakers

Carly answered questions from scholars, including on artificial intelligence for disabled people, language around disability, and the rights of children with disability. She then participated in a panel with the subject of Diversity in Leadership amongst Diverse Changemakers.

After attending the event, Maldivian scholar Muawiyath (Muthu) M. Didi said “having the opportunity to meet Carly Findlay OAM was a highlight. Carly’s book and advocacy work have profoundly influenced my perspective on diversity and self-identity. The stories transcend borders and cultures, bringing light and understanding to many, including myself in the Maldives. This event reminded me of our diverse stories’ incredible strength and unity.”

Carly and Muthu after her address.

Carly and Muthu following her address.

Disability-first language has been used on this page in line with Ms Findlay’s preference