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Focus on ability

Disability advocate Dylan Alcott is working with corporations to create a more understanding and inclusive society.

Fresh from winning the Australian Open 2018 Wheelchair Championship, Dylan Alcott is already planning his next sporting conquest: “Banging on the whites and hopefully winning Wimbledon for Australia.”

Dylan, who lives in Melbourne, was born with a tumour wrapped around his spinal cord. During his 27 years he has overcome physical and mental hurdles to become a triple Paralympic gold medallist. It’s clear this inspiring, energetic young man is also chasing even bigger goals – societal change for one.

Dylan co-founded advocacy and training organisation Get Skilled Access in late 2006 to work with governments and corporations to improve their understanding of disability, their customer service and products, and to employ people with disabilities.

Get Skilled Access employs Paralympians to train organisations, believing that successful athletes who have achieved their goals are in an ideal position to influence others.

“In the past it has always been able-bodied people speaking to other able-bodied people about how to understand people with disabilities. And I really want to empower people with disabilities to have their own voice and tell people what they need,” he says.

“Everyone is too scared to ask questions. No-one wants to offend anyone.

“What we’re doing is breaking down those barriers. I call it normalising disability to make it more comfortable for people until they do feel they can ask these questions and gain an understanding.”

Dylan says able-bodied employees often feel it is politically incorrect to ask questions about disability. “So in the end nothing happens … and that’s a real bummer. It alienates people with disabilities even more because they are left out, they aren’t involved. And the products and services aren’t what they want because everyone’s too afraid to ask questions.

“So my ambition … my whole life … is I want to influence people to be more comfortable about disability.”

Australian Unity is one of the companies Dylan works with and he was invited to participate in a panel on the 2017 International Day of People with Disability in early December. Other panel members included Australian Unity clients Holly Sultana, 13, born with a disorder that severely affects her movement, muscles and joints, and comedian Tim Ferguson, who is living with MS (multiple sclerosis).

“I am really impressed with the work that Australian Unity is doing,” Dylan says. “We’re going to work with them to go through their disability action plan to look at the organisation and the way they can get better in the disability and accessibility space.”

Dylan says his sporting achievements have given him a voice to speak to people with and without disability. “Not everyone can win a grand slam, an Olympic gold medal or whatever it is, but the thing I am most proud of is that through sport I have tried to really change the way people perceive people with disabilities — and also able-bodied people – to inspire them to do whatever they want to do.”

Ten years ago, the only people who turned up to watch his tennis matches were his parents and brother.

“One million people watched [his Australian Open final] live on TV and there were 10,000 people in the stadium,” he says. “If you’d told me that 10 years ago, there’s no way I would have believed that would happen.

“But the best part was seeing hundreds of kids with disabilities there … more kids with disability than I have ever seen in my life in one spot … how cool is that?
“It just goes to show that their life’s not over because they are disabled. You might not win the Australian Open, but you can still get fit, have friends, get a job, get a girlfriend, get a boyfriend, live the life that you want to live. That’s one of the things that gets me out of bed every day.

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