This week we meet the lovely Bridgett; a self confessed computer nerd and a lover of languages and live music.
Tell us a bit about you, your age, disability and current situation?
I’m 40 years old, I live in Adelaide’s western suburbs, but I grew up in Central Australia. I live with spina bifida, use a wheelchair part time, and walk some of the time. I’m also type 1 diabetic, diagnosed in 2000 – so happy new millennium to me, huh? I work part time in reception and admin, sometimes take on editing projects—from books to uni theses—as well as doing a bunch of advocacy work around NDIS, disability and ambulance services.
Tell us about your family and your background?
As I mentioned, I grew up in Central Australia, and I lived there till 2010. My youngest brother and parents still live there. My dad is originally from Perth, my mum is from Tasmania, and they met in Alice Springs in the 70s and have been there ever since. My parents owned a business for 30 years. I have family all over the country, so I’ve done a lot of interstate travel and seen some great things. I’ve worked in tourism, telemarketing, editing, admin … all sorts.
Do you enjoy living in Adelaide and what is the best thing about it?
YES! Adelaide is the perfect size – not too big, not to small, and it’s not 200-500km to the nearest decent-sized town! There is so much to do here and so many places close by to learn about. I also love being near the ocean and the beach. It’s a great place to go when I want to let my mind wander. One of my long-term goals is to get down on the beach – without another person needing to help me – and dipping my toes in the water whenever I want.
I moved to Adelaide to see what it was like living in a larger city, and to be closer to health services. It changed my life to learn more about my disability and to see what opportunities are out there and learn how other people manage things in their everyday lives. Some of the ways people adapt everyday tasks is just masterful!
Tell us what your interests are.
I’m a computer nerd, so I really enjoy figuring things out on computers, especially working with Excel and Word. I’m also very interested in languages. I speak some Indonesian, and I have a fascination with Old and Middle English. I love to get away for short stays whenever I can, and once the world goes back to ‘normal’ – whatever that is – I’d love to go to Egypt, New Zealand and Japan. I’d also love to get back to seeing live music again. I’ve seen over 50 concerts since I’ve lived here.
Have you been getting involved in your local community?
Yes. SA doesn’t have a spina bifida association anymore, so we have no formal central contact for people with spina bifida. So, I am one of the admins of our SA Spina Bifida News and Chat Facebook page. I have also just been elected as Assistant Co-chair for an SA Ambulance consumer committee. I have been working together with SA Ambulance to try and improve their policies and procedures around transporting wheelchairs. I’d like to try and find a gardening group I can go to and learn how to turn my black thumb into a green one.
What has been an achievement you’ve had?
When I was 15, I did a 10.5km hike into a gorge near Alice Springs. I was also the only NT representative for the National Junior Wheelchair Games in the 1990s, and from that I was nominated for the Paralympic development squad in archery and was nominated for Young Territorian of the Year in 1999. Unfortunately, neither of those things really panned out. My most recent achievement was being nominated for the Community Bridging Services Amelia Rix award, which is an award for showing spirit in finding and keeping a regular job in open employment. So that was nice!
What are the barriers for you to overcome and the challenges you’ve faced?
Oh wow, so many! I’ve got a medical history that could fill a novel, so that causes quite the interruption to my life pretty often. The barriers I face depends on the day and the people I’m around. The combination of my diabetes and mobility issues complicates life in ways that you can’t predict, each and every day. Of course, my most obvious barriers are mobility and building access, but this and other parts of my disability mean that I’ve had trouble maintaining employment, was often absent from school, and I’m always up against pre-conceived ideas of what I may or may not be capable of.
Have you had any discrimination towards yourself? If so, how do you think this can be stamped out of society?
Yes, quite often. At school it was kids teasing me, thinking they could ‘catch’ my disability and calling me all sorts of names, as well as teachers who just didn’t understand what my disability involved, and who treated me as if I wasn’t trying hard enough. I was given detentions for not participating in physical activities, and was blamed if the class got sent inside because I ‘wouldn’t’ do those things. In employment, I had a boss once who underpaid me, so when I asked for my proper rate, she ‘tested’ staff by giving us a product knowledge test, but additionally, she gave me a timed physical test, trying to prove that I wasn’t working as fast as others and so therefore wasn’t earning my ‘full’ wage. I now know this to be absolute covert discrimination, and I wouldn’t accept it now, but I wasn’t aware just how wrong it was at the time.
I really don’t know what the answer is, but people’s willingness to be aware of damaging language and attitudes is a good start. Language defines how we think about things, so if we find respectful ways to talk about disability, it helps humanise the issue and make people realise that their attitudes have real, significant effects. I think it would also help if people didn’t think of access (particularly physical access) as doing extra things, but as doing things in a way that means things are open to everyone, regardless of circumstances.
This subject is giant one for me, so I think I’ll leave it at that!
What is a positive about the NDIS for you and how does the scheme assist you?
The NDIS allows me to really explore options that are out there to meet my needs, especially because they’re so changeable. Therapies and funding used to be so rigid that there were only very limited options for how I could get assistance. Now, I can see my life expanding, and it really excites me that I can choose what I want to do, and how, and tailor that to my needs no matter where I am. It has a long way to go and can be extremely complex and stressful, but when it works, it gives us a glimpse of so many things we never thought possible!