Develop, support, promote disability leaders


DLI Host – Christina Ryan

Welcome everyone, it is really fantastic to see you all with us today. The Disability Leadership Oration is the culmination of a year of work by the Disability Leadership Institute. We had an idea, and this is the result.

There are many people we would like to thank who helped us to get here, but first a few words about who we are.

The Disability Leadership Institute is a tiny social enterprise. We are completely funded by membership and training fees, with a bit of consulting work on the side. We are all disabled people, and we draw on our large network of members, all disabled folks, to bring in extra team members as needed. We believe in paying disabled people properly. We are not a lobby group and do no systemic advocacy, other than to mention disability leadership when we must.

The DLI focusses on getting on with disability leadership. We are the only specialist disability leadership development organisation in Australia, and one of only a few in the world. Disabled people are the largest minority group in Australia and on the planet. There are over 1.3 billion of us globally and around 5 million in Australia.

We don’t have a day to day relationship with government because we aren’t funded by them, and governments only really talk to organisations that they fund. Whenever the DLI has spoken to state or federal ministers about disability leadership we have either been referred to the Paralympics Committee, because apparently disability leaders only come out of elite sport, or we have been told the NDIS is taking up all available policy and resources.

Disability Leadership is not a priority of any government in Australia, except for the work that’s been done here in Victoria over the last few years. It is only mentioned once, in passing, in the National Strategy, and has no KPIs to make it happen. There are some weird assumptions about disability leadership: apparently disability leaders are only interested in disability related work, all things to do with disability are government funded, and disability equals charity. These assumptions are all incorrect and undermine disability equality and they must change.

We are here today for the first Oration, one of many we hope, and we have done this because we feel it is important and might be part of shifting those assumptions.

We would not be here today, having this event, without the support of the Achieve Foundation. When I first approached Kirsty Nowlan, she was unfailingly enthusiastic, and she and her team have been right behind us all the way. Thank you so much Kirsty, Sarah and all.

We would also not be here today without our wonderful friends at the ABC. The DLI has members everywhere, and that includes quite a few here at the ABC including the Chair of ABC Inclusive, Megan Spindler Smith who connected us with the right people. The rest is history. The ABC has been unfailingly enthusiastic about the Oration since the beginning, and they have been an absolute joy to work with as our broadcast partners. Thank you to Daniel Hirst, Carmen Pratap and the army of producers and crew who have been a part of the wider ABC team.

The DLI has relationships with many organisations across all sectors, and that network is even wider through our members. It is those relationships that have brought us our volunteers today from the Westpac Able Network, plus the contacts who have supported us to get other logistics in place, including the Victorian Council of Social Service who have been good friends of the DLI for many years.

I would like to mention the DLI’s members right around Australia who have backed this event from day one and provided ideas on what the Oration should look like, on who should be our Orator, and who to speak to or connect with to get things done. Many DLI members are here with us today from all over the country and I can’t wait to meet you all in real life afterwards.

This Oration is a testament to disability leadership. We don’t have formal government support or funding, or policy, so disability leaders across Australia have simply got on with making disability leadership happen on our own terms, in the way that we think is most effective. We’ve built professional networks and developed training and support that our disability community wants. There is still a very long way to go, we have barely started, but we have started, and we aren’t going away now.

Apart from this Oration, the DLI also looks after the National Awards for Disability Leadership (congratulations to the Finalists in the room), we have started a new CEO internship program which is sparking enormous interest (thank you to all the Yooralla folk here who have driven that), plus we have developed some world first specialist disability leadership programs. All by disabled people.

Disability leadership is not a new thing, but it has struggled for recognition. We have now turned a corner. While matters affecting disabled people are still largely run by non-disabled people, it is now assumed that we will at least be in the room, and that we should have a say. This is only the beginning. I hope you enjoy the Disability Leadership Oration and continue to support it for many years to come.