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Young disability activists call for meaningful change in school and employment pathways

Updated: Dec 2, 2022

From school exams to access to fulfilling employment, young people with disabilities face systemic barriers every day. That’s why a group of young disability advocates have come together to launch a new campaign, aiming to convince our political leaders to enact common-sense solutions.

CPActive, a passionate collective of more than 20 young people with cerebral palsy and similar disabilities, came together this week to launch ‘Blaze the Trail’, a new campaign for greater accessibility and equality for people with disabilities.

The inclusive event held at the corporate head office of KPMG in Barangaroo, was attended by members of the disability community, activists, allies, supporters, families, media and corporate partners.

The campaign has been enabled by CPActive, the advocacy community made possible by Cerebral Palsy Alliance. Since its launch twelve months ago, CPActive has grown to more than 2,600 people who are passionate about creating positive change for people with disability.

Speaking at the event, CPActive member and ParaMatildas representative, Tahlia Blanshard, called on political leaders to enact three policy priorities to support young people with disabilities.

  1. Clear, consistent, and enforceable guidelines for support around assessments at school and university for students with disability

  2. Pathways for people with disability to enter the teaching workforce

  3. A state-wide initiative supporting the development of pathways for students with disability into large business, government departments and community organisations.

The three asks will tackle structural changes experienced by thousands of young people with disability across NSW and Australia. They come after months of discussions and workshops with young people, their families and allies, and are informed by the shared lived experiences of journeys in school, higher education and employment.

“With the proper pathways in place, those who dream of reaching high goals within their working lives can achieve them and it is important that every person has the opportunity to do that. When I had access to proper provisions for the first time, I went from being at the middle of the class to being at the top, where I always thought I belonged,” said Blanshard.

Cerebral palsy affects more than 34,000 Australians, making it the most common physical disability in childhood. As a condition affecting movement and posture, many children with CP require supports to complete school exams and assessments, but these are often inadequate and limit the academic performance of students.

These academic limitations combine with discriminatory attitudes and inadequate pathways, meaning people with disabilities are severely under-represented in the workforce – just 48% of working-age people with disability are employed, compared to 80% without disability.

“You can’t be what you can’t see, and by creating more inclusive pathways for people with disability to become teachers, we have the opportunity to fix many of the issues that people with disability have raised, all in one initiative,” said Aaryan Shah, a university student, community radio board member and national para-athlete representing Australia in boccia.

The CPActive group also shared their common experiences of system barriers to access support to enter the workplace. Meret Hassanen, a disability advocate who works as a filmmaker and producer at the ABC, shared her positive experience of internships and networking, and called on more young people with disabilities to access the same opportunities that opened doors for her.

Among those attending the launch were the Hon Penny Sharpe MLC, Leader of the Opposition in the Legislative Council, and Kate Washington MP, Shadow Minister for Disability Inclusion, alongside representatives of the State Government.

"There are so many intersections where people [with disabilities] are missing out, and it is just not working. And, we need to make sure that that changes... I am so pleased to have been here today, and to be able to hear from you directly and with clear examples why [society] needs to change - there is no question that it needs to change,” said Washington.

CPActive is calling on candidates and political leaders to listen directly to the voices of young people with lived experience in creating more inclusive and accessible pathways from school to work.

To harness community support of the campaign, CPActive has launched a petition to encourage political leaders to act on the policy priorities – head here to sign and share the petition.

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