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Disability Council overview

About us, Our purpose, Council member profiles, and Becoming a member

Council member profiles

Chair - Mark Tonga

I went into a Rugby ruck/maul training drill in 2008 as a 35 year old, ten foot tall and bulletproof. And then my life  changed. After coming out of a coma, I spent months in hospital surrounded by fellow patients dealing with a new disability and its complications.

Over time Ifound myself speaking up for those around me who couldn't or wouldn't express their own frustration and exasperation. I found my rugby experience invaluable: the ability to channel fierce emotion, to push further, to use emotion as a fuel.

I've included my contact details below for a reason. My contribution to this Council,is only valuable if it is based on a hands-on appreciation of the real world, and how things impact those of us with a disability in our daily lives. So I listen, and look, and then speak and move to help those that can’t.

This Council is an overarching, umbrella body liaising with many organisations, from NGOs to all levels of government. Given your involvement we can ask the question “does your particular issue regarding transport, accommodation or access suggest a lost opportunity, a failure to empower, a general thoughtlessness that can be addressed?”

My formal work experience is outlined below, but the important learning came before that. I'm blessed to be part of a big extended family. We’re close and noisy. I had to learn how to listen to get people working together. Raised in Tonga, my family immigrated here when I was 13. I left school at 15, but returned to the long journey of learning at 20, whilst working on building sites. I joined the Army Reserve and that taught me self-discipline and the importance of teamwork. I matriculated through a technical college and then achieved a Bachelor of Business (Accounting) at UTS after seven years of night study. At the time of my injury was Assistant Accountant at a major Club and had just enrolled for part-time post-graduate studies.

I am a now Director of the Paraplegic and Quadriplegic Association of NSW (ParaQuad), and acting Secretary (after serving as Director) of People with Disabilities Australia (PWDA).

I retain an informal association with Spinal Cord Injury Australia (SCIA) where I was previously a client advocate. In addition, I am a member of Willoughby City Council’s “Access” Committee and have been appointed an Ambassador for charities Lifestart (Kayak for Kids) and the Hearts in Union Rugby Foundation.

On the Disability Council I am surrounded by altruistic high achievers who deal with our challenges daily, and take that responsibility very seriously. We’re backed by a forthright Secretariat and a committed Minister. Help us to fully engage with those around us, and make the system” more attentive, productive and fairer. Cheers!

Deputy Chair - Eileen Baldry

Eileen Baldry (BA, DipEd, MWP, PhD) is the Interim Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences and Professor of Criminology at UNSW Australia where she has been an academic since 1993. She served as Associate Dean Education, Arts and Social Sciences, from 2007 to mid-2010 and Deputy Dean, Arts and Social Sciences, from mid-2010 to mid-2015.

Eileen is an esteemed researcher in the areas of Criminology, Social Policy and Social Work. She holds an outstanding record over the past twenty years as a Chief Investigator on major grants from the ARC, NHMRC and other funding bodies. She is involved in a voluntary capacity with a number of development and justice community agencies and served two terms as President of the NSW Council of Social Services. In 2009, the Law and Justice Foundation of NSW recognised Baldry’s “indefatigable” support for justice-related causes by awarding her its highest honour: the Justice Medal.

Eileen was also recently appointed to the position of Academic Chair, UNSW Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Board.

Zoe Brissett

Zoe has cerebral palsy and hearing impairment, both acquired from birth. Zoe is passionate about driving change for people with disability, improving rights, inclusion and awareness, and removing barriers. By day, Zoe works as APAC Marketing Intern for Salesforce, and has six years experience working in disability policy and research within the NGO sector.

In a member role, Zoe is eager to contribute her passion for disability, innovation and policy expertise, towards enabling a better society where people with disability can interact, live, participate and contribute to.

Leigh Creighton

Leigh Creighton is a leader around social change in the Hunter. A ‘Living Life My Way’ ambassador and champion with ADHC, Leigh is a committed advocate for the rights and best interests of people with disability. Leigh’s passion is to make the world a better place for all human kind and his motto is ‘believe in yourself, go for your dreams and live every single moment to the fullest’. Leigh recently transitioned to the NDIS and is keen to share his experience in how he uses his NDIS Plan to live independently and to be part of his community.

Leigh is a Board member of the Community Disability Alliance Hunter (CDAH) and is committed to ensuring that the diverse voices of people with intellectual disability are heard.

Paul Zeller

Paul lives in a small coastal town in rural NSW. Paul was diagnosed with Aspergers when he was 19 years old.

Paul is passionate about social justice issues. After attending a self-advocacy workshop run by Intellectual Disability Rights Service, he has become a determined advocate for the rights of people with a disability.

Since then, Paul has attended a number of State and National Conferences, and helped establish local self-advocacy organisation, South East Self Advocacy. Paul believes self- advocacy is particularly important for ensuring that people with disability have their voices heard in the roll out of the NDIS.

Paul is also has a keen interest in politics, current affairs and music. His career goals are to become a professional musician and to be in politics as a staffer or politician.

Paul is very excited about being a member of the Disability Council of NSW. Paul is keen to bring about change in areas such as: · Better avenues into employment for people with disability; · Better access to transport for people with disability in regional areas; · Making sure advocacy is more widely promoted and available.

Jake Fing

Jake Fing has personal experience with people living with both a cognitive disability as well as a physical disability.

Jake is currently working towards a BA (Hons) and LLB through UNSW Australia. He also currently works at Legal Aid NSW on the Bob Bellear Indigenous Cadetship Program, currently placed in the criminal division.

Jake has a passion for social justice and change and has been involved in policy implementation since his school years within the local government area of Moree, NSW. Jake also holds several appointments through the NSW Government. He is particularly interested in advocating for Indigenous people living with disabilities.

Jake is excited about his appointment to the Council and looks forward to working with the other council members to both learn from their experience and help to drive change for policy implementation and advocacy for people living with a disability.

Rachael Sowden

Rachael has four children who are Aboriginal, two who have autism and three who have mental health diagnoses. She is determined that all people in NSW regardless of postcode have access to supports required to live a full life with choice and voice.

Having lived the past 23 years in rural and remote locations across NSW, Rachael is familiar with the challenges of obtaining equitable access to services and supports outside of metropolitan locations.

Rachael has long held advocacy roles in education and mental health particularly in rural settings, and has a focus on young people and people with invisible disabilities.

Rachael has previously been the State media spokesperson for Parents & Citizens. She has spoken at many educational conferences over the past few years and owns a bespoke parental engagement business offering teachers nationally accredited professional development.

Casey Gray

Casey is an award-winning professional services provider with over 14 years experience in the disability sector. She maintains membership of peak industry associations to stay abreast of current affairs in disability.

Casey possesses a genuine passion as well as the creativity and drive to improve the quality of direct service provision to people with disability as well as advocating for systemic change, with the aim of enabling people to live rich and fulfilling lives.

She is keen to advocate for local and broad social change that promotes the inclusion and wellbeing of all people, while raising community awareness to break down the stigma associated with invisible disability, such as mental illness, as well as disability in general.

Casey lives with mental illness, with a primary diagnosis of Bipolar Disorder. People with Bipolar Disorder experience severe and persistent mood changes affecting their ability to function in all aspects of everyday life, such as relationship problems or difficulties in the workplace. People with Bipolar Disorder are often diagnosed with co-existing mental health conditions such as anxiety, or physical conditions such as migraine.

Through her life and work, Casey demonstrates that with the right supports, people with mental illness and other disability can thrive.

Ian Hyman

Ian established Hymans Valuers and Auctioneers in 1984 after 9 years in the accounting profession where he qualified as a Chartered Accountant. With a view to obtaining additional experience as an auctioneer, in 1985, Ian wrote to all charities in NSW to offer his services for charity events on a pro-bono basis. Over the past 30 years Ian has undertaken hundreds of auctions for charities all over Australia.

In 1993, Ian and his wife Hanne were blessed with the delivery of their third child, Alistair, who was born with Down Syndrome. With the arrival of Alistair, Ian was galvanised to become involved with the disability community and has served on numerous Not for Profit boards and committees including CNS Precision Assembly, Inala Disability Services, Special Olympics, Lifestart Co-operative Ltd and Association of Children with a Disability. In addition, Ian established fundraising events all over Australia that have raised in excess of $10m over the past 25 years.

In his commercial life, Ian is currently the CEO of Hymans Auctioneers and Valuers which undertakes valuations and asset disposals throughout the Asia Pacific region. He is also Chairman of Professional Risk Managers Pty Ltd which advises clients on insurance risks throughout the world.

Ian is very excited about membership of the NSW Disability Council and the opportunity to have a say in the policy debate affecting people with disabilities.

In 2017, Ian was awarded an OAM for services to people with a disability

Nick Craig

Born and raised in the Blue Mountains to a Deaf family, Nick’s interests in access to community resilience and emergency preparedness began when he worked as a research assistant for the Increasing the Resilience of the Deaf Community in NSW to Natural Hazards and Disasters project. Nick co-authored a report on this project for the NSW State Government in August 2013. He was instrumental in advocating to the NSW State Government that Australian Sign Language interpreters be provided on TV emergency live news, which was achieved for the first time during the Blue Mountains 2013 Bushfire.

Since then, Nick has worked with the Deaf Community in the Philippines as a Disability Disaster Risk Reduction Officer with the Australian Red Cross under the Australian Volunteers for International Development (AVID) Program, and with the University of Sydney on the Disability and Disaster: Empowering people and building resilience to risk project.  Funded by the Global Resilience Partnership, this project focused on supporting Disability inclusive Disaster Risk Reduction (DiDRR) in Cambodia, Thailand and the Philippines.

Nick currently runs a consultancy business and looks forward to working with the Disability Council NSW in making positive changes for people with disabilities.

Prue Watt

Prue is a strong and passionate disability advocate and enjoys engineering creative and powerful ways to change societal perceptions of disability, promote inclusivity and empower self-advocacy.

She has a particular interest in issues relating to equal access for people with disability to quality healthcare services, access to the arts and education. With a background in Paralympic sport, Prue also has a passion for promoting the importance of access and equal participation of people with disabilities in sport to optimise health, wellbeing and social inclusion.

In 2017, Prue graduated with a Bachelor of Science majoring in Neuroscience at the University of New South Wales and commenced a year-long graduate position at Safe Work Australia in Canberra in January 2018.

As well as Prue’s own lived experience of being born with significant vision loss, she has also witnessed the significant challenges that can accompany acquired disability through her mother, who has progressive Multiple Sclerosis, first diagnosed in 2007.

Prue’s diverse range of interests and varied life experiences allow her to bring unique experience, perspective and a multi-faceted approach to disability issues. She is looking forward to learning from other members of the Council and working together towards a more inclusive society.

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