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Sylvana is an advocate for early childhood intervention and is the Vice President of Early Childhood Intervention Association NSW Chapter and CEO of Pathways Early Childhood Intervention. Pathways Early Childhood Intervention is a non-government organisation providing choices in family-centred services to children with disability and their families. Sylvana is currently undertaking research into individualised funding models as a PhD candidate at University of Western Sydney. Sylvana was a member of the Disability Council between 2008 and 2011.

I was initially led to Council through an advertisement in the newspaper seeking applications from the public and I applied, believing that I had a number of perspectives I could contribute. Firstly, my personal experience as a mother of a young man who has a disability. Secondly, my professional experience working with young children with disability and their families and finally, being from a culturally diverse background I felt were all experiences I had to share.

For me, the most memorable part of my term as a Council member was the opportunity to meet a wide variety of people that expanded my own understanding of the disability sector. This included advocates from various parts of the disability sector, government officials from many different government departments, NSW Government Ministers and their advisers, and leaders from other statutory bodies. Hearing from these people helped me to identify the need to refine my own advocacy agenda in a way that would be easy for those outside the field of early childhood intervention to understand. Most people know early childhood is an important time but little is known about the experiences of families whose child has a disability.

My aim was to help my fellow Council members understand that getting help early does make a difference. All the other Council members brought an adult disability perspective to Council, so it was a wonderful opportunity for me to raise awareness of the issues that face very young children with disability and their families. I believe one of the main changes affecting people with disability since working on Council is the focus on self-directed funding. In the lead up to DisabilityCare there has been an increased focus on choice and control for people with disability and their families, this is a significant shift from the past.

Over the next few years, the future will be about giving people with disability and their families greater skills to build a good life for themselves in the community. It’s important to focus on the possibilities, regardless of where you live or your cultural background. This means trying something different, being increasingly in control of your choices or taking the opportunity to manage your own funding package. In time, people with disability will have greater opportunities to live their life in the community - living where they want, with whom they want and making decisions about what they will do with their lives. Of course, for this to happen the broader community will need to learn how to welcome all people and there will be challenges.

If I could have my time over as a Council member, I would have an awareness that the disability sector is large with competing issues. I would therefore choose one issue and continue to raise awareness in a clear and simple way.

By Sylvana Mahmic

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