In 1957, I was born with hydrocephalus (“water on the brain”), webbed fingers, a cleft palate and other disfigurements. I was put in an institution aged three and a half years old because my parents could not look after me. My schooling was on the grounds of the institution. I grew up not knowing about my family until 1970. During that time, I had lots of surgery on my face and hands.
When I was seventeen and a half years old in 1975, I lived with my family for a while. I had to get used to being outside in the community. This is my saying about the community: “They don’t walk they run, they don’t drive, they fly. I went into a mad, mad world.”
I worked in a sheltered workshop for some time. Then I decided to explore my options. I volunteered at hospitals because I had some skills in caring for people.
Through meeting new people, I got involved with Citizen Advocacy Western Sydney. I travelled to the North-Coast for a conference and came back wanting to set up a group to teach people to speak up for themselves.
I realised that being a teacher, trainer, and self advocate leader was what I wanted to do and was good at. I received coaching to become a trainer and did lots of public speaking. I learned on my feet, you had to!
When the right opportunities came up, I went for it. I wanted to show people I could do things for myself and for other people. I knew I had something to offer, but didn’t know exactly what until then.
In 1986, the Western Region Rights Committee formed, which grew into Self Advocacy NSW, then Self Advocacy Sydney. Since then, I have been involved with Intellectual Disability Rights Service, NSW Council for Intellectual Disability, Disability Council NSW, and worked with many other groups, organisations and government departments.
In 1987, I met Julie, and we had 3 lovely children. Because we have an intellectual disability, not everyone thought we could cope with having a family. We proved them wrong! The kids are not kids anymore. They are 21, 20 and 18 years old.
This is what I believe: The community as a whole should respect people with disability as people. We can all work together as one.
In April 2013, Robert and his family featured on SBS TV's Insight. To see the video or read the show's transcript click here.