Determination for excellence
Dr Peter Gibilisco is a determined person. He has a passion to help make everyone understand that people with a disability are equals.
I have always had an unquenchable thirst to achieve, says Dr Gibilisco.
This has been brought about by the need to put negative stereotypes to rest.
Dr Gibilisco has spent many years studying society's treatment of people with a disability. The fact that Dr Gibilisco has a severe physical disability adds to the authenticity of his work. His research has shown that we still need to fight for fairness and equality for all. Dr Gibilisco says
... simply, people with disabilities are people too.
Politics, disability and social inclusion
Dr Gibilisco has recently written a book on the relationship between politics and disability. The book is called Politics, Disability and Social Inclusion: People with different abilities in the 21st Century.
The book examines different political viewpoints. It examines the different ways people think society should acknowledge people with a disability. It explores and compares how each of these political structures contributes to a just society. The main areas the book focuses on are employment, education and disability services.
The book is adapted from Dr Gibilisco’s rigorous university research. As such, it is a very academic piece of work. But it is still engaging because Dr Gibilisco has provided some of his own life experiences. It could be a valuable resource for all people who want to learn more about disability. It would be particularly valuable to governments and researchers.
The doctorate upon which the book is based took five years for Dr Gibilisco to complete. The book took another four years to write. Dr Gibilisco's long-term view and dedication to the task are unquestionable.
The book was always planned and was a consequence of my Ph.D. and around 30 articles, he explains.
The same disease
I first met Dr Gibilisco in 1998 at a conference about disabilities in tertiary education called Pathways. With no prior knowledge of each other, we made an arrangement to share a room to cut costs. We soon realised that we both had the same disease. It was an extraordinary coincidence given that only one in 40,000 people have Friedreich’s Ataxia.
Dr Gibilisco was diagnosed with Friedreich’s Ataxia when he was 14 years old. Friedreich’s Ataxia is a progressive neurological condition. By his early 20s, Dr Gibilisco had become a wheelchair user and experienced depression. He was tackling a brutal illness. He had to accept the limitations it imposed on his lifestyle. The disease had ended his walking. It also began to affect his communication, his sight and his motor skills in general.
Despite being in low spirits, Dr Gibilisco could see the stimulating effect further education could have. In 1985, Dr Gibilisco enrolled in a business diploma (accounting) at Dandenong TAFE. The return to a learning environment was enjoyable and a life-changing experience. It increased his confidence and helped him restore control over his life.
The experience motivated Dr Gibilisco to enrol in a double degree in accounting and sociology at Monash University. He did not look back. He completed the degree in 1997. He then begun work on a Masters in sociology, which he completed in 2000. Dr Gibilisco then began work on a Ph.D at the University of Melbourne. The study investigated the interaction of politics and disability. Dr Gibilisco says it was a daunting project and required a lot of concentration and hard work.
Awards provided encouragement
Awards such as the respected June Opie Fellowship in 2001 provided encouragement to Dr Gibilisco. They also acknowledged his diligence and dedication. In 2007, Dr Gibilisco was recognised as the Disability Professionals Victoria Emerging Leader of the Year.
While working on the Ph.D, Dr Gibilisco completed many articles for academic journals and conferences. He is now a prolific contributor to On Line Opinion, an electronic journal of social and political debate.
Academic achievement with a disability
It is hard to comprehend the challenges that Dr Gibilisco’s disability imposed on all facets of his work. He has a typing rate of just five words per minute. Other physical difficulties severely impact on his productivity and cause fatigue. Dr Gibilisco says the level of support he has received was also inadequate.
It was severely lacking but it was a case that I needed to get things done within the support hours allowed, he says.
Dr Gibilisco's persistence and focus have triumphed over adversity. But he remains modest about his achievements. He shrugs and replies
I am a big dreamer, who is extraordinarily determined.