Alone, in a fish shop I was buying fish and chips. I was new to the suburb. I was single again. I was looking for ways to get locally involved.
I sat down in the shop to wait for my flake and serve of chips and looked casually at a copy of a local newspaper on the table. I flicked through the pages. And there it was.
The newspaper ad
The ad asked for local people with a disability to get involved in local government by becoming a voice for disability and joining the Disability Advisory Committee. I carefully tore out the ad and put it in my wallet. I then got my fish and chips and went home.
Later I took out the ad and looked at it. Seemed good. I looked around my house, a restored shop-front dwelling that needed a lot of work. I couldn't bring people back here. Well come to think of it, I didn't know any people I could bring back here. It would be good to have something new in life.
I wrote up an application for the committee. I answered all the questions on the website, revised my answers, put them aside for another day and revised them again. It was quite like the old days of applying for jobs. I sent it off.
Several weeks later a letter arrived. I had made it on the Disability Advisory Committee.
The first meeting – I don't feel good
One afternoon I arrived for the first meeting at council. I looked around the table.
An older man with a walking stick lay down the law about disability, pausing only to say hello to me. He reminded me of my granddad, a tough outspoken working man. There was a woman who had been injured in a car accident. Another woman with a mobility impairment. There was a young man who may have had depression. And a staff member with a visual impairment.
Our job was to brief council on local disability issues, to tell council what people with disabilities wanted and how they felt. All the committee members talked so confidently, so knowledgeably, so relaxed. I felt out of it.
My first task
I worked with two of the committee members as part of the All Abilities Events Team. We needed to put on disability and arts events around the suburb. We had to think of the events and then promote them through the local papers. It reminded me of being a promoter and a publicist, only it was more fun and I was doing something worthwhile. We did such a good job that we were given a Civic Award.
Forming a sub-committee
Now more confident, I asked the committee if we could find out or consult local people with disability and ask them what they actually wanted in the arts. The committee agreed to my proposal and asked me to chair a sub-committee.
The sub-committee met, had ideas, wrote up recommendations and presented everything to the full Disability Advisory Committee. All this was very brave for a person like me, with Asperger Syndrome.
Arts disability representative
Now I'm also the disability representative on council's Arts and Cultural Advisory Committee. I represent disability for a long-term arts plan for the whole municipality.
I've been doing this work for the past five years. It's not bad when I think it all started from an ad in the fish and chips shop.