Networking Aboriginals with disabilities

Jen Hargrave
A new network has been formed. It is for Victorian Aboriginals with a disability. It is called the Victorian Aboriginal Disability Network. The network is learning about community needs. It also teaches people about their rights. The network wants to improve access to services for Aboriginals with a disability. It also wants to teach people providing services about Aboriginal culture.
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Jen Hargrave on 21/02/2011
Jody Saxton-Barney smiling and using sign language
Jody SaxtonBarney

Jody Saxton-Barney: sharing information with cultural understanding

Being involved in an organisation that represents you can be brilliant. It can be very motivating to share an interest with others. It could be a sports club, a fan club, or a group that fights for social change.

A new network has been formed for Victorian Aboriginals with a disability. The Victorian Aboriginal Disability Network started in August 2010. It is a group run for and by Victorian Aboriginals with disabilities.

Community needs

The network is learning about community needs and teaching about disability rights. It is also working to raise awareness of human rights in Victoria’s Aboriginal communities.

The network is setting goals to help improve access to services for Victorian Aboriginals with a disability. In the long term, the network is also interested in helping community services learn to be more culturally appropriate.

The network already has over 200 members. It is growing rapidly. Some members represent themselves. Others represent large family or community groups. Being part of the network means that members can share information with their community. 

A proud Aboriginal woman

Jody Saxton-Barney works with the network two days a week. She describes herself as a proud Urangin/Birri-Gubba Deaf woman from Queensland. Ms Saxton-Barney has travelled Australia widely. She has fluency signing in eight languages and a familiarity with a dozen more. She explains that in different parts of the country sign language can be referred to as hand talk, sign talk or hand speak.

Ms Saxton-Barney now lives in Victoria. She is well known for her inspiring public speaking. She is also well recognised for her work advising groups like the Victorian Disability Advisory Council and the First Peoples Disability Network. Over the last 20 years my role has been developing leadership, awareness and inspiring change in communities, she says.

Options for people

Ms Saxton-Barney says the network can help communities learn about options for people with a disability. Sometimes family members share responsibility for a relative’s disability. The person with the disability might not receive any additional government support for health or education services. A person’s disability might not be recognised in a formal way.

With cultural understanding, the network is able to share information with people in a way that is meaningful and useful to them. Aboriginal cultural languages have different ways of expressing concepts. Ms Saxton-Barney says that some languages don’t have a word that translates to mean disability. She explains that Aboriginal languages often don’t use labels to describe disabilities. Instead, individuals’ needs are described. For example, rather than saying he is deaf, in traditional language you might say he no hear. The network also might in future be able to offer cultural training to people working with Aboriginal communities.

Hard working

The group has been set up by hard working people who volunteer their time. It has a steering committee with seven members. Each represents different aspects of the community, including elders, youth, carers and people with a disability. Committee members come from across Victoria.

Over coming months the network will be working to define its goals and support needs. They will draw up a constitution and form sub-committees.

Closing the gap

The network will be involved in the Closing the Gap campaign. The campaign calls on governments to commit to closing the life expectancy gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians within a generation. The network will be collaborating with the Department of Human Services and the Department of Health. Two network members sit on the Closing The Gap reference group.

Many organisations have pledged support for the network. They include:

  • The Department of Human Services
  • The Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission
  • Women with Disabilities Victoria.

Extensive consultation

Over the next two years the network will be raising funds to visit communities. They plan extensive consultation to assess individual and community needs.

If you are an Aboriginal living in Victoria with a disability, the network would love to meet you. During consultations they will share information about your rights. You can contact Jody Saxton-Barney by email (opens new window) for more information.

Readers comments (1)

Hi - Does the Victoria Aboriginal Disability Network still exist? If so, who is the current contact?
thanks, Louise

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