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Mark Bagshaw
2015 – A Year in Review

2015 has been a big year on many fronts, not least for The Able Movement. In this article, Chair of The Able Movement, Mark Bagshaw, takes a look back at "the year that was".

As the excitement (and for many, trepidation) of a rapidly approaching Christmas and New Year builds to fever pitch, it’s time yet again to reflect on the days and months that have made up our fifteenth year in the third millennium after that very first Christmas. So how did we do?

I did my own quick poll amongst my friends and family to put together this short scorecard of the past 12 months. “Mixed” seems to be the most common response. Much like my old school reports.

At an international level, perhaps the most far-reaching event of 2015 has been the UN Climate Change Conference held in Paris earlier this month. In stark contrast to the abject failure of the 2009 conference in Copenhagen, it seems like the world might finally be on a path towards unilateral action on the issue that Kevin Rudd famously described as “the greatest moral, economic and social challenge of our time”. SCORE: 6/10 – “a good start, but needs more effort”.

Back on our own shores, the news has indeed been mixed. A new prime minister has, almost overnight it seems, changed the political mood in our nation almost 180 degrees. “Innovation” is well and truly “in”. And not before time, many would argue – things have been looking decidedly gloomy on the economic front (and we are nowhere out of the woods yet by any stretch of the imagination), with demand for our mineral resources collapsing almost overnight.

And what happened to the “budget emergency”? One minute we seemed to be riding high on a wave of prosperity at the same time we were slashing benefits to our most vulnerable citizens, but now we seem to be adopting the “we’ll find the money somewhere” approach. I’m one of many who are totally on board with the innovation agenda – leveraging the smart thinking of the Australian people as our key to future economic prosperity makes far more sense than digging up our land and selling it on a finite market. SCORE: 7/10 – “a remarkable turnaround, expecting big things next year”.

In the realm of disability reform, the National Disability Insurance Scheme remains the “big ticket” item. While “mixed” seems an appropriate term to summarise the plethora of words spoken and penned by just about everybody in sundry it would seem about the NDIS and how it is going, the overall commitment from the Australian people to this ground-breaking reform remains firm.

We shouldn’t underestimate the potential for that to change down the track if the NDIS doesn’t deliver on its promise of paying for itself due to increased economic participation of people with disability, but for now at least it seems our focus on rolling out this massive reform is spot on. Notwithstanding some of the concerning feedback we are hearing from people who have been through the NDIS process about just how flexible and user centred the Scheme is proving to be in practice, the fact that the rollout is on time and on budget is a truly remarkable achievement and credit is due to the many people who are making that happen. SCORE: 8/10 – “great progress, but don’t lose sight of the prize”.

News on the other critically important disability reforms that make up the National Disability Strategy is far less encouraging. “Demoralising” might be a more appropriate term. Participation rates of people with disability, particularly in education and employment, are at best unchanged from previous decades and, in the vital area of employment are going backwards. Progress removing infrastructure barriers is painfully slow and still requires people with disability to fight in what seem to be never-ending David and Goliath battles in which the latter is far too often the victor. SCORE: 2/10 – “nowhere near enough effort”.

And finally, let’s take a look at The Able Movement in 2015. Of course, others will be the judge of our performance over the past 12 months, but in feeling a sense of pride in the progress we’ve made, we reflect on a couple of key things.

First, we have been well and truly “heads down, tails up” preparing a Social Investment Prospectus that we are now using to seek ongoing funding for The Able Movement for the next three years. At our first meeting with an individual we thought might be willing to support us, we came away with a healthy cheque, which was a great start! We will be on the road in earnest early in the New Year.

At the same time, The Able Movement team have been busy on a number of other fronts. Natalie Clark, our fabulous Business Development Manager (and currently our only paid member of staff) has been doing a sensational job keeping our social media presence pumping out articles, news and of course stories of people with disability getting on with their lives. Our regular blog has been getting a lot of attention, and we are very close to passing the 1000 Facebook Friends milestone.

Through the great leadership of Paul Nunnari (The Able Movement director), we are about to start an exciting project for Surf Lifesaving NSW, in partnership with Taste Creative and Bus Stop Films, to showcase people with disability enjoying the fabulous coastline and beaches of New South Wales. Watch this space!

A self-assessment would seem egotistical, but all of us at The Able Movement are excited about the work we’ve done so far that has placed us in a fabulous position to hit the ground running in 2016. The Board is making fundraising a key priority for its work, and the other members of the team are champing at the bit to take all of the hard work done so far to focus on our core mission: Equal participation of people with disability in every aspect of Australian life. A continuing stream of stories about people with disability getting on with their lives, of articles that contribute to the essential thought leadership upon which disability reform depends, identifying and supporting Able Champions in communities across Australia.

As I reflect back on my earlier comments about 2015 at a global and national level I’m struck with a strong sense of optimism about the future for disability reform in Australia. We know that changing long held negative perceptions of people with disability is hard work. But so is getting the world to step up to the massive challenge of climate change. We also know that innovation will be key to unlocking the potential of people with disability in our society. The innovation agenda of the Turnbull government is just what the doctor ordered.

Thank you to everyone who has contributed so much to the creation and development of The Able Movement over the past 12 months. You have all helped to demonstrate to the world that people with disability are “ready, willing and able” to participate in and make their contribution to our society.

Merry Christmas, and a very happy and prosperous New Year.

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