"The best people to advocate for people with disabilities are those who live with the disability."

Robert Pask, winner of the Excellence in Advocacy and Rights Promotion Award | Photo: www.idpwd.com.au


On Tuesday 26 November the 2013 National Disability Awards Ceremony was held in the Great Hall at Parliament House, Canberra.

Robert Pask, the winner of the Excellence in Advocacy and Rights Promotion Award, has kindly shared his acceptance speech below. 

Congratulations and thank you Robert, and congratulations to all the nominees and winners.

“As someone who is relatively new to the disability sector I am so proud to have won this award and extremely proud to have my wife and son here with me to share this evening as they have lived the ups and downs of my journey.

This award hopefully recognises the important and essential role played by people with lived experience of disability and social policy and their own organisations.

The best people to advocate for people with disabilities are those who live with the disability. This was the basis of the advocacy program at MS and underpins the work I do everywhere.

Our MS advocates program was made up of people with MS and carers, male and female from age 21 to 70 all talented people from all over Australia we have 2 with us tonight  Mary Webb & Natalie Walsh.

The program we set up was able to use the amazing talents of people who were keen to be involved and who had little opportunity other than volunteering or fundraising.

Organisations need to be able to act in the best interests of people they represent, but also to empower those people to act on their own behalf this to encourage citizenship. Something that our not for profit can easily forget in their enthusiasm to pursue corporate interests.

Our policy environment has become a crowded professionalised place but their must always be seats at the table for consumers.

I’m proud to be on the Consumer Health Forum board and recognise the amazing work CHF does to represent consumers and also provide opportunities for people to participate.

Apart from anything the rising cost of living with a chronic illness is something we need to keep working on

I believe we are at a key point in the consumer movement with the NDIS coming in we are moving away from the charity model towards the rights model which cannot come soon enough.

Charity does not get us jobs, education or improve our citizenship.”

Robert’s Story

Robert Pask knows all too well that real change takes time.

A tireless advocate for people living with disability and chronic illness, the Bentleigh East man believes the greatest impact his work has had is involving those who face these challenges in their daily lives, in positive change campaigns.

“The quality of the debate has been improved by involving these people and using their networks to communicate the message,” Robert said.

Over a period of eight years of national advocacy for people with Multiple Sclerosis (MS), Robert has advocated for a range of policy issues from employment retention support for people with disability and chronic illness to aids and equipment for young people in nursing homes.

Developing a highly recognised national peer advocacy program for people living with MS has engaged state and federal MPs, policy makers, business and community leaders and members of the public on the issues of disability and chronic illness.

“Opening up networks for the advocates with MS and others in the sector has helped to promote the voice of consumers. It should be easier for people to get involved in these debates than it is so we have to keep working to get the genuine voices out there and work collaboratively with organisations.”

Living with a chronic illness himself, Robert feels that addressing the many issues he personally faces, but not being ruled or defined by his illness is where me makes the greatest difference.

“We still have a long way to go on many of the issues – as life with a chronic illness and disability is still challenging – and many of the things that make it hard are not just the disabilities and illness symptoms, but bad policy and poor attitudes. So there is always more to do.”

A recipient of this year’s National Disability Awards in the Excellence in Advocacy and Rights Promotion, Robert was awarded for his remarkable determination and personalised approach, which has inspired many people with chronic illness to become more involved in advocacy and policy campaigns, and to be more aware and confident of their rights.

Find out more about International Day for People with Disability (which takes place on 3 December 2013), and about the awards and award recipients at http://www.idpwd.com.au/media-resources-for-national-disability-award-winners/ http://www.idpwd.com.au/awards/2013-award-recipients/

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