Unique Perspectives and Difference Makers: Discussions of disability in Australia

Three high profile Canadians visited Australia to participate in continuing dialogue on the challenges, achievements and research into disability and accessibility – and to connect with communities in the arts and sciences. 

L- R Miguel Syjuco, Tom MacDonald, Norman Doidge, Nicolas Dickner, Ian Brown, Jaspreet Singh, Tom Jokinen

Man in Motion Rick Hansen talking in Sydney about his original world tour in 1985

Ian Brown (left) in conversation with Consul General Tom MacDonald (right) at the Brisbane Writers Festival

Consul General of Canada Tom MacDonald (far right) with Rob Spence, Rick Randall (The Other Film Festival) and Sharon Pinney

Marking the 25th anniversary of his original Man in Motion world tour, legendary Canadian paralympian and activist Rick Hansen stopped in Brisbane, Sydney, and Melbourne to celebrate achievements in accessibility and spinal cord research, and to inspire ongoing efforts by a new generation of innovators. The visit to Australia was of particular significance as it had marked the official half way point of the original tour in 1985. Events in all three cities recognized local Australian "Difference Makers" with special awards for their achievements in research towards a cure for spinal cord injuries and in the creation of accessible communities.

Having previously worked with the Rick Hansen Foundation in support of their efforts to build research links in Australia, the Consulate General of Canada provided organisational assistance to the Rick Hansen Foundation for the anniversary tour events in Sydney.

“It was truly an honour to host the Sydney event for the Man in Motion tour anniversary” said Consul General Tom MacDonald. “Rick Hansen is a hero to so many people in Canada and across the world. His contribution deserves to be celebrated. We are delighted at the strong links which the Rick Hansen Foundation had forged in Australia and at the fact that Rick was able to come here to inspire and recognise Australian difference makers”.

Approaching disability issues from a different perspective, filmmaker and technical innovator Rob Spence captured Australian audiences with his humor and thought-provoking work, presented by The Other Film Festival.  This biennial event in Melbourne presents new cinema by, with and about people with a disability. Spence, who lost an eye in an accident at age 15, has developed a bionic eye camera with a team of young Toronto-based optical engineers. The device, code-named Eyeborg, enables a transformative approach to filmmaking. 

Consul General Tom MacDonald introduced him to a full cinema at Melbourne Museum. Spence’s presentation highlighted how ground-breaking innovation in prosthetic design is empowering the disabled with new potential, a theme which he will be exploring in a documentary film currently in development. Spence has already had success in documentary film-making with his tongue-in-cheek exposé Let’s All Hate Toronto.

This was the Consulate’s second collaboration with The Other Film Festival. In 2008, Montreal based filmmaker Paul Nadler presented Braindamag’d Take 2, a film that went on to win two Gemini awards. The documentary followed Nadler’s inspirational recovery from a 1994 car accident that left him near death. The next edition of The Other Film Festival is scheduled for 2012.

Award winning journalist and author Ian Brown also visited Australia, making appearances at Brisbane Writers Festival as well as in Sydney, Melbourne and Canberra. Brown is a feature writer for The Globe and Mail; the anchor of TVOntario’s Human Edge and The View from Here and for ten years was the host of CBC Radio’s Talking Books. Winner of the British Columbia National Book Award, the Charles Taylor Prize for Literary Non-Fiction, as well as Ontario’s coveted Trillium Award, Brown was one of a large number of Canadian authors at the Brisbane and Melbourne Writers’ festivals. He visited Australia to present his stunning new book, The Boy in the Moon.

This book is a moving account of the life of Brown’s severely disabled son Walker, who was born with a genetic mutation so rare that there are only some 150 known cases in the world. Through his book, Brown gives voice to his son, whose many disabilities include an inability to speak. The book provides not only a highly personal memoir of life with Walker but also a philosophical reflection on disability and the meaning of life itself.

Hansen, Spence, and Brown are just three of the many Canadians who inspire achievements in disability and accessibility research, and – through making a difference themselves – continue to invigorate difference makers in Australia, in Canada, and around the world.