Thank you 

I’ve been back in blighty  (UK)  for a couple of weeks and have finally recovered from the  jet lag.  As those of you reading this might have noticed the most recent blogs by me have been more focused on being a tourist than the people I’ve met.  Although it may look like I’ve been on a massive holiday in can assure you that I’ve been working as hard as  I’ve  played  (this might explain why its taken 2 weeks to recover). 

Over my time away I visited (for more than 24 hours) 1 continent,  2 countries,  7 cities  (one twice) . I have been on 11 planes , 6 public transport systems and only Kate knows how many miles she drove (not all on purpose. I have met with and interviewed 15 organisations and 64 individuals. 

I quickly realised I couldn’t do justice  to the people I was meeting and throw myself experience simultaneously I just didn’t have the time and energy. Therefore I  chose to immerse myself and worry about documenting things later as a result this blog has  suffered. 

For the  next couple of weeks I will be posting  a blog about a person or organisation  I met with during my trip.  This is so I can give the blogs the time they need and to help me with writing the final report. These blogs will not be in chronological order.

Before I  start in would like to thank  everyone who made time to meet with or helped to connect me with  people I have leaned and laughed at lot and that is a direct result of people’s generosity.


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Auckland on wheels 

When I told people in Wellington the only  other place in was visiting was auckland I was met with sympathetic expressions and questions of why. For me the answer was simple I’m researching leadership in disability in couldn’t come to new Zealand and  not meet be accessible (a separate blog  will follow)  and they are based in Auckland.

As a tourist i approached my visit to Auckland with a  sense of dred after the high of Wellington. People’s reaction to Auckland made me lower my expectations but having been  here for just over a week I can’t help but feel auckland doesn’t deserve the dreary reputation it’s acquired. 

Auckland is a city , not particularly beautiful but it doesn’t need to be.  Auckland is the biggest  city in new Zealand home to around a third of the country’s population  and it’s clearly the commercial capital of new Zealand.

Auckland is a massive change from Wellington it is fast, loud, big and unavoidably hilly.  We have used buses without issue to get everywhere in Auckland because the hills are insurmountable in a manual wheelchair. 

We also hired a car for some of our visit  to enable us to see some of the surrounding countryside and it was worth it. 

In Auckland we have been to 

  • The art gallery
  • The harbour 
  • The zoo
  • One tree  Hill
  • Cornwall park
  • The sky tower 

    With the car we also visited

    • Piha
    • Waitakere ranges
    • Devonport 
    • Manakua head lighthouse 

    For me the drive around Piha and seeing live kiwis at auckland zoo were my highlights as it was possible to get close up.

    It might not have the warmth of Wellington but it has a wide variety of things to do and with easy access to scenery like this..

    It’s definitely worth a stop.

    Wellington with a wheelchair 

    Going from Melbourne to Wellington  was a bit of a shock to the system. after the hustle and bustle of melbourne initially  Wellington felt small and quiet. That feeling didn’t  last too  long although even now having left the city is struggle to think of in as a capital mainly because it feels to friendly and compact to fit that description. 

    Wellington had always had a spot on my itinerary not because I had a burning desire to go there but because for the last two years it has been the place my friend Erin calls home (there’ll be more about Erin later in a separate blog).

    Having insider / local knowledge available has definitely caused me to have a bias towards Wellington but I feel even without my excellent host it would have ended up with a soft spot for the city.

    Wellington is the furthest  capital city from london in world although for  many reasons including Britain’s dark colonial past (and present?) in many ways it feels very familiar. My impression of Wellington is it is probably one of the most chilled out capitals in the world. 

    Wellington is know as the windy city and for good reason not only is it windy but like the UK the weather changes frequently so if visiting bring layers,  bring waterproofs and be prepared for outfit changes. 

    Central Wellington is so compact it often seems silly to  bother with public transport in fact thanks to my pa Kate most of the time we just  got around on foot and wheel. There are hills in Wellington but if like us you stay in the CBD they are fairly spread out.

    By in large access in Wellington was better than I  have experienced in Australia however sometimes access was dependent on having a non-disabled companion & good puzzle skills & finding accessible toilets is definitely more difficult.

    The major  access challenge of the city is the dropped kerbs , they exist  but they are a bit of a free rollacoaster ride often steep with drains and gullies.  

    Things to do in Wellington 

    Much like melbourne Wellington is a foodie city it is definitely somewhere you eat and eat well (although much of our eating was driven by Erin’s knowledge of cocktails which led to more than one  expensive meal ☺)

    Apart from eating we visited the following attractions 

    • Te papa
    • The Wellington museum 
    • The cable car and museum
    • Cuba Street 
    • The parliament
    • The cathedral and old St John  

      I would recommend a visit to the parliament whether a tourist , it’s an interesting part of new Zealands past and present which is free and accessible to do.

      The tale of two museums

      Coming to Wellington everyone said see te papa and as expected for the national museum of new Zealand it is worth a  visit but for me it was not the  best museum in Wellington that honour  goes to the Wellington museum.

      The Wellington museum is definitely the under-appreciated little brother of te papa but that hasn’t stopped them from creating an enthralling visitors experience with  excellent use of multimedia technology, and innovative  exhibition displays which  invite visitors to critically evaluate what is being presented.

      Wellington as new Zealand’s cultural capital 

      Wellington prides itself on being the cultural capital of new Zealand and there’s lots to choose from  just with everything in new Zealand on a smaller scale than elsewhere in the world. 

      However we were very lucky to be in Wellington for one of the cultural events of the year  Cuba Dupa a massive Street festival along the central shopping street Cuba Street which sees bands,  artists and food taking over the street for a weekend. It felt like the place to be in new Zealand.  Erin and I also accidentally ended up at the centre of a brass band performance. I can’t say that will  happen to  every visitor but it’s certainly given me an amazing memory 

      Wellington is definitely worth a visit. 


      Melbourne was one of the places I was looking forward to seeing most on my trip and it’s didn’t  disappoint. 

      However after the tranquillity of Hobart it’s did feel like I had been hit by a wall of sound, light and people for the first few days. 

      Accessibility in melbourne was pretty good and  disabled people were a lot more visible than in other cities 

      Melbourne is a city for eating in and most restaurants had pretty good access I suspect that you can get virtually any cuisine imaginable in melbourne.


      Apart from the airport transfer bus (sky bus) and the train  which was very accessible and easy to use getting around central melbourne by public transport was challenge with little information about access. For example although many trams are accessible to wheelchair users outside zone 1 very few stops are. Also tourist information struggled to give us information on access. Also I was surprised at the  lack for audio information on  transport. 

      We hired a car for some of our visit predominantly because I  wanted to go to Philip island. 

      Things to do

      National  gallery victoria

      Free entry diverse  range of art and good access made this a must stop for me.

      Philip island 

      I love penguins so when I  found out about a place you could get close to them in nature it became a must see. It is about  two  hours drive from Melbourne and although there are tours from Melbourne couldn’t find any accessible ones so we hired a car and that gave us freedom to  explore the rest of the island before the penguin parade. Access for the attractions was good we did the penguin parade, kola walkway and heritage farm.

      The equivalent of the bfi in London but with an awesome  free exhibition on the history of  moving  image in Australia.  It has loads of interactive  stuff including a 360 motion capture booth so you can do your own matrix moves.

      Hobart in wheelchair 

      Hobart is hilly it’s the first thing you notice disabled or not and it undoubtedly adds to the beauty of this place but not the access.

      View from mona

      For a city girl like me the first impression of hobart is provincial. On my first venture outside one of the first things I saw was a banner highlighting Masonic contribution to the city (I didn’t even know the masons were still active).

      Very quickly the slow, steady and friendly pace becomes infectious and I have quickly come to appreciate the Hobart approach to life.

      Getting around

      Hobart is small and Tasmania is beautiful so I would strongly recommend hiring a car. Although be prepared for a lot of road kill. Another reason to hire a car is from what I saw access for wheelchair users to public transport is very hit and miss.

      There are accessible taxis called maxi taxis and easily available.

       Must see


      For me the must see near Hobart is Mona (museum of old and New art) it is not like any art gallery you will have been to before.  set on the coast line the building looks like a bond villains hideout it’s not your standard gallery and that’s deliberate.  funded by a rich  individual who made his fortune gambling and bought art and built a gallery, his aim is to get people talking about art the collection and exhibition change frequently and had everything  between  Egyptian mummies & a machine  processing poo. Also has good wheelchair access. 


      You need a car for this one still worthwhile visiting  even though at best the sanctuary is 40% accessible with a manual chair (less with powered). unsurprisingly wheelchair users get in free.

      Why go when access is challenging simple- it’s a sure fire way of seeing Tasmanian wildlife close up and alive  (you’ll see plenty of road kill). Wheelchair users get in free and it’s a sanctuary so only keep animals who can’t get back to the wildlife.

      Hidden gem
      Straight up a 100% gluten free vegetarian cafe with delicious food and wheelchair accessible 


      Meeting Karin and Mathew 

      As well as meeting organisations in Austrialia I am also meeting individuals who are leading and disabled.


      Because I acknowledge there can be a difference between leading organisations and leading individuals. In some ways an organisation gives a structure to lead from which can be easier than seeing a gap the needs leadership and filling it.

      That being said if you ae leading on an issue you dont necessarily need people to follw you to be considered a leader especially if no one else is doing what you are. Leadership in and by organisations is more challenging as you have to bring other people along with you and form a vision which reasonates.

      I’m also meeting with individuals in acknowledgement of the inaccessibility and deterents there are to gettig involved in disability rights work with organisations.

      Mathew and Karin

      In Brisbane on recomendation of QDN I met individually with Karin Swift and Mathew Townsend


      Karin is a member of staff at QDN  who leads on consultation work with the organisations members. She is also a board member for WWDA a Disabled women’s organisation working accross Australia.
      Karin was awesome to talk to talk to and I learned a lot from her about how leadership development happens within QDN & WWDA.

      The biggest message I got from our meeting was the importance of feeling valued and being given support to access opportunities which are slightly out of peoples comfort zones.

      zara and karin at qdn


      Mathew is a young member of QDN who is very politically active and woking part time for Brisbane council supporting community based enviromental work. We had a chat about the barriers to political participation that face disabled people. Mathew told me the work he has been doing making his local green party more accessible and inclusive. For Mathew there was a strong belief that if disabled people are goin o realise tier rights it is importnt to wok with mainstream political movements.

      A key thing that supported Mathew`s leadership was having a social network who understood his needs and offered fiendship and support.

      zara and mathew at a brisbane cafe


      Meeting QDN

      Last week I had the privilege of meeting with Michelle Moss & paige Armstrong  at QDN . From the outside QDN is an unassuming building in the suburbs of brisbane but on the inside it is a hive of activity. QDN is the leading dpo for queensland as I mentioned in a earlier blog DPOS in Australia currently  receive funding from local and national government to carry out representative functions around disability and this is how qdn gets money.

      As a result all around its  meeting space are graphics photos and evidence of consultation. 

      It was really interesting to hear about some of the emerging challenges and opportunities facing DPOS in Australia particularly around competition from the private sector and adoption of the language of independent living by the government without full comprehension of what that looks like in practice.

      My key learning from my meeting were

      1) use membership 

      QDN have a large membership at least by UK dpo standards and they actively engage with there membership providing them with opportunities to understand and use their rights. The volume of easy read materials was particularly noticible.

      2) NDIS

      Talking to Michelle I learned a lot more about the new national disability insurance scheme which is the roll out of direct payments and personal budgets  in Australia it’s big, relatively new and has teething troubles but has massive potential. Organisations like QDN are making sure that all disabled people are aware of the opportunities for choice and control the scheme offers. QDN is doing some really interesting to ensure that people with learning disabilities are not left behind.

      What I found slightly surprisingly and depressing is Australia has a long history of institutionalising disabled people and is still struggling with deinsitutionalisation particularly around small group homes.

      3)training the trainers

      To support QDNs development of leaders they run training of trainers for any disabled people that  want to get involved in fact they build it into all project programmes to ensure that it’s not just the usual suspects taking part.

      4)representation vs advocacy

      There is a big divide in Australia between representative dpos and organisations that do collective and individual case advocacy. The roles are  separated which surprised me as most organisations in the UK do both. 

      Me meeting with Michelle from QDN

      Brisbane as a wheelchair using visitor 

      Brisbane sign in front of the skyline
      Brisbane sign in front of the skyline

      Brisbane is our second stop on our Winston Churchill memorial fellowship. Brisbane is the 3rd largest city in Australia and it’s definitely underrated. 

      I’ve met some amazing people and organisations here but that’s different blog  (which will follow) however even without the people I’ve  met in would definitely recommend a short visit should you  be coming to this part of the world. 

      Central brisbane is easy to navigate and city itself is kind of organised in themes you have the business area, the cultural area and the shopping area.

      In comparison to Sydney I’ve found it to be more chilled out and more accessible both in terms of being a tourist and being a wheelchair user. The transport is as easy to use and accessible as Sydney but not as busy.

      While here Kate and I have strolled along the south bank  which feels quite similar to Londons southbank (love it or loath it they have followed the same architectural style – lots of  concrete)  but also has a beach and rainforest walk in addition to the theatre and concert hall. We have visited the art galleries which are both very accessible and engaging.  

      In fact we’ve found  very  little we can’t get into for whatever reason there are less steps here than Sydney.

      Travel tips

      1) go to the galleries and museums in southbank they are free and fully accessible.

      Queensland art gallery interior
      Queensland art gallery interior

      2) brisbane has lots of shops if you want a cheap but good quality eat look in the shopping centre food courts in wish the UK had such variety. 

      Hidden gem

      The brisbane museum  well hidden in the town hall it is free to get into and gives a good introduction to the city.

      Meeting with PwD Australia 

      Zara and Ngila in pwd Australia offices
      Zara and Ngila in pwd Australia offices

      My first fellowship meeting for the trip was with Ngila Bevan Co-director at. People with Disabilities Australia (PwDA). PwDA have been an important part of this trip for me since the application stage of my fellowship because a meeting with some of their representatives about 6 years ago made me begin to question how inclusive and accessible DPOs  were in the UK. 

      In 2011 I met Lesley at an international disability conference she was engaging, on it and just happened to have a learning disability. She was not representing people with learning disabilities but the whole of the organisation. 

      For me at the time it was a bit of light-bulb moment (a bit late I know) that with the right support everyone who wants to can lead. 

      When I found out that I had been awarded  the fellowship a visit to PwDA became a must. I wanted to gain a better understanding of how the organisation supports inclusive leadership. 

      From my chat with Ngila 5 things really stuck out 

      1. Funding 

      Currently (although the future is looking uncertain) many pan-impairment dpos in Australia receive funding from local or national government to cover core running costs. This seemed almost alien to me. 


      The disability sector in Australia was able to come together as a whole and submit a shadow report from civil society to the United nations on the united nations convention on the rights of persons with disabilities. Although people acknowledge compromises were made to achieve this the outcome has been organisations have found it easier  to work together nationally on other issues.

      3.Will – being inclusive and accessible just seems to happen when asked what policies or procedures support this approach the answer is none and why wouldn’t we be accessible to all. There is an acknowledgement of the need for identity specific organisations as well.

      4.Openness PwDA seems to be very open I think that this in part comes from the stability in funding and is possibly helped by the fact there isn’t a language division between dpos and the general public.

      5. Entry points PwDA have open calls to the membership to represent the organisation. They provide briefing and training to support people to carry out the opportunities. They also encourage people to stand for board positions as a development opportunity and offer internships to disabled students. 
      These are just a few of my initial observations more will follow in my final fellowship report.

      First impressions of Sydney 

      Sydney Opera house
      Sydney Opera house

      I have been in Australia since Monday and having successfully beaten jet lag  I thought I’d  share my impression of Sydney. 

      The first thing thing that strikes me is everything seems so young and modern compared to London. Although the importance of history to Australia is clear everywhere.

      The second thing that hits you is just how international Sydney is it felt like days before we before met someone with an Australian accent.

      I’ve travelled quite a bit but predominantly in Europe and as a result it is quite novel to be in an English speaking country and I have to admit it makes  negotiating access easier.

      However wheelchair access is not as good as it could be or as I expected it to  be many  buildings have a step to get in or make wheelchair users use different  entrances. 

      Sydney is a lovely city and I can see why people come here and I’m looking forward to spending more time here later in my trip.

      Accessible tourist tips 1

      1. Go on an access tour of the opera house (thanks jo b for the tip) it’s a bit expensive but definitely worth it. 
      2. Grab a drink at the museum of contemporary arts great views
      3. If you are a wheelchair user don’t attempt to cross the harbour bridge as a pedestrian  it is not possible 

      Hidden gem 1

      The Martian embassy – this seemingly quirky shop in redfern is part of an initiative to get children  writing and reading  stories.