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.


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

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.

Why I applied for this fellowship


I believe in equity and human rights for all. However for disabled people across the world rights , equality and even self representation are ongoing battles.  Over the last 60 years disabled people have come together as a movement of people and organisations in reaction to the inequality and discrimination we face to advocate for our needs and  rights. The movement has adopted the phrase nothing about us without us to highlight the need for disabled people to be given space at decision making tables. Disabled people and organisations have had successes locally, nationally and internationally with things like the disability discrimination act and the United nations convention on the rights of persons with disabilities.

I and many other younger disabled people have been able to benefit from these wins to be more included in our communities and wider society than ever before but that doesn’t mean the barriers and discrimination have gone. Disabled people’s organisations are needed as much now as they were 20 or 30 years ago the problem is (At least in the UK) most of the dpos are in crisis predominantly because of funding.

However funding is not the only challenge facing disabled people’s organisations leadership,  accessibility and inclusivity are increasingly becoming issues and it is these things my fellowship is focused on.

Leadership, accessibility and inclusion – what’s the problem 

I have had an impairment as long as I can remember as it happens I have multiple impairments but it took longer to get the other ones recognised. I started  campaigning around disability rights at 10 and  got involved in disabled people’s organisations at 17. From the moment I got involved in dpos one thing stood out there was rarely anyone even  vaguely near my age involved in anything that wasn’t  specifically youth related- and very few dpos did or do anything around youth. 

From the moment I  entered the disability arena in have tried with  varying degrees of success to change that. 


Unfortunately lack of access to ideas and other disabled people doing the kind of things people aspire to means that unintentionally many dpos in the UK are not as accessible as they could or should be. How can you explore what it means to be a disabled person if you are  not given a safe and supportive space  to do that in. Too often disabled people are expected to be politicised just by having lived experience but if all your lived experience perpetuates societal norms then how do you get the confidence to challenge That? 

How do you ever find out disabled people’s organisations exist? 


Accross disability organisations both with and for their is a tendency to divide along  impairment lines and I get it but i don’t think it’s always helpful as it often puts disabled people in conflict with each other rather than trying to change society. As someone with multiple impairments and identities it means I can feel like I don’t  really belong anywhere. It also limits possible solutions and innovation by limiting the angles things are looked at.

Often there is a sense that to be in a disability organisation you must  see your main  identity as being disabled but for me this is silly as everyone has multiple identities that define who they are and how they experience the world. So how can we support disabled people’s organisations to celebrate diversity and talk about it? 


Disabled people’sorganisations are struggling to find skilled disabled people for leadership positions. For me this is mainly because there aren’t enough opportunities to develop the skills and experience to lead. As the current generation of leaders ages there is more and more need for new or emerging leaders but where are the learning opportunities? 
My fellowship 

Is looking at what organisations and individuals working around disability in Australia and New Zealand are doing to tackle these issues and to see there are any idea’s I can take back to the UK. 

I’m particularly interested in how disabled women,  young disabled people, disabled people from ethnic minorities and those with impairments which are often excluded from leadership roles are supported to  be/become  leaders.

 Winston Churchill Memorial trust fund British citizens to investigate inspiring practice in other countries, and return with innovative ideas for the benefit of people across the UK.

and we’re off

Today Kate (my willing PA for this adventure) and I begin our Leadership adventure Down Under. We will be spending the next few weeks exploring leadership in the disability field in australia and New Zealand and how it can be and is being made more inclusive.

I am interested in how the disability movement can support disabled women, young people, people with learning disabilities and those from diverse and minority backgrounds to be in leadership positions.

I will be meeting people from a wide range of organisations as well as individual disabled leaders in the followings cities:

  • Sydney
  • Melbourne
  • Brisbane
  • Hobbart
  • Wellington
  • Auckland

The key questions I will be asking are

  • Why does leadership in the disability  field should be more inclusive?
  • What are you/organisation doing to support this?
  • What were/are the barriers to inclusion in leadership?
  • What solutions have worked?

I hope to be able to share infomation about what’s happening in the UK and the challenges and opportunities we are facing.