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.



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


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. 

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.