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Fighting for fair

11 January 2021 at 11:12 am
Maggie Coggan
As the CEO of YouthWorx NT and president of Physical Disabilities Australia, Liz Reid AM is fighting to create a fair and equitable Australia for people with disabilities. She’s this week’s Changemaker.

Maggie Coggan | 11 January 2021 at 11:12 am


Fighting for fair
11 January 2021 at 11:12 am

As the CEO of YouthWorx NT and president of Physical Disabilities Australia, Liz Reid AM is fighting to create a fair and equitable Australia for people with disabilities. She’s this week’s Changemaker. 

For the past 30 years, Reid has shaped her career around helping create economic and social opportunities for those struggling to fully participate in their communities.   

These are issues she understands first hand. 

Born with arthrogryposis multiplex congenita (AMC), Reid has had extensive surgery since birth to achieve improved positioning and increase the range of motion in her lower limbs and joints for better mobility. 

In her mid-20’s, she was diagnosed with ankylosing spondylitis, a type of arthritis, and a chronic inflammatory disease requiring her to use a wheelchair.

Working as the CEO of YouthWorx NT, the president of Physical Disability Australia, and sitting as the chair of the Australian Federation of Disability Organisations Australia, Reid is using her experience and passion to create a world that everyone can thrive in, no matter what their background or capabilities are.  

For her efforts, she was awarded the Member of the Order of Australia (AM) in 2020, for service to people with disability, youth and social inclusion.

In this week’s Changemaker, Reid discusses the advice that guides her, managing challenges, and what she fits into her day.

What kind of impact are you trying to have with your work? 

It’s to create a fair and equitable Australia for people who are disadvantaged, people who have disabilities, those that are marginalised, and to really create a change where everybody has a good life and is not left behind. I like to be able to look at where the gaps are and come up with creative, sustainable solutions that are going to benefit everybody.

What’s a piece of advice that has guided you throughout your career?

Don’t be defined by your disability. I was born with a physical disability and so I started as a tiny person in special education. My parents were social inclusion pioneers in a way and were adamant that I wasn’t going to be in a special education system and that I was going to be in a mainstream education system and I was going to go to school with the kids in my suburb and play with the kids in my street. Disability was never part of the equation and I was always pushed to do what is mainstream, but I was very lucky to have the support of family. I think that that’s what’s driven me. You might have a disability, but everybody has potential to be the best that they can be with the appropriate support. 

You have quite a few jobs that you’re juggling, what does an average day look like for you? 

No day is the same. At YouthWorx, we have a schedule set out most days, but it can change so quickly depending upon what happens. [We] need to be responsive to the needs of every young person who comes through our door, coming to us with different circumstances and the absolute essence is that they need to be afforded the respect and the same rights and freedoms as others to achieve.

So a day in the life of a CEO is the governance, the management, the oversight of programs, being connected to individual team members, being connected to the programs and really understanding the programs and what needs to be achieved in terms of compliance to ensure that funding is being utilised to the best of our ability. So that’s my day job, and then there is my night job as the PDA president. Like many small disability people’s organisations, it has had to work very hard to retain its funding.

In the last 12 months, we’ve established a PDA youth alliance, because we know the youth voice is so important in terms of social movements and as a succession plan to keep organisations like PDA alive for the future.

When COVID hit, we responded really quickly by upping our social media presence because there were so many people with physical disabilities in Australia that were home alone or were isolated because of COVID. We were having regular social sessions for our members, I think at one stage we were doing that weekly and now it’s gone to fortnightly so that there is still that connection to talk about what is happening in the world.

How do you manage challenges in your jobs?

I work with really like-minded people who have the same passion. The disability sector is a great sector and is incredibly collaborative, and I think we all work together very well, and that’s one of the things that has held us in good stead. At PDA, we get together on a regular basis, we see forums and nobody is too far away if you need a hand, and I think that that’s one thing that’s a great strength for the sector.

And when you’re not doing your day and night job, what do you like to do to relax? 

I love going to the gym. I can go and just chill out and do some exercise. I love being with my family, they’re an amazing bunch and they support me and put up with the various things that I do. And they really are the backbone of how much I can contribute. 

Life is very busy, but if you can put it into bite sized pieces and tackle it and break it down, everything is very attainable.  

Maggie Coggan  |  Journalist  |  @MaggieCoggan

Maggie Coggan is a journalist at Pro Bono News covering the social sector.

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