Motivated to remove barriers
24 March 2023 at 1:06 pm
Cody Jones uses his lived experience to help other people with disability, and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, to overcome the barriers they face. He is this week’s Changemaker.
Jones, a proud Wiradjuri man, is a social worker based in regional New South Wales. He is also an advocate for people with disability, like himself.
“I was born with a disability called central hypotonia which impacts on my muscles and the way I do most things from walking through to preparing meals,” he explained.
For three and a half years he has worked as a local area coordinator with Social Futures, where he uses his lived experience to help other people with disability work through the NDIS and overcome barriers.
Asked what barriers he has faced in his career journey, Jones goes back to his days as a university student, when he struggled to find a job in the sector due to not have a driver’s licence.
“There could be 25 vacancies for social or community workers and every job description contained ‘driver licence’ as a mandatory requirement,” he recalled.
“It took me a while to get comfortable having conversations with potential employers and selling myself — acknowledging my disability and the limitations it has like not being able to drive or work full time but also the strengths it gave me like typing really fast on a computer or being able to problem solve situations, because those things are my everyday.”
Last year, Jones applied for, and received a position in the Australian Institute of Company Directors’ Disability Leadership Scholarship program.
What prompted you to apply for the scholarship?
Last year I made a decision that I wanted to look at further study. I love my job and the sector I get to work in but I also wanted to test myself and do more to help promote inclusion and accessibility in organisations and society more generally.
Shortly before my 26th birthday a local contact who I used to work for emailed me the webpage about the scholarship. I read it and looked at the eligibility criteria. I ended up emailing the contact at the Australian Scholarship Foundation as I wasn’t sure I met the criteria to apply. They emailed back quickly and encouraged me to put in an application.
Two months later I was working and got the email that I had gotten the scholarship.
What skills or experiences do you hope to gain from it?
The biggest thing I wanted to learn from the scholarship was how to make good governance decisions. The course definitely didn’t disappoint.
Over the three sessions I learned a lot about governance and how boards operate through to finance and reading budgets and my personal favourite risk management and strategic planning.
The course as a whole was a great experience and taught me a lot about making decisions and balancing the needs of different stakeholders. It also really helped me to see my own leadership potential and since finishing the course in December I’ve started to volunteer to take on a leadership role on different projects and am really enjoying the experience.
You’re an advocate for both people with disability and Indigenous people. What motivates you to continue advocating?
It isn’t easy. It seems each time progress is made and we take a step forward something unexpected happens and we’re right back where we were before.
The thing that drives me the most is wanting to make a difference. It motivates me that many of the barriers that existed when I was born in 1996 are still relevant today. The disability labour force participation rate in 1993 was 54.9 per cent and the unemployment rate was 17.8 per cent. In 2019 the employment rate was 48 per cent and unemployment was 10.5 per cent.
Despite 26 years difference those two numbers are very similar and show the need for advocates to help promote greater awareness of disability and to break down the barriers, stigmas and myths that sadly continue to exist for people with disabilities and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in this country.
I think about my own experiences and how much easier it was knowing I had and continue to have people in my corner supporting me.
The biggest thing that motivates me to continue to advocate and fight for change is hoping I’m making a difference. Hoping I am making it a little bit easier for the next generation so that they don’t have to take up the same fight that my generation is fighting now.
What is the biggest change you would like to see for these two communities, and how can we achieve those changes?
For people with disabilities I strongly believe we need to continue to have conversations about normalising difference and different abilities. 4.5 million Australians live with some form of disability and currently there remains society stigma and barriers which are stopping people from being included within their local communities.
We as a country need to change the way we look at disability and focus on a person’s abilities and what communities can do to become more inclusive. This starts with education and removing the stigma about disability so that people regardless of their challenges can access and be a part of their community.
For Aboriginal and Torres Strait islander Australians I believe we as a country need to engage on a path of truth telling. This starts with the acknowledgment that First Nation history in Australia spans more than 50,000 years. As a country we need to continue to work collectively with local communities to address the challenges facing communities including life expectancy, incarceration rates and health outcomes.
Personally, later this year I am looking forward to voting yes on constitutional recognition for fellow First Australians in our national document, and the establishment of a Voice to the parliament to ensure fair and balanced representation for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People.