Julia Hales has been able to express her personality and experience, beyond the fact of her disability, by working with Perth's DADAA (Disability in the Arts, Disadvantage in the Arts) for the last 20 years — initially as a performer, and now also as part of their leadership team.
"I know I've got a disability, but I don't want other people to see me like that. The stage is actually my home. When I'm on stage, I get to show people the person that I am and they [the audience] can see what kind of characters I can play," she said.
At this year's Perth Festival, Hales starred in You Know We Belong Together, a show she created with DADAA and Black Swan Theatre, inspired by her long-term obsession with the Australian soap opera Home and Away.
It also explored the stigma around disability; specifically, "it showed how people with Down Syndrome used to be treated," she said.
"I would like to be treated like everyone else in the world, [as] this woman who is very independent."
Meagan Shand, the CEO of Arts Access Australia, sees You Know We Belong Together as a best practice example.
"[You've got] a talented artist with a dream (and some fabulous friends), a festival director [Perth Festival's Wendy Martin] with vision, a theatre company that values diversity, and an experienced arts and disability organisation, who know how to support the people and production."
While performers have encountered varying attitudes and barriers to their work, Ms Shand cites troubling research that shows "there are lower numbers of established artists [compared to emerging artists] with disability in Australia [and that] when they do find employment, they earn significantly less than artists without disability".
"Arts companies must do more to create access to the arts for artists and performers with disability," she said.
"This situation is unacceptable, and with all its dedicated and talented creatives, the arts sector is the right sector to create change."
Julia Hales recently performed at the Perth Festival. (Supplied: Perth Festival/Cameron Etchells)