When Kylie Schonewille met Matt Hillas at work, she knew straight away he was the man for her.
- A disability services provider is running a course on respectful relationships and consent
- Demand increased after consent issues hit the national political spotlight earlier in the year
- A woman who is now in a happy relationship says similar training could have helped her in the past
The couple, who both live with intellectual disabilities, have now been together for 10 years.
"I've been married twice and divorced twice and in those relationships, I really, really got hurt," Ms Schonewille said.
"Now that I've found Matt, it is really special … when I see him at work, I always have butterflies and he always puts a smile on my face."
They met whilst working at Wallara Logistics, a packing and distribution centre in the outer-Melbourne suburb of Keysborough which employs 140 people with various disabilities.
In the early stages, Ms Schonewille said her sister provided the support needed to navigate the relationship, such as guidance on how to work through disagreements.
But Mr Hillas admitted he learned along the way and "just went for it".
"I just want to make her feel safe and happy knowing that she can trust someone who's not going to hurt her," Mr Hillas said.
Engaged and living together, their relationship is going strong and they are planning their wedding.
'Chloe's no different to anyone else'
It's that kind of loving relationship Chloe Osmond is hoping to find.
The 22-year-old from Victoria's Mornington Peninsula lives with an intellectual disability and hopes to get married on a cruise ship one day.
Kate Osmond fully supports her daughter finding friendship, love and maybe getting married one day, but she does have concerns.
"It's someone taking advantage of her vulnerability and her not being able to speak up," she said.
"Ever since Chloe was about 15 she's always said, 'Why can't I have a boyfriend?'
"I've always just told her, 'When the right one comes along, you'll find a boyfriend'."
Fans of the royal family, Chloe and her mother travelled to London three years ago to be in the crowd as Prince Harry married Meghan Markle.
"When they went past in the carriage, Chloe was so emotional and she was just so happy for Harry," Ms Osmond said.
She wants the same happiness for her daughter, and the family home has a self-contained apartment for her in the hope she may live there one day either with a partner or friend.
"I'd love for her to live independently and to have a relationship because at the end of the day we're not here forever," Ms Osmond said.
"Chloe's no different to anyone else when it comes to feelings and emotions and needing companionship."
Learning the skills for successful relationships
Ms Osmond has found support navigating the challenging area of relationships for people with disabilities through her daughter's day program at Sages Cottage Farm in Baxter.
The 40-acre property is one of the ventures run by disability services provider Wallara and is attended by about 60 young people aged 18 to 30 with mostly intellectual disabilities.
Clients are funded by the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) to learn life skills by helping run the farm, training in areas like animal husbandry, gardening and landscaping, beekeeping, and working at the onsite cafe which is open to the public.
The day program's training has also extended into issues surrounding consent and relationships, with parents like Ms Osmond looking for advice, Wallara chief executive Phil Hayes-Brown said.
"We can't protect and wrap people in bubble wrap and just be in denial about it," Mr Hayes-Brown said.
"To deny people [with a disability] that path is a breach of their rights, so let's engage in the conversation and provide safe places and education."
The pandemic and multiple lockdowns in Victoria have prompted Wallara to develop more than 20 online courses, and the latest is focused on consent and respectful relationships.
Courses have begun for men and women with intellectual disabilities, both in-person and online.
Mr Hayes-Brown said when the issue of consent and relationships hit the national political spotlight earlier this year, he received calls from many parents concerned about how to support their adult children with disabilities navigate the very same issues.
"Many of our clients have a developmental delay and sometimes these issues are not presenting until much later in their teens or 20s," Mr Hayes-Brown said.
"You can't just say, 'It was covered in school so it's already been dealt with' … the people we serve need support and lifelong training."
'Everyone needs a Matt'
Four-time Paralympian Don Elgin has designed the respectful relationships training for Wallara, drawing on both his lived experience and a forum with parents and their adult children.
"The participants want the same things that everybody else wants — they want relationships and they want the skills to be able to have successful relationships," Mr Elgin said.
"The parents understand the nature of their son or daughter means that it's not always going to go to plan, and we're going to help them with the skills so they can make the most of the relationships and the path they're travelling."
Ms Schonewille said a respectful relationships program like the one now being offered by Wallara to younger people would have saved her a lot of heartache.
"It would have been helpful because you see a lot of disabled people that are so desperate to meet someone and they go online and then they might meet the wrong person," she said.
For Ms Schonewille, the difference in her relationship with Mr Hillas is that she feels supported.
"I thought never in my life would I get engaged again," Ms Schonewille said.
"Everyone needs a Matt."