Online group builds connection between Australians living with disabil – Ausnew Home Care

Online group builds connection between Australians living with disabilities in the bush

capability disability Living With a Disability

Josie Clarke was just five years old when she was rushed to Sydney with her three siblings to say goodbye to their father.

Glen Clarke had been involved in a serious truck accident.

"We were all taken straight to Sydney before he had to have a massive surgery to say goodbye to Dad, just in case," Ms Clarke said.

"I didn't realise at the time, but now I'm older, I realise it's not just saying hello to Dad, it's the idea that he may not make it."

At the time, Mr Clarke was running a transportation company and beef cattle farm in Kempsey, New South Wales.

He survived the crash but was a paraplegic, and when he returned to the farm, he found that things were not the same as when he had left.

"I never had a sick day in my life," Mr Clarke said.

"I was 41 at the time and then everything was turned around.

Mr Clarke was determined not to let his injury define the rest of his life and retrained as a clerical assistant.

He had his John Deere Gator all-terrain vehicle adapted so he was able to continue to spray weeds and muster cattle on his farm.

"It [the gator] was basically me legs," he said.

"It gave me independence again around the farm which was a great thing because it made me feel like I was contributing in some way or another."

Recognising that her father's story was not dissimilar to those of many other farmers inspired Ms Clarke to create an online community for farmers living with disability.

Man in an ATV.
Glen adapted things around his property, like his prized ATV, to keep farming.(

Supplied: Glen Clarke


Sharing stories and ideas

Ability Agriculture is a Facebook group where farmers from all ends of Australia can send in their personal stories, and share different ideas on how they have adapted their work on the land to suit their individual needs.

The group has already attracted more than 130 members and 420 followers on Instagram since its inception in early February.

Ms Clarke said that although there were some initiatives that had tried to support people with disability in the regions, funding was scarce and some initiatives were sporadic with their communications.

By creating a group run on a volunteer basis by the members who were part of it, members had control over how successful it was.

The Australian Law Reform Commission found in 2013 that disability was more common in rural and remote areas than in urban areas.

However, that same remoteness can exacerbate some of the disadvantages a person living with disability may experience.

'You get a lot of positivity from seeing people do that'

While other support groups exist to provide medical assistance and advice to farmers in the regions, Ability Agriculture is designed for social purposes.

Nick Trethowan, from Kojonup, Western Australia, said sharing ideas on how to adapt farming equipment to suit personal needs was a significant benefit of the group.

Man with one leg standing with his dog inside a tractor.
Nick has been able to alter what he does day-to-day to ensure he can still get out and work.(

Supplied: Nick Trethowan


"There are so many ideas out there, but it's very hard to find them, it can be a real challenge and can be a real struggle trying to actually find information," he said.

"This is a great initiative to get everyone in the same spot so that things can be spoken about and ideas exchanged."

Mr Trethowan was 19 when his leg was amputated at the hip due to an osteogenic sarcoma cancer.

He tried his luck with accounting, but decided it was not the career path for him and eventually pursued a career in yabby and merino sheep farming.

He hoped the group would increase representation of people living with disability.

"Watching a one-legged bloke get up a machinery ladder may not be pretty, but once I am in the cab I am as good as any other operator."

Kristy Banks, a jockey from Yalangur, Queensland, said the group was important as it inspired people with disability to continue doing the things they love.

Lady on a horse racing.
Kristy has won a swag of awards as she continues to compete in 1D bale racing titles.(

Supplied: Kristy Banks


Ms Banks suffered a severe injury in a horse race when she was 31, that left her paraplegic.

The mother of one now loves spending time on the farm with her son and has taught herself to horse ride again.

She has won three 1D bale racing titles — races which also include able-bodied jockeys.

"There are heaps of people I've taken inspiration from who are out there working and even people who are a lot worse off than me who are still out there working in the agricultural business sector of things and still living life," she said.

Employment prospects

According to the Australian Network on Disability, there are 2.1 million Australians of working age living with disability.

Of those Australians, under half are employed.

By increasing the representation of people in the regions with disability, Mr Clarke hoped employment prospects might improve.

"I think what it also does is it opens up for employment in the rural sector," he said.

Although the various members of the Ability Agriculture group hail from different states and have varying lived experiences with disability, they all share a similar sentiment.

"If you're still passionate about agriculture, just get out there and have a go," Mr Trethowan said.

"Don't believe the people who tell you that they think you can't do something or they know you can't do something."

Source: ABC

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