The inaugural Disability Leadership Summit stood out for its lineup of inspiring speakers who not only shared their personal journeys of survival but delivered on the opportunities to change the leadership landscape in the disability sector. 

The inaugural event brought over 100 people from financial, legal, hospitality, mining, construction, education, entertainment and media together in-person and virtually.

Attendees were introduced to a multitude of strategies to reshape the employment landscape for people with disabilities, including assistive technology, career development programs, remote and flexible work options, peer support networks, inclusive hiring practices and disability disclosure and openness campaigns.

Among the speakers were lawyer David Anthony, La Trobe University vice-chancellor Professor Jessica Vanderlelie, film director and comedian Tim Ferguson, disability advocate Dr Dinesh Palipana, former AFL coach Beau Vernon, Westpac access and inclusion director Majella Knobel and ABC journalist Nas Campanella.

Majella Knobel, highlighted the exemplary disability engagement programs at Westpac, impressing the audience with practical examples of impactful change. One delegate lauded her as an “outstanding leader in this space, both as a person with lived experience and as a go-getting change maker for all people with disabilities.”

Another visitor was access and inclusion consultant Patricia Scheetz. “As a person who is blind, I don’t feel well represented in most sections of society, and especially not in leadership roles. I attended the summit and was impressed, inspired, and genuinely determined to become the change that I am yet to see.

“Listening to great speakers such as Tim Ferguson, Dr Dinesh Palipana and Nas Campanella and hear them discuss challenges they have faced through their lives as people with a disability, and how they’ve shaped their lives and careers, not because of their disability but despite them, was a highlight for me. The personal stories that these and the other speakers shared showcased leadership skills that I could surprisingly identify with, and it gave me ideas that I could take back to my workplace to hopefully support more people with disabilities find meaningful work, which is what my role and my employer Beaumont People are focused on,” she told F2L.

Beau Vernon’s talk on coping with change and striving for excellence was a highlight for many attendees. His “Helpful Mindset” was particularly acclaimed for its transformative perspective on life. “Great energy, passion and enthusiasm for telling his story and spreading his message. Highly engaging presenter,” one inspired delegate said.

TEDX speaker and disability advocate Wayne Herbert delivered a strong message about investing in people with disability. “As a nation we have to start thinking about people with disability as an investment, not as an expense or a burden. If we did, don’t you think that would change the conversation? We must be part of that conversation and lead it.”

Leadership Institute CEO Dana Lightbody described the summit as a “pioneering endeavour that was not without its learning opportunities”. The organisers took note of the sensory overload experienced by some delegates due to the lighting and sound conditions and are committed to creating a more sensory-friendly environment for future events. “The institute is keen on consistently improving the event based on participant feedback and learning from each year’s experience,” she told F2L.

“The summit was not merely an event, but a testament to the power of inclusion, diversity and the untapped potential in Australia’s disability leadership,” Lightbody said. “Next year’s summit is aiming to deliver an even more inclusive, enlightening and transformative experience for all delegates.”

Photo: Beau Vernon