Natalie Wade promotes inclusion and paves the way for equal opportunities
Founder of Equality Lawyers and disability advocate Natalie Wade is determined to support people with disability in the education and workplace sectors.
Natalie has been in a wheelchair all her life. She was born with congenital myopathy which means the muscles in her arms, legs and spine are very weak.
“I don’t walk at all. I use a wheelchair to get around, to get to work, to get home. I am either in bed or in my chair.”
As the only person with a disability at her school throughout 12 years of education – as well as during her five years at Adelaide Law School – Natalie became acutely aware of the supports and services that were missing. She also realised that it was critical for someone like her to speak up and start advocating for the needs of people with disabilities.
From 1995, when she started school, and then into adolescence, Natalie continually learnt to give voice to her needs, her challenges, and the daily obstacles she faced and how to overcome them.
“When my parents went to enrol me in primary school, they were required to have me undergo a psychological assessment to see if I had an intellectual disability. Even though I had no indicators that I had any intellectual impairment at the time. But it was merely the fact that I used a wheelchair or had a physical disability, that the school would not accept my enrolment without that further testing.”
Natalie’s experience of mainstream schooling became one of “integration”.
“I was in a classroom with my non-disabled peers. I was just thrown in and told to participate, which I did. And that was really great. But it certainly was a product of its time.”
Thankfully, with advocates such as Natalie on board, the education system has remodelled itself to a significant degree. As Natalie says, “The classrooms are full with disability these days, which is so magical to see.
As Natalie grew older, her awareness of the need for more inclusion in the education and then employment sectors also grew.
Whilst attending the University of Adelaide, conversations with the university administration about the logistics and challenges of any requirements she needed were “educational”.
“A lot of my adjustments required physical stuff. Having a desk at the right height or doorways you can get through. I went to my first exam to the place where my friends were going, and it turned out I was a fire hazard and I shouldn’t have been there.
“Over the five years, I got a lot more articulate and a lot less apologetic.”
Natalie began mixing in circles outside her community and became more involved in disability advocacy.
“That brought me in touch with more people with disabilities … and that was really wonderful and made me more aware of many of the issues that I now work on.”
After graduating, Natalie worked in the legal industry, and in 2018 she received a government scholarship to complete a leadership course.
“Throughout the 12 months, I was routinely annoyed and surprised – and then not surprised – at the lack of inclusion and representation of people with disabilities.”
Inspired by her experiences and those of others around her, in 2019, Natalie founded Equality Lawyers – a boutique law firm for people with disabilities and their families to provide advice and representation on issues such as discrimination, the NDIS, social security law and wills and estates. The law firm regularly deals with issues occurring in the spaces of education and employment.
As well as representing people with disabilities, Natalie is determined that our communities learn how to be more inclusive – at all levels.
There are measures governments and law makers can make and actions that policy makers and representative organisations can take.
“And then, there’s what everyone can do. Often people will hear about inclusion and think, ‘Oh, that is an issue way bigger than me.’”
However, there’s plenty that everyday Australians can do to promote inclusion and effect real change Natalie explains.
If you’re a business, ensure your website is accessible for people with disabilities. If you operate a cafe, restaurant or other building, make sure you have a ramp for wheelchair users and make sure people with visual impairments who use guide dogs have access to your premises.
“Make sure you welcome people with disabilities into local sporting clubs and community activities. If you’re in a parent network, make sure that parents with disabilities are a part of your conversations or parents of children with disabilities are being heard.”
Equality Lawyers, with Natalie at the helm, believes that access to legal services is essential to protecting and promoting the rights of all people with disabilities, and while they are committed to the cause, Natalie says it’s important to remember that we all play a part in embracing and ensuring inclusivity.
“We all have something that we can really do in our everyday circle of influence that could lift up and promote the rights of people with disabilities.”
At Feros Care we too believe that communities learning how to be inclusive at all levels will effect real change. Through community projects, we are committed to supporting just that, and like Natalie, we agree that promoting inclusion through employment and education are key.
Feros Care has developed a guide – Talking about your disability your way: A guide to sharing your information – as a way to give people with disability a voice in employment, volunteer work, and study. This guide can also be used by employers to understand what they can do to support their employees with disability.
Feros Care has also recently released The Step 2 Education & Employment Guide for Families. The Step 2 Education & Employment Guide for Families has been developed to assist families and their school leavers to better understand pathways to employment in the ACT and Queensland.
The Isaac Job Fair, organised by Feros Care and to be held on April 28, is a community employment expo which will include disability employment providers and mental health services.