Woman with pink hair smiling at camera outside

GROWING UP IN VENEZUELA WITH BLINDNESS IN ONE EYE, ISABEL OSUNA-GATTY HAS OVERCOME CULTURAL AND LINGUISTIC DIFFERENCES IN AUSTRALIA ON A JOURNEY TO GROWING BOLD FOR OTHERS.

A driving force behind change in mainstream society’s approach and attitude towards cultural and linguistic differences means far more than just empowerment for Isabel Osuna-Gatty.

With a passion for helping those from Culturally and Linguistically Diverse (CALD) backgrounds, Isabel traversed the globe from her native Venezuela to help others grow bold in Australia.

A passion also shared by Feros Care through projects in Local Area Coordination (LAC) regions including Townsville and Mackay’s Pathways Project, and in Adelaide through a film series recorded in 15 different languages to connect with National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) participants from different backgrounds, Isabel sees giant strides being made.

Speaking with journalist Pete Timbs and writer, editor and disability advocate Tristram Peters on Feros Care’s Growing Bold With Disability Podcast, Isabel detailed how she had dedicated her life to working in the CALD space and particularly within Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.

She said while there’d been improvements made through organisational focus from the likes of Feros Care, the key to seeking inclusion, equality and acceptance was everyone’s responsibility.

“It is the person… it’s you, it is your capacity to actually make a difference if you want to and that’s why collective society is so important,” she said.

“It’s up to the individual, and the community, to take responsibility… we need to think differently, and we need to change the culture.”

Coming from a non-English speaking and Jewish background, Isabel has a natural connection to those from CALD communities but growing up with a deformed jaw and blind in one eye, Isabel was no stranger to feeling ostracised, lonely, and alienated.

While an accident after being hit by a golf club got her access to treatment to reset her jaw, it was her experiences which saw her begin improving the lives of others through assisting kids with Down syndrome during after-school teaching sessions.

Her calling became clear through experiencing the difficulties people from other areas may face, when she moved to Australia after meeting her husband on the internet during the dial-up era.

“I went to get my driver’s licence, and the person looked at my passport, which is in Spanish and showed two first names and two surnames… They threw the passport back at me,” Isabel said.

“She said for all she knew my passport was stolen; so, I came back with a neighbour and there was no one there to help me and they told me to come back another time. I’d been in Australia for a week, but I was already aware of how hard it can be.”

HOW ISABEL IS MAKING A DIFFERENCE IN THE CULTURALLY AND LINGUISTICALLY DIVERSE SPACE.

It was this experience which lit the fuse for a desire to help change the lives of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders.

“Once I managed to get a job, I found somebody who was a youth worker with Aboriginal people and that’s how I started connecting with Aboriginal people all the time,” she said.

 “Not having an Australian accent opened the door. Their culture is collective, and I come from a collective culture, so it was easy to connect.

“They felt very comfortable with me and I built that rapport and it felt like family. So, for me, it was ‘how can I help?’, and I knew education was a way.”

Fast forward, and Isabel has helped drive improvements in social belonging, employment, study pathways, career opportunities, literacy standards and acceptance for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders. Teaching language, literacy and numeracy programs, including five years volunteering in Yuendumu in the Northern Territory, Isabel’s work saw her win an Excellence in Language, Literacy and Numeracy (LLN) Practice Award at the 2016 Australian Training Awards.

Paying that forward into her current role as a Disability Coordination Officer for South Australia’s central and northern region, Isabel is reducing cultural stigma and improving education pathways for people with disabilities from CALD backgrounds.

“We work with services that work with people with a disability, but we have to make sure that people have access to tertiary education of a level one certificate and above,” she said.

“It’s about people having an option, and there are services and supports available. My role is to talk to services and ensure that systems are in place for people with disability to access education.

“I have one project working with CALD communities and I am partnering with Feros Care to make that happen, and also, running around my region to ensure that happens there as well.”

HOW THE NDIS IS HELPING TO CHANGE LIVES

Commending the likes of Feros Care’s focus on CALD communities, Isabel said the ability to implement the NDIS’ Community Connector program on a wider scale would be a great help.

Recently undergoing an expansion, the program ensures better support for Australians with disability in rural and urban locations from four specific population groups to access the NDIS, including: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander and Culturally and Linguistically Diverse (CALD) communities. 

“Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people might choose a woman and a man to be Community Connectors to go into communities and talk NDIS in their way,” Isabel said.

“That has created a better way for people to see and understand NDIS, and the Community Connector Program could make a big difference.”

Growing Bold for the CALD Community, Isabel is also writing a book documenting her experiences. With a positive can-do outlook, Isabel said she wouldn’t be resting on her laurels and encouraged everyone to step up and “Grow Bold” for others.

“People live with the glass half full, and they also live with a glass half empty. I don't, I live with the glass half full and see how we can fill it up,” she said.

“So being bold is to do; to think outside the square to really get yourself outside of your comfort zone and the universe will make it happen.

“You just have to go out there and do it.”

CLICK HERE TO LISTEN TO OUR GROWING BOLD WITHIN THE CALD COMMUNITY PODCAST.

TO LISTEN TO OTHER GREAT EPISODES FROM OUR GROWING BOLD WITH DISABILITY PODCAST, CLICK HERE.

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