Stefan lives with cerebral palsy. He’s also a champion wakeboarder and clay shooter
FROM champion wake-boarder to clay shooting competitor in training for the Olympics, Stefan Noto knows how to set his sights high and chase his dreams with purpose and passion.
The 28-year-old South Australian who was born with cerebral palsy also happens to be an expert in time management – on top of his competitive training schedules, Stefan is working in the construction industry and is contributing to disability advocacy organisations with his lived experience and wisdom. He is also on the board of directors with Community Bridging Services, a company that helps people with a disability to secure their desired employment.
And, just in case he finds himself wondering what to do next, Stefan has enthusiastically taken on the role of president of the Northern Muscle Car Club of South Australia organising car shows, car runs and meetings.
Recently, Stefan was a panelist with a Feros Care focus group initiative which brought together a range of people, including people with lived experience of a disability, to facilitate conversations about how society can work to ultimately be more inclusive and benefit everyone – an opportunity which he embraced.
Building confidence, connections … and constructions
Stefan – a National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) participant since 2016 , and long-term Feros Care participant – says it’s crucial to be aware that a person’s needs can change throughout the course of a year, and he’d like to advocate for NDIS plans to more effectively reflect this reality.
During his life, Stefan has had countless surgeries on his wrists as well as operations for leg lengthening and arm straightening.
“You might be well at a certain time and you’re not thinking that something could happen but later on in the year, it works out that you could use more assistance, however your plan doesn’t give you that option.”
Currently, Stefan is working for Constructwell, an Adelaide building company focussing on residential and commercial constructions, including disability housing.
“Being a part of that, as a person with a disability, is something that I’m proud of.
“At first my boss was a little bit apprehensive of taking on somebody with a disability, but once they could see what I could do and because I’ve got an architectural and drafting background, I’m now working as a project administrator. So that keeps me on my toes.
“I like the variety – everyday is not the same. I can have one day where I’m working on still frames and the next I’m working with clients and the next day I’m pouring slabs for another job that is starting.
“I have the opportunity to go back into the office and do a bit of drafting which is also good as it brings me back to my roots.”
Accessibility, affordability and collaboration
The firm Stefan works for, he says, offers his expertise to support developers during the construction of a project.
“In the construction phase I can use my background in drafting and architecture to say that I can see there’s going to be an issue and explain why.
“So far it’s always been positive and they’re like, ‘Oh, we didn’t think of that.’ It’s opening their eyes and it gives people more of an awareness of what people with disabilities require or need.
“Without those questions being asked they don’t have the answers – assumptions can be made without talking to someone who has a lived experience.”
Common issues that arise and which Stefan is able to help resolve include bathrooms that have been designed without a large enough turning circle available for wheelchair use and courtyards which are inaccessible to a wheelchair-user because the doors have not been recessed to allow movement between inside and outside.
“Another thing we’re tending to do is different colours. If you’ve got lots of whites and people are vision impaired, we’ll pick another colour to use around the door frame so it makes it a lot easier for them.
“If a person is not wanting to use their cane all the time, they can differentiate from their hall to their laundry because of colour-coding between the different rooms.
“This can make a huge difference to someone who is looking to move to a new place for the first time.”
The impacts of the work Stefan is undertaking with companies to ensure a building is appropriate for a person with disabilities can have far-reaching effects. A builder is addressing issues immediately, rather than needing to rebook a tradesperson because adjustments are needed after the build is finished. A resident is also less likely to need to address an issue once they have moved in.
“Because I’ve taken the time to review everything, a person doesn’t have to delay their time of moving in, and having a person with lived experience review these things makes it overall more user-friendly and more affordable.
“Otherwise you’re getting plans that need upgrades and modifications which incurs more cost.
“We’re doing this from the very beginning which is very cost-effective.”
A labour of love
Stefan is working on future-proofing his own house.
“I’m able to walk – it wasn’t thought I would be able to walk and I’ve gone through a lot of therapy to be able to walk on my own.
“But I want to future-proof my house at the design and construction stages so it won’t be a huge added cost afterwards if I do need to use a wheelchair.”
He says the journey of working in the construction industry and working on his own home has highlighted to him the need for more people with disabilities to be employed in the sector.
“I’m definitely trying to push for a lot more people with disabilities within the sector.”
At work and while working on his house, Stefan has promoted the use of companies who employ people with disabilities.
“For example, we wanted the cabinetry made by Bedford Park Constructions as they are an organisation which employs people with disabilities and they’ve been around for a long time in Adelaide.”
Olympic goals and physical endurance
Clay shooting has been pulled from the 2024 Paralympics, however Stefan is now aiming for the 2026 Paralympics where he hopes to form part of the Australian Para Clay Target Team in Olympic Trap Shooting. He will also be competing this month in Western Australia for the State Titles.
“If I shoot really well, it helps with getting my international scoring to go overseas.
“Once I hit my benchmark score, Shooting Australia will invite me to compete in international tournaments which would lead to 2026 Paralympics.”
In-between his other commitments, Stefan aims to train at least once a week at the shooting range, as well as do physical training three times a week.
“What I enjoy about it most is it’s a sport that’s just between me and the target. It’s an individual sport – you need to break the target – no one else can do it for you.
“It’s definitely a mind game and you have to be strong-willed. I believe I am quite strong-willed – it’s a sport I’ve grown to enjoy.”
The severity and devastating impact of last year’s floods in the region affected Stefan’s ability to be able to train for wake boarding events.
He remains involved with Novita’s charity Mighty River Run boating adventure on the Murray River which will be held in November this year. It was cancelled last year due to flooding, however is set to return and continue in its fundraising efforts to support people with disability through therapy, technologies and accessibility building design.
Stefan views all of his passions as being connected in his life.
“Pre-Covid I was planing on building my house, which led me to do more with Feros Care and with my LAC working on my NDIS plan.
“Now that’s coming to fruition, I’m getting back into wakeboarding which is maintaining my strength and my ability to keep training with my shooting.
“It also helps with work as when I’m working on site it can be quite draining and physical at times, so it’s important I maintain my body functions right now.”
Working with his sports physiologist has been essential, Stefan says, in supporting him to hone in on one particular area of his physical health.
“I still use my physio and OT, but this gives another set of eyes to look at attacking certain muscles to work on and I’ve found then that I’m getting more function out of the OT and physio sessions. It’s making my muscle memory more usable in other sessions, and I can pick things up more easily.”
A sense of purpose and visions for the future
In 2023, Stefan wants to ensure the spotlight is on inclusion and collaboration with workplaces so more people with disabilities can gain access to working in the industries they want.
“I’ve found that it can be about keeping knocking on doors and one of these days the door will open and it will change your life.
“It gives me more of a sense of a purpose thinking that I can help someone else.
“I reckon we can make quite a big change. It’s all about getting the individual into open employment. I’m a big believer in it and I reckon there’s people who could be in open employment and making a huge difference to everyone’s day-to-day lives.”