MOST able bodied people don't think much about how close they are to disability, but a serious injury sustained from a fall from a horse was an eye opening experience for Sue Salthouse.
Sue became paraplegic after sustaining a spinal cord injury from her fall in 1995 and in October, she was named the ACT Senior Australian of the Year for almost 25 years of advocacy work.
A split second away
The 70 year old Kingston resident said the injury had led to realisations most people did not ponder.
"I think for anyone, having a disability is just a split second away," Sue said.
"There are people with congenital disabilities, but a large number of us become disabled by accident. Disability can be caused by a stroke, or even an asthma attack."
"People living in a non disabled world don't spend much time considering what it's like to live with disability, but it is more or less inevitable for people as they age."
The former teacher said in many ways she was in a "privileged position" following her accident compared to other people living with disabilities.
"I'd had a career, independent means of living and was able to become a spokesperson because of that."
She said she had over 25 years of career experience and was able to find consultancy work in the community services sector following the accident.
But through talking to other disabled people at meetings and conferences and reading about their stories, her eyes were opened to the number of serious obstacles facing many disabled Australians.
"It's really hard to get a job, no matter what type of qualifications a person has."
"Employers tend to think a workplace can't accommodate a disabled person's needs and there are assumptions disabled people aren't well equipped to do things."
"There are attitudes that disabled people don't have the right to be part of the community."
Housing security, affordability and accessibility and a higher vulnerability to exploitation and abuse, a lack of Auslan presenters at public events and abundance of web sites which are not readable for people with vision impairments were also major barriers.
Sue has worked for and volunteered for a number of organisations supporting people with disabilities as well as organisations which provide leadership training for women and campaign against domestic violence.
She was initially invited to work for Women with Disabilities Australia (WWDA) and is currently a member of the NDIS Independent Advisory Council, is the chair of Women With Disabilities ACT, and the director of Workways Australia, Rights and Inclusion Australia and Women in Adult and Vocational Education.
In her years of advocacy, she has witnessed some positive changes to Australia's attitude towards the disabled - with the most significant factor being Australia's ratification of the UN's convention on rights of persons with disabilities in 2008.
She said implementation of the treaty had paved the way for other positive changes including the establishment of the NDIS.
She has also seen positive changes in terms of inclusion for women with disabilities in the women's sector.
Work to be done
In the near future, she said she would like to see changes to building codes to ensure all houses complied with minimum levels of accessibility at very least.
She would also like to see changes which afford people over 65 the same support as people on the NDIS, more welfare supports and further promotion of gender equality to reduce levels of violence against women.
For a complete rundown of ACT Australian of the Year award recipients, click here.