In my life, my disability doesn’t hold me back from achieving what I set out to do. While I love to push my limits, it’s more about enjoying the journey than achieving the goal itself. From co-piloting a light plane to running from Cairns to Brisbane for charity, I jump at the chance to take any opportunity that comes my way.
I was born with congenital blindness. When growing up as a young kid going through primary school and high school, there were some immense challenges to break the perceptions of what having a disability meant.
I was challenging perceptions, not just for the students, but for the teachers as well. People often assume that because a person is blind they could not play cricket or AFL. I proved them wrong. I was great at defence in AFL, because I was good at running, I was able to stick close to my opponent, making sure the ball was out of their goal square.
Sport was something I was very good at and I adored it. I went to the Paralympics for the first time in 1996 and while I didn’t intend to keep competing in sports professionally, a chance encounter at my local swimming pool changed all that, and now I’m heading to my final Paralympics in 2020.
People are often impressed that I was able to conquer Mount Everest, but by far the most difficult experience I've had was when I competed on Dancing with the Stars.
Having to learn all the different styles of dance was a huge challenge – especially when I had never seen dancing before. After placing fourth in the competition, I think there were a lot of grumpy husbands being elbowed in the ribs by their wives saying ‘well if a blind guy can do it, why can’t you?’
I have always taken on the mantra that being blind won’t stop me from doing anything and International Day of People with Disability on December 3 is a great opportunity to break down false perceptions of what people with disability can achieve.
I encourage all Australians to start a conversation about disability. Don’t be scared to ask questions. Don’t ignore someone with disability because you’re uncomfortable.
I have always taken on the mantra that being blind won’t stop me from doing anything.Gerrard Gosens
People with disability can stand up and be heard, but we also need to listen as well. We need to listen to able bodied people and understand what they need to learn from us.
People with and without disability should start these conversations together. For example, how to ask questions about speaking to a child with a visual impairment, such as ‘how do I guide them, or can I invite this child out to play sport?’
If a person feels uncomfortable, is afraid of offending someone or saying the wrong thing, the risk is these questions will never be asked, and this can inadvertently lead to children with disability being excluded.
I hope everyone will reflect during International Day of People with Disability and consider ways to include people with disability in all parts of life, be it sport, recreation, employment or living independently.
I am very honoured to be International Day of People with Disability Patron for 2018. Let’s work together to highlight the opportunities, achievements, challenges and perceptions that people may have about people with disability.
Together we can achieve a lot.