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8 incredible facts about Helen Keller

Date Posted: Thursday, 13 July 2017 12:50
Posted By: Nadia Pocock

You would all know the story of Helen Keller, the well known writer, political activist and pioneer for people with disability. 

But there’s a lot more to Helen’s story than you’ve probably heard – so we decided to dig a little deeper, and share some lesser known facts about this remarkable woman.

Helen Keller reading braille

Fact #1. A childhood illness took Helen’s sight and hearing.

Helen Keller wasn’t born with a disability, but when she was only 19 months old, she became sick with what the doctors called “an acute congestion of the stomach and the brain”. These days her illness probably would have been labelled Scarlet Fever or Meningitis - both which could now be treated, but back then they often had severe consequences.

A few days after Helen’s fever broke, her Mum noticed she wasn’t responding when the bell was rung for dinner, or when a hand was waved in front of her face.

Soon after, they realised that Helen had lost both her sight and hearing.

Fact #2. Helen was called an ‘unruly child' when she was young.

Helen Keller as a child

When Helen was a a young child, her behaviour had become highly erratic. She was having daily outbursts of emotion; kicking and screaming when she felt angry, and giggling uncontrollably when she was happy. Many of her relatives even thought she be put in an institution

But the truth was, this behaviour really only boiled down to her high level of intelligence, and her frustration at not being able to communicate once she realised other were having conversations she couldn't join.

The desire to be able to speak out became so strong, Helen even created a kind of sign language with her friend Marsha Washington – and by the time she was just seven years old, they’d already made up over 60 signs to communicate to each other.

Fact #3. Helen believed her life started at the age of seven.

Helen Keller as a child with Anne Sullivan

It wasn’t until Helen met her teacher Anne Sullivan (who went on to become her mentor and friend), that she believed her ‘soul was born’. 

Anne showed up in Helen’s life in March 1887, when Helen was seven years old. Only 14 years older than Helen, Anne was also visually impaired and just recently graduated from school. 

Before long, Anne had taught Helen ‘finger spelling’, which allowed her to finally communicate with those around her.

To do this, Anne gave Helen an object such as a doll and traced the word 'd-o-l-l' onto her palm.

At first Helen did not make the connection between the letters on her palm and the objects. But the famous watershed moment came when Anne took Helen to the water pump outside and while spelling “w-a-t-e-r” into Helen’s palm, let water run over the girl’s other hand.  

Quickly, she stopped and touched the earth and demanded its letter name and by nightfall she had learned 30 words.

Fact #4. She called Mark Twain a best mate.

Mark Twain Portrait

Surprising but true! Helen met Mark when she was just 14, when going to Cambridge School for Young Ladies, and they stayed close friends until Mark’s death 16 years later. 

Handily for Helen, Mark smoked 10 to 20 cigars a day, so she could easily recognise her friend from his scent. 

When describing Mark in her autobiography, she wrote, “he treated me not as a freak, but as a handicapped woman seeking a way to circumvent extraordinary difficulties.” 

Fact #5. Helen was the very first person who was deaf and blind to graduate.

Helen Keller Graduating

In 1900 Helen was accepted into the famous Radcliff College in Cambridge (along with her loyal teacher Anne, who attended alongside her to help interpret lectures and texts). 

It was during Helen’s junior year here that she wrote her autobiography, ‘The Story of My Life’. 

By 1904, she had not only written a book, but graduated with a Bachelor of Arts, becoming the first person who was deaf and blind to earn a college degree. 

By the time she went to college, she had also mastered several ways to communicate, including reading by touching people's lips, braille, typing and finger spelling. She had also learned to speak, although she was always unhappy with her voice as it was hard to understand.

Fact #6. Helen was on the FBI’s radar.

Helen Keller and Anne Sullivan

Helen was a true pioneer in her time, and for a woman living in the early 20th century, she was very political and was seen to have some pretty radical ideas. 

She went on to become a world-famous author and speaker, with a particular focus on speaking out for people with disabilities.

But she didn’t stop there – she also focused on social and political issues, tackling a women’s right to vote and use birth control, and was avidly anti-war (something Mark Twain and Helen had in common). Helen also founded the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).

She was even investigated by the FBI because of her extreme left views. 

Fact #7. She was forbidden from marrying her fiancé.

Helen Keller holding flower

It’s heart-breaking and hard to understand, but in Helen’s day, society believed that women with disabilities shouldn’t fall in love or experience romance of any kind – let alone get married. 

But when Helen was 36 she fell deeply in love with a man called Peter Fagan, an ex-newspaper reporter who was working as her secretary, and they were secretly engaged. 

They even managed to get a marriage license before Helen’s family caught on and forbid them from going any further because of her disabilities. 

Helen regretted never marrying, sadly saying later “If I could see, I would marry first of all.”

Fact #8. Helen’s teacher died while holding her hand.  

Helen Keller hugging Anne Sullivan

Helen remained close to her beloved teacher Anne for an incredible 49 years. 

In 1936, Anne went into a coma after suffering with coronary thrombosis, and heartbreakingly, she died. Right up until the end Helen was there with her, and was holding onto Helen’s hand when she died. 

Even to this day they’re still by each other’s side – with Helen’s ashes being placed next to Anne’s in 1968, when she died peacefully in her sleep.

Check out our other blogs

7 surprising facts about Louis Braille
5 things about invisible disabilities you need to know
5 amazing people with savant syndrome 

Find out more about disability services at House with No Steps

Tags: advocacy

Learning my child has a disability

Date Posted: Tuesday, 04 July 2017 09:18
Posted By: Nadia Pocock

When Debra was told her son Tobias had autism, she describes the feeling as having a brain freeze after eating really cold ice cream - but the difference was the feeling didn't go away.

Debra with her sons Tobias and Judah

When Tobias was 2 ½ years old, he had very few words, little eye contact and was still crawling. At the time, I was a new Mum with very little understanding of a child's development or the challenges for families with a member with a disability.   

I recall his first year and realising that yes, something wasn't right. I was frequently comparing the milestones of my niece who was 3 months older, with Tobias.

He was a premmie and so was expected to be delayed somewhat and yet as time passed, the gaps became more obvious and my knowledge of this gap equally so. I could see there was a delay but receiving the autism diagnosis is hard to describe.

I had asked Mum to come to the appointment with the Developmental Paediatrician with me. I expected to hear nothing new. The Paediatrician asked Tobias some very clear questions, all of which he did not take in or respond to;

'Look here Tobias' as he pointed
'What's your name?'

Tobias blankly stared, showing no eye contact with the Doctor yet quite content in his world that day. The Doctor quietly asked me to come and sit down.

'Your son has Autism' he said, and I heard nothing more. I think I tried to engage with him, I'm not entirely sure. He handed me some papers and I could see his mouth moving but didn't hear a thing. I looked down at the information sheet and saw 'Autism is a lifelong disorder'.   

The type of shock experienced by a diagnosis like that is hard to describe. It reminds me of a cold headache, where you swallow a large mouthful of really cold ice cream and your brain freezes.

You can't speak and can only shake your head waiting for it to pass. Your whole body is chilled and frozen for those seconds. Hearing the autism diagnosis was like that... but it didn't go away.

My body is freezing... cold... blank... shaking my head
Please pass
Please pass

I remember biting my lip hard, holding my breath and trying not to let the tears fall in front of this man I didn't know, who had just broken my world. The cold headache had obliterated everything I knew of my child and the tears dripped from my chin. 

I walked out holding Tobias, hoping the secretary didn't see my distress and blindly into the car park with Mum following. She grabbed me and I sobbed into her, both of us clinging onto Tobias. The cold freeze continued and I was silent. I stumbled to the car. Mum took Tobias from me and buckled him into his car seat.

The only way I could work out how to deal with the 'freeze' after that day was to focus on an action. I knew nothing of my current world but could focus on what was ahead. 

I had worked in the Disability Sector with adults with multiple disabilities and I knew exactly what autism could look like. I knew the potential difficulties with communication, the lack of intimate relationships in severe cases, the smearing, the indignity really.

I read that the best support available was Behavioural Therapy and I went to an assessment session with the closest organisation I could find. I didn't contemplate the obstacles. I'm a determined person and I simply didn't care.   

My mother, father, partner and I all trained as therapists and his program began when he was two and a half years old. My second son Judah had just been born and we were doing 15 hours of one on one therapy a week. We were all exhausted but his gains were enormous.   

In many ways it was quite an isolating experience. There was little time for play dates with children we met through other activities... in fact other than extended family there were few other children.

Our lives operated around the start and finish of shifts, rostering, fortnightly team meetings, diverting repetitive behaviours, doctor’s appointments, and consistency in all communication with Tobias.

Our house was filled with a stream of people coming and going and the bills piled up as therapy hit $1000 a week. Most people could simply not relate to this experience.

Most often people would empathise and really listen to what was going on. They walked beside us in the experience which was all I wanted. Other times I would be met with a blank stare and see the pity coming;

'God has chosen you for this'
'You must be a saint'

Blah blah blah

In response I just wanted to scream and prove them wrong. I didn't want this for my children! I didn't want my entire day to revolve around avoiding every day sounds like hairdryers, coffee grinders, vacuums and lawn mowers. I just wanted to be a ‘normal’ mum hanging out with other new mums. Quite frankly, it was really shit.

It was challenging and exhausting but I had never before felt such purpose. I felt a drive and determination to give Tobias the best possible chance. There was no time for self pity. We had up until the age of 5, the critical brain development phase to cover as much ground as possible.

Not long after Tobias’s first diagnosis, he was given his primary diagnosis of Williams Syndrome. This curve ball presented a whole different focus and set of challenges.

People with this diagnosis are described as having a ‘cocktail party personality’ where they will talk to anyone... and I mean anyone. Going to parks were a particular challenge. He would join every party in sight, hug random strangers and even ask to be picked up. At the same time, I have never met so many people in my life!

Our first Williams Syndrome annual picnic was an enlightening experience. I was welcomed from the moment I arrived. There was no hesitation about being approached or shyness in conversation. In fact, when it came time for speeches, people had to line up to take turns. It was refreshing and disarming.

When Tobias turned 5 we were attending interviews for mainstream schooling and it became obvious that he simply wasn't going to fit... yet.

His obsessions with spinning things had continued from the age of 1 and no amount of diverting had resolved it. The pleasure he gained from watching whirly birds on houses or fans was just too strong. This posed safety issues as he would take off to stare at these things whenever they were nearby, regardless of what any teacher said.

Toward the end of the year, Tobias was offered a spot in a private, autism specific school. I was incredibly relieved but sad at the same time. I knew I didn't need to worry for his safety and yet my dreams for Tobias were starting to seem just that. 

Taking him to that school on his first day was such a confronting experience. All these children were doing unusual things; flapping, jumping and repeating things. Some weren't speaking at all and here was my precious child happily amongst them.

There were all sorts of outdoor therapy equipment like trampolines and swings and every door and gate was locked. I had spent over three years trying to support Tobias to fit in to a 'typical' environment. I didn't want to leave him that morning.

My sister had taken my niece to school and was sad about leaving her. The difference was she was doing all the things everyone else was doing. My sister was sad she was growing up. I was grieving that he wasn't ready for life yet.

They call this experience 'Living Grief'. Most other types of grief come after an event; the death of a relationship, or person, or end of a job. It has happened, it is over. Having a child with unique challenges is different. Every day you face the reality that they are struggling. Every day you see the differences between other children and your own. Every single day is a challenge for you and them.

This is not to say that it has been all sadness. That's definitely not the case. There has been so much depth and a lot of beauty, too much beauty really.

I remember Mum calling me one day crying and it took me a while to work out that Tobias had walked three steps during a therapy session! Three steps at 2 1/2 when coaxed with chocolate! The time he started using full words, then two word sentences, then three word sentences. The time he was able to climb a ladder and jump on a trampoline independently. The day he chose his first library book called 'I love chocolate'. All of these skills were hard won. They were broken into minuscule steps and he worked every step of the way for years, trying his hardest to bludge where possible, his funny little personality shining through.

In many ways I feel lucky, I really do. We have this completely accepting and supportive family, an extended network of Williams Syndrome families who understand the challenges, my second son Judah learning at a speed which amazes me, access to doctors who are the best in the world at what they do, as much food as I need, and a roof over my head.

There is still sadness in me but overwhelmingly I see this beautiful, individual, social, naughty, tantruming, nose picking, affectionate little boy and I adore him for who he is.

- Debra

Check out our other blogs

Myths about autism
4 things that don't cause autism
Raising my son who has autism and ADHD

Find out more about disability services at House with No Steps

TV characters putting disability into the spotlight

Date Posted: Friday, 12 May 2017 10:31
Posted By: Nadia Pocock

We all love a TV binge, but sadly we don’t often see characters with a disability on our favourite shows. The good news is, we've tracked down four new TV shows who do have characters with disabilities in their storylines. 

Woman watching TV

While 20% of the population has a disability the sad truth is, we don’t often see characters with a disability in our favourite shows. Even when TV shows do feature a character with a disability, 95% of time they’re played by an able bodied actor – pretty unfair huh?

On a more positive note, a handful of high-profile TV shows have recently started doing their bit to reduce this Hollywood stigma by introducing characters with disability into their storylines. 

Let’s take a look at four of these characters, and where you can check them out for yourself.

JJ DiMeo, Speechless (Channel 11) 

Starring Minnie Driver as Maya DiMeo, a mum on a mission, Speechless revolves around the DiMeo family and particularly the life of JJ – a non-verbal teenager who’s living with cerebral palsy. 

What’s great about this series is JJ is played by an actor who also has cerebral palsy, Micah Fowler. 

JJ communicates by wearing headgear with a laser, which he uses to point to letters and numbers on a board, while others read aloud what he writes.  And with a biting sense of humour, he has plenty to say!

You might chuckle along at Speechless but there are some important messages in this comedy. Firstly, audiences can relate to him, and that is powerful. 

This also isn’t a show about a “disabled” kid. It's a show about a kid and how he manoeuvres life – he goes to school, goes on dates, hopes to become one of the popular kids, gets drunk, goes to parties, and is always cracking a joke.

Watch episodes of Speechless on channel 11.

Julia: Sesame Street (ABC)

This much-loved classic kids’ TV show has been breaking ground over its 48 year run - and that’s not slowing down anytime soon with the introduction of a new character with autism, a muppet named Julia.

A huge amount of work went into making sure Julia portrayed autism accurately, right down to her facial expressions and movements. This wasn’t easy though – as writer Christine Ferraro said "it’s tricky because autism is not one thing, because it’s different for every single person who has autism".

The best thing about Julia? She’s helping kids to understand what autism looks like, and how to make all kids feel included. 

In one scene, Big Bird is introduced to Julia and she completely ignores him, so Elmo kindly explains to Big Bird that sometimes it can take Julia a little longer to do things. In another, Julia gets overexcited and starts wildly jumping up and down – but instead of judging her, this is turned into a game. 

Julia will appear in Sesame Street’s 47th season, making her debut in a special Meet Julia episode which has already aired in the US on April 10. The episode is expected to air via the ABC in Australia within the year – in the meantime, check her out above.

Dustin: Stranger Things (Netflix)

Netflix’s spooky smash hit, Stranger Things, is a throwback to the 1980s which uncovers the mysteries of a small town when a young boy vanishes into thin air.

While this smash hit doesn’t focus specifically on disability, it’s noteworthy because one cast member has a disability in the show and also in real life – one he isn’t shy of talking about. 

Gaten Matarazzo, who plays the loveable Dustin, was born with cleidocranial dysplasia: a condition that affects the growth of the bones and teeth. While Gaten’s case is considered mild, he was born without collarbones, has had many surgeries, and still has his baby teeth which causes him to speak with a lisp.

Yet, the Duffer brothers, who created “Stranger Things,” decided to embrace Gaten’s cleidocranial dysplasia and gave the funny and lovable Dustin the same condition. Although it's written into his character, his disability does not define Dustin at all, and the show's creators choose to leave it largely unexplained. 

The great thing about Gaten is he is using his public profile as an opportunity to speak out about his disability. In his words, “I just want to raise awareness for it and let people know that it’s not something that you should be afraid of showing.” 

You can check out season 1 on Netflix now - but we're already hanging out for season 2 which is set to be released October 31 2017.

Sam: Atypical (Netflix) 

It may not have been released yet, but Atypical is a new Netflix comedy that’s already causing a stir. 

Although the specifics of the plotline haven’t been released just yet, this new show will follow Sam, an 18yr old who has autism. Based around the idea of what it means to be ‘normal’, this coming-of-age’ series will tackle issues of love, independence, and self discovery.  

At this stage it doesn’t look like any of the actors have autism themselves which is disappointing, but Netflix tells us Atypical will give viewers a funny (and sometimes painful) glimpse inside all the dramas that come with growing up – but as seen through the lens of someone with autism.

Production is still in the works but keep an eye out for it later this year.

We’d love to hear your thoughts on shows you’ve seen (especially any we might not have heard about!). Write them in the comments section below!

Read our other blogs

"Run Forest Run!": Disability stereotypes in the media
Online trolls targeting people with a disability

Facts about being diagnosed with autism as an adult

Find out more about disability services at House with No Steps


Tags: TV media

7 surprising facts about Louis Braille

Date Posted: Thursday, 13 April 2017 12:25
Posted By: Nadia Pocock

Did you know that the inventor of braille was a 15 year old boy? Find out more about the amazing story of Louis Braille, and how this tactile writing system came to be.

Portrait of Louis Braille

Every now and then someone really special comes along who changes the world in a major way.

Louis Braille was one of these rare people – he didn’t just revolutionise the way things had always been done, he seriously improved the quality of life of a large group of people. 

Not many people know much about how braille was created, or Louis Braille’s story. Read on and we’ll fill you in on this amazing tale.  

#1. Louis wasn’t born blind.

Louis Braille bust with leathering equipment[3]: Exhibit of leathering tools including an awl.

On 4 January 1809, Louis Braille was born to a middle class family in a small town near Paris.

His father was a leatherer and Louis enjoyed playing in his workshop, imitating his Dad. This is exactly what he was doing at three years of age, when a horrific accident took place. 

Louis had been squinting closely at a piece of leather he was trying to pierce with an awl. Pressing hard into this leather, the tool slipped and went straight into one of his eyes. 

Now, this is only the nineteenth century and medicine (as we know it) wasn’t invented yet, so Louis was rushed to the local healer who bandaged it up until a surgeon could look at it the next day. But an infection set in, which soon spread to his other eye and by the age of five, he was blind. 

Losing your sight is hard to comprehend at any age, and Louis, not really grasping the concept at such a young age, kept asking "why it was always dark?". 

#2. Louis didn’t come from a privileged upbringing.

Birth place of Louis Braille[1]: Louis Braille's house

In the 1800s, it was thought if you were blind, you were helpless - and a large proportion of people ended up begging for their livelihood. 

Only those people who were born into very wealthy families were generally able to afford an education – and while Louis’ Dad had a successful leather business, with three other children to feed, purse strings were tight.

Although Louis parents were far from rich, they were determined that their son would have the same opportunities as their other kids, and he was sent to the local school where his only option was to learn through listening. 

Luckily, when Louis was nine, a noblewomen heard of his story and was so moved she pleaded with the Royal Institute for the Blind school in Paris to take him on as a student. Soon after, good news was received – Louis had been accepted into the first school in the world for blind and visually impaired students. 

#3. Louis’ school used to be a jail. 

Royal institute for the blind[2]: The Royal Institute for the Blind in Paris.

The Royal Institute for the Blind may have been a world first, but the facilities were anything but state-of-the-art – the school was run from a damp, dark, dilapidated old jail. 

Food was scarce, showers were only available once a month and there were lots of rules, enforced with harsh punishments. 

But, for Louis it wasn’t all bad – he was able to learn a variety of new subjects (like grammar, music and science), and also was able to get hold of what he had wanted for so long - books. 

#4: Louis learnt to read by tracing giant letters

At the Royal Institute for the Blind, Louis learned to read by tracing the pages of special books. The books were something of a letdown, though – the text was so big (so students could trace the letters with their fingers), and each sentence took up a whole page, which meant some seriously short stories. A far cry from Harry Potter!

It wasn’t enough for Louis to read, he also wanted to write! So, he set about getting his hands on an alphabet made from bits of thick leather. It was a slow and fiddly process, but he could at least trace the letters' outlines and write his first sentences. 

#5. Louis’ inspiration came from a retired soldier.

While paying a visit to Louis’ school, a retired French army captain, Charles Barbier,  introduced the students to a system of writing – one he’d created to allow soldiers to communicate silently with each other without needing light (which would give them away to the enemy).

This system used a code made from dots and dashes that had been punched into heavy paper with a sharp tool (ironically similar to the awl Louis hurt his eye with). 

While his method had never taken off in the army (soldiers found it too complicated), it gave Louis just the inspiration he needed.

Seeing this code as his ticket to finally being able to read and write, Louis fully embraced this new language, and set to work creating a better system.

#6. Louis invented the braille language system when he was only 15.

Book in braille[4]: Book written in braille at the museum of Louis Braille.

Over a two year period, Louis worked hard on his new system, after many late nights, and at the tender age of 15, he finally cracked the code! 

To put his new system to the test and show his school how it worked, he asked the headmaster to read out an article from a newspaper. As the words were read out, Louis recorded each word using his Braille system and then repeated it, word-for-word back to the headmaster – proving he’d been successful in creating a new reading and writing system for the blind. 

#7. Louis died before he could see the true impact of his invention.

Child reading Braille

By the time Louis was 19 years old, he was teaching full time at the Royal Institute for the Blind – but he still hadn’t convinced the school to introduce his new language system. 

While the school’s director admired and respected Louis, he was worried that the braille system would allow blind students to become ‘too independent’, and no longer need their teachers.

Sadly, Louis died at just forty-three, after a long battle with a respiratory condition (believed to be tuberculosis). Just two years later in 1854, his language system was finally adopted by the Royal Institute for the Blind, thanks to overwhelming demand from students. 

From there, braille spread through the rest of the word – and in 1878, the World Congress for the Blind voted to make it the international system for the blind. Now, Braille has now been taken up by almost every language worldwide. 

It’s amazing to think that so many lives have been impacted by the work of a teenager – and it goes to show what can happen when imagination meets perseverance!

Check out our other blogs

5 things about invisible disabilities you need to know

The disability parking debate

6 facts you might not know about therapy animals

Find out more about disability services at House with No Steps

[1]: By Kou07kou (Own work) [GFDL ( or CC BY-SA 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons
[2]: By Ralf.treinen (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons
[3]: By Kou07kou (Own work) [GFDL ( or CC BY-SA 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons
[4]: By Kou07kou (Own work) [GFDL ( or CC BY-SA 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons


Tags: braille

Five good reasons to hire someone with a disability

Date Posted: Friday, 24 March 2017 09:33
Posted By: Nadia Pocock

These days, more and more people with disabilities are joining the Australian workforce. But while many businesses are recognising the value of a diverse workforce, we still have a long way to go. 

Person with a disability working in a cafe

Did you know that people with a disability are still almost twice as likely to be unemployed (with an unemployment rate of 10% compared to 5.3%)? And for people with a mental illness or intellectual disability, the numbers are even higher with over 20% of people being unemployed.

So why should companies consider hiring people with disabilities? Let’s take a look at a few reasons why they can make a great addition to the team.

#1: They can be counted on.

Strangely, not coming into work is one of the main reasons employers worry about hiring someone with a disability – but when you look at average attendance figures, it’s quite the reverse! 

One study found that people with disabilities are actually nearly 40% less likely to take sick leave or time off compared to other workers!

Not only that, employees with disabilities often stay with a company longer. In fact, one study of a call centre found that their employees with disabilities stayed in their jobs an average of 4.1 years, while those without disabilities only stuck around for 3.2 years. 

And for those who think people with disabilities are more prone to injuries – the truth is, they actually have fewer compensation injuries and accidents at work.

For employers, this not only means a more stable workforce – with fewer people coming and going – it means financial savings too.

#2: They see things differently.

Despite common misconceptions, people with disabilities perform just as well as any other employee once they’re in the right job. 

Many employers also find that workers with disabilities are among their most productive, and bring something extra to the table too – whether it’s a different perspective, a lateral approach to problem solving, or a different set of life experiences. 

This should really come as no surprise, though, right? After all, they’re often highly skilled at adapting to new or difficult situations.

And when companies are diverse and employ people from all walks of life, they are more productive, creative, innovative, and better at problem solving. 

#3: They can give you an insight into your customers. 

One in five Australians are living with a disability – and that includes customers from all businesses! 

Given that this is the case, companies may be missing a trick by not representing these people in their workforce. 

After all, how can you hope to understand and respond to the needs of diverse Australians, if you don’t have any of these people working for you? It would be like having a workforce with no women, or no ethnic diversity – limited, and really just plain wrong!

#4: They make your company more likeable. 

People like to work with businesses that are inclusive – and this goes for customers and employees alike. 

According to a recent study, a massive 87% of people say they’d prefer to give their business to companies that hire people with a disability. 

Similarly, many job-hunters actively seek out companies with diverse workforces, as they can feel confident these businesses don’t discriminate unfairly. 

Long story short: if businesses want to be an employer of choice, don’t be closed minded when hiring.

#5: Their good work ethic tends to rub off.

Going back to what we were saying before – people with a disability bring a unique set of skills to the table in the workplace. And the good news is, they can share their experiences and insights with their colleagues too!

But even more so, it’s been shown that having people with a disability in the workplace improves staff morale, team work, and the quality and speed of work that other staff produce! 

Keen to build a more diverse workplace? The government may even be able to help.

To help businesses include people with a disabilities in their ranks, the Australian Government offers a range of incentives to help make it easier. 

Under the Employee Assistance Fund (EAF), businesses can access incentives to help fund adjustments to make a workplace safer and more accessible to people with disabilities – whether it’s by adding a ramp, widening doorways, or installing some bigger screens. You can find out more at Job Access.

Our employment supports help people with a disability learn new skills, get some hands on experience, or find a job.

Read our other blogs

7 facts about disability in the workplace
5 things about invisible disabilities you need to know
Facts about being diagnosed with autism as an adult

 Find out more about disability services at House with No Steps

Tags: employment

10 benefits of mindfulness for mental health

Date Posted: Thursday, 09 March 2017 10:52
Posted By: Nadia Pocock

Our guest blogger, Melissa, takes a look at 10 top benefits of mindfulness for your mental health, and offers some simple exercises you can give a go yourself

Benefits of mindfulness for mental health

You have probably seen and heard the term ‘mindfulness’ across your Facebook page, in the news, and as a hot topic with your yogi friends.

But did you know that mindfulness can be helpful for your mental health including those with mental illnesses such as depression or anxiety? 

Let’s look at 10 top benefits of mindfulness for mental health, and also some simple techniques to try yourself!

So what is mindfulness?

Mindfulness is a form of meditation – it’s about focusing your mind’s attention on the present rather than letting it drift into concerns about the past or future. 

The goal is not to make your mind empty, but to let the thoughts come and go without getting caught up and obsessing over any particular one.

Mindfulness won’t get rid of the things that cause stress in your life. But, it allows you to observe a situation as if from a distance without strong emotions clouding your view. 

There are only two steps to mindfulness:

  1. Focus the mind
  2. When a thought comes into your mind - return to step 1

Sounds simple? If you give it a go, you may realise it’s not as simple as it sounds. But while it might take some practice - it can definitely be worth it!

Let’s check out 10 top benefits of mindfulness for mental health

Woman doing mindfulness

  1. It can help manage stress

    Daily life can be stressful – but mindfulness can help you be less vulnerable to stress and have greater emotional resilience. To put it more simply, it can help you ‘roll with the punches’ and adapt to stressful situations. Some people have said that it almost gives them a ‘mental armour’ in highly stressful situations.
  2. It can help manage the physical side to stress

    Stress is not just emotional, it can be physical as well. Mindfulness can help lower your breathe rate, heart rate and blood pressure, and also lower levels of stress hormones in your body. 
  3. It can decrease physical pain

    Many people don’t realise but pain and depression (and other mental illnesses) can be very closely related – in fact, pain can cause depression and depression can cause pain. For people with chronic or acute pain, studies have shown that mindfulness can help reduce their pain.
  4. It can help manage anger

    While everyone feels angry from time to time which is a healthy and normal emotion, some people can find their anger hard to manage. For those who do have difficulty with anger, mindfulness can help them manage these feelings.
  5. It can boost self-esteem and confidence

    Many people have niggling thoughts - ‘I’m not good enough!’, ‘I’m stupid!’ Mindfulness helps you question these thoughts - ‘Is it true?’, ‘Is it helpful?’. When you are mindful of your thoughts and feelings, you can start to trust what your brain and body really need and start valuing how amazing you are! We are all perfectly imperfect!
  6. It can improve your memory

    Some people with mental illnesses can experience memory loss or difficultly focusing. Practicing mindfulness has been shown to both improve a person’s memory and their attention.
  7. It can help with fatigue

    Fatigue (or exhaustion) is very common for people who have a mental illness such as depression. For those who experience insomnia, mindfulness can help combat this or improve the quality of a person’s sleep.
  8. It can actually change your brain

    Although it may actually sound far-fetched, studies have shown that mindfulness can actually bring about changes in the areas of the brain which are associated with positive mood and regulation of emotions.
  9. It can be a successful treatment for mental illnesses

    One recent study showed that mindfulness based cognitive therapy (which combines mindfulness with traditional cognitive-behavioural therapy) was just as effective at preventing recurrence of depression as anti-depressants were - even for those with a high risk of relapse. While these results are promising, many people benefit from anti-depressants and no one should stop taking medications without talking to their health professional.
  10. It can help you recognise damaging thinking patterns

    We all worry about the future or have regrets about the past, but mindfulness can mean you worry less about these. It can help you to tell apart thoughts which are helpful (those which can help you problem solve), and a nagging worry (that provides no benefit by focusing on it).

4 mindfulness exercises you can try today

Woman doing mindfulness exercises

There are lots of different mindfulness exercises – and which one you pick is up to you! But here are just 4 exercises you can give a go.

Remember that mindfulness takes practice – and it’s not always easy for everyone to master! But don’t give up and remember to be kind and gentle with yourself.

  1. Counting the breath

    One great mindfulness exercise you might like to try, is all about breathing.

    Find somewhere comfortable to sit with your feet flat on the floor, your back supported, shoulders relaxed, and arms resting in your lap. Close your eyes or soften your gaze.

    As you breathe in, say the number 50 in your head; as you breathe out say the number 49. Continue to count backwards from 50 - breathing in on the even numbers and breathing out on the uneven numbers.

    If you lose count or get distracted by a thought – don’t worry, just return to 50 and start again. If you get to 0 (well done!), also return to 50 and start again.

    Do this for 5 - 10 minutes.
  2. Guided meditations

    A guided meditation is when a narrator talks you through a series of steps or instructions – this may be focusing on your breath, or sensations in your body, or visualising an environment.

    They can be done in person with a therapist, in a group, or in your own home by listening to a recorded track.

    If you wanted to give this a go, there are some great online apps available – just download one on your phone or computer, press play, sit comfortably, and follow the instructions given.

    Headspace is a popular one which offers 10 free sessions for you to trial. Another online resource comes from Dr Ronald Siegal – assistant clinical professor of psychology at Harvard Medical school - which you can download at Mindfulness Solution.
  3. Just do the everyday

    It might sound strange, but you can actually practice mindfulness by spending time doing an everyday task such as digging in the garden or folding the washing.

    To do this, get rid of the distractions around you such as the TV or radio - and concentrate fully on your task.

    While you do it, take note of the sensations, the textures, the colours, and the sounds around you.

    Maybe your clean washing smells fresh, or the dirt from the garden is cool in your hands, or maybe you can hear birds outside.

    Allow yourself to get absorbed in the task you are doing.

    Every time you get distracted by a thought, just turn your attention back to those sensations, sounds, or smells around you.
  4. Get out and about

    This exercise is great for mindfulness, but, it also helps you get active!

    Get out of the house and go for a walk – but if you can, leave your phone, music, or any other distractions at home.

    Concentrate on what you can see, hear, and smell. Notice the sensations in your body such as your foot hitting the ground or the breeze on your skin.

    If a thought does creep into your head, just return your attention back to what’s going on around you or those sensations in your body.

Some important info to remember

After reading this you might be ready to start a mindfulness practice today and that’s great news! But it’s important to know that mindfulness is not for everyone.

If you have a severe mental illness, please talk to a health professional before starting a mindfulness program to see if it is right for you. Also, if any of these exercises worsen your symptoms, please consult your health professional before continuing.

It may be that mindfulness is not the right treatment for you at this stage or perhaps, such as for some people with PTSD, it is best done with a health professional guiding you and helping you with any emotions or concerns.

If you need to talk to someone about mental illness or a crisis in your life, please consider calling Lifeline on 13 11 14, beyondblue 1300 22 4636 or the Kids Helpline on 1800 55 1800 

Our author, Melissa Saville, is a Physiotherapist, mindfulness coach, and a Pilates and Yoga teacher. She was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis (MS) a few years back and practices mindfulness daily to help manage the fatigue and major depression which she experiences.

Read our other blogs

5 things about invisible disabilities you need to know

10 things not to say to someone with a mental illness

8 ways to keep cool this summer

Find out more about disability services at House with No Steps

"I think it’s just awesome to be in love"

Date Posted: Thursday, 02 March 2017 15:43
Posted By: Nadia Pocock

You may remember Leigh from a blog he wrote for us last year on looking for love and dating with a disability. Well you’ll be pleased to hear that he’s now found love and is in a committed relationship. We checked in with him to hear how things are going and find out who the lucky lady is. 

Leigh and Erin

I met Erin several years ago and we’ve had our ups and downs over the past year but we met again last year at a Dates and Mates Christmas party and it brought us closer together. Now we’ve been dating for over two months. 

She’s a beautiful lady, a very lovely person and I’m just in love with her. She’s in love with me and I’m in love with her, I see myself growing old with her. We like doing absolutely everything together especially posting photos together on Facebook.

For Valentine’s Day she came over to my place and we watched horror movies because she loves them as well. We also had a candlelit dinner for two and I cooked pasta bolognese. We’ve been bowling a few times, to the movies and she comes over to my place sometimes too. We’re just taking things one step at a time and moving forward in our relationship. 

I think one of the biggest barriers to people with a disability finding love can be their parents. I think it can sometimes be hard for parents to let go, especially when their son or daughter falls in love and wants to get married and have a kid. I believe everyone should be able to have kids if they want to, we all just want the same things that any other person would want. 

For me and Erin, I think it will be hard for them to let go of us a bit more, but our Mums both want the same things as us. They are fairly cautious but they are also willing to go the long yards with us. We’ve both got very supportive families but we’re taking things one step at a time, so we’ll deal with any barriers one step at a time also. 

In the future I see me and Erin potentially getting married, we just want to be husband and wife, it might take a few years but eventually we will get there. We’re thinking about moving in together as well, we’d love a really big house with extra bedrooms for when people stay over, and I think we will just go from there. 

I love everything about being in a relationship with Erin but my favourite thing would be her ringing me up every day to make sure I’m safe and well. She rang me up yesterday to make sure I got to Melbourne okay for a conference. She rings me every day to tell me how much she loves me and misses me. I think it’s just awesome to be in love and I’m falling more in love with her every day. 

My advice to others looking for love is just to be yourself. Become friends with people, get to know them and then go from there. Do not push people away because you need people in your life to love and honour. And you’ve always got to have trust in a relationship and stay true to yourself. 

I feel like love goes both ways, love is a trusting relationship. If you love a person and they love you then that’s all you need and that’s the most important thing. 

Read our other blogs

"Everyone has the right to fall in love": Dating with a disability

Sex and disability: the facts

Taboo questions about disability - part 1

Find out more about disability services at House with No Steps

5 things about invisible disabilities you need to know

Date Posted: Wednesday, 15 February 2017 12:49
Posted By: Carly Manning

Imagine having a disability but being called a faker, or lazy because people couldn’t ‘see’ it. Here are five things about invisible disabilities you need to know.

Invisible disabilities

Last year you might have read our blog where we tackled the disability parking debate - specifically how people with invisible disabilities are being targeted by parking vigilantes for ‘rorting’ the system.

But the discussion around invisible disabilities goes a lot deeper than the parking dispute. It’s a complex topic, but today we’re going to clear it up. 

Here are five things about invisible disabilities you need to know. 

Fact #1: Invisible disabilities are not rare.

Nope, they’re really not. Millions of Australians live with a disability – and a surprising 90% of these people have what is called an invisible disability.

As the name suggests, invisible disabilities aren’t easy to spot and you can’t ‘tell’ they have a disability just by looking at them. 

But there are many disabilities and conditions that are counted as ‘invisible’, such as MS, autism, ADHD, arthritis, brain injuries, mental illnesses, diabetes, epilepsy, cognitive and learning disabilities, chronic pain and fatigue… and the list goes on. 

Some invisible disabilities will become more obvious once you get to know a person a bit better, but many may be completely hidden unless the person chooses to tell you.

Fact #2: Some of your fav celebs have an invisible disability.

Did you know that some of the biggest stars that we all love and admire have invisible illnesses and disabilities?

It’s true – here are just a few examples: Selena Gomez has Lupus, Jack Osbourne has MS, Demi Lovato has bipolar disorder, Little Wayne has epilepsy, Morgan Freeman has a chronic pain condition (fibromyalgia), Richard Gere and Ben Stiller have had Lyme Disease, Halle Berry has diabetes, and Amanda Seyfried has anxiety. 

One thing’s for sure: this hasn’t stopped any of these people from carving out a successful career in their chosen fields. The best bit: they have chosen to speak openly about their conditions, helping to raise awareness and combat stigma around invisible illness and disability.

Fact #3: People with invisible disabilities are not just ‘faking it’.  

This one’s really important – because unfortunately  people with invisible disabilities are often accused of faking or imagining their symptoms - the phrases “but you don’t look sick” or "you don't look like you have a disability" are said far too often!

Imagine having a very real diagnosis, and being unable to convince people that you’re not just a ‘hypochondriac’,  or ‘being lazy’? Wouldn’t be nice would it. For these people, being met with skepticism that they’re legit is one of the hardest things of all. 

And what makes this worse, is it actually also stops people from talking about their disability or downplaying their own experiences – which just perpetuates the invisibility and stigma even more!

So while it can be very easy to think, ‘I had something similar and I just got over it’ or ‘it can’t be that bad’, remember there can be a lot more to what’s going on than meets the eye. 

Fact #4: Accessible toilets are not just for people who use a wheelchair.

There are actually so many reasons why someone who doesn’t ‘look like they have a disability‘ might need to use the accessible toilet – and they shouldn’t be given death stares for doing so, or feel like they need to explain themselves.

For example, maybe they have a colostomy bag (where bowel motions are collected in a disposable bag) and need the extra space and running water. Maybe they have an inflammatory bowel disease, and are finding it difficult to hold on. Or maybe they have a disability that makes balancing tricky and they need to use hand rails.

Whatever the reason – all these people have the right to use the accessible amenities. So before you roll your eyes next time someone skips the bathroom queue for the accessible toilet, just remember that it’s not just those with physical disabilities who need these facilities.

Also remember, while it’s not illegal to use one an accessible toilet if you don’t have a disability, if you don’t need to use one, leave them free for those who do.  

Fact #5: Same goes for accessible parking

Last year we wrote a whole blog on accessible parking, and boy did it stir up some opinions! For anyone that missed it - while it’s illegal to park in an accessible parking space without a permit (and you’ll be up for a hefty fine if you do) some people have taken it upon themselves to become parking vigilantes.

The issue here is that these vigilantes think they’re doing the right thing by catching people out, but they often misread the situation – shaming those with invisible disabilities of cheating the system despite having an appropriate permit.

But there are so many reasons why someone might need a more accessible space than a wheelchair (think: prosthetic limb, breathing difficulties, mobility issues, etc).

So don’t try and police the parking spaces yourself – leave it up to those who are qualified to do so. 

Share your own experiences with us in the comments section below!

Read our other blogs

The disability parking debate
10 things not to say to someone with a disability
Facts about being diagnosed with autism as an adult

Find out more about disability services at House with No Steps

Facts about being diagnosed with autism as an adult

Date Posted: Tuesday, 31 January 2017 12:38
Posted By: Nadia Pocock

What you need to know about being diagnosed with autism as an adult

Autism as an adult 

We often hear stories about people reading or seeing something about autism and thinking to themselves, “That’s me!”.

It's actually not uncommon for people to have gone through life without a diagnosis, some saying they just had a feeling they didn’t quite “fit in".

Let’s take a deeper look into receiving an autism diagnosis as an adult.

#1. No two adults with autism have the same story.

This is exactly why it’s called Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) – people experience it in their own unique way. 

Often adults who receive a late autism diagnosis have milder symptoms - previously this may have been called Aspergers syndrome which now comes under the ASD banner.

Growing up, people may have experienced:

  • Being unable to read facial or body language such as someone frowning.

  • Taking sarcastic comments literally, or not understanding playground jokes - when told to ‘get lost’ they may have literally tried to ‘get lost’.

  • Difficulty making friends, with some preferring to play alone or with older children or adults.

  • Narrow interests, and wanting to find out everything there is to know about a topic such as astronomy, dinosaurs, or cars.

  • Using a formal style of speaking such as saying 'beckon' instead of 'call'.

  • Sensory sensitivity such as to loud noise, bright lights, or strong flavours.

  • A dislike of change - instead preferring routines and rituals.

  • Avoiding eye contact when speaking, or at times staring at others.

  • Difficulty expressing needs, wants, and opinions, or using appropriate grammar and vocabulary.

As people move into their teens and especially into adulthood, they may find their lives are still impacted in different ways, but often people learn social skills and how to read social cues. Many grow up to have strong careers, marry, and have children.

#2. Many undiagnosed adults were just thought to be shy.

The nineties might be famous for Doc Martins, Troll dolls, and Britney Spears – but it was also the era when medical professionals made some major strides relating to ASD.

What these advances meant is we were now able to identify the subtler symptoms of autism much more easily, and at an earlier age.

This means that people who were undiagnosed a few decades ago may well have been today.

Instead, many people living with ASD were thought to have just been shy or introverted. Difficulty making friends, forming intimate relationships, reading people’s faces, and finding work, were put down to being antisocial, mean, or aloof. 

As a child, as well as being thought of as 'shy', people tell of being labelled ‘disruptive’, ‘difficult’ or ‘naughty’ because of their behaviour. 

#3. While you might feel that you ‘tick some of the boxes’ you don’t necessarily have autism

Autism is a complex disability, and even though you might be thinking these symptoms ring true of yourself or someone you know, it isn’t necessarily autism – there are many factors such as your environment and personality which shape who you are as a child and into adulthood.

Also, other conditions such as schizophrenia, OCD, anxiety, depression, intellectual disability, and sensory processing disorder can have similarities to autism. As it is so complex, specific guidelines are used to distinguish autism from these other conditions.

#4. There’s still no simple method to diagnose adult ASD.

While methods have been developed to diagnose children with ASD (through observation and questionnaires), there is surprisingly still no standard way to diagnose an adult. 

At this stage, diagnosis is often reached through a range of tests and interviews which look at a person’s intellectual functioning, social adaptability, communication skills, and a childhood history of ASD traits.

This means that diagnosis as an adult can be challenging.

For example, it can be pretty difficult to remember details from your childhood that would provide clues to ASD – and parents are often not around to help fill in the blanks. 

Many adults have also developed strategies to compensate for or ‘cover up’ their traits, so it can be difficult for an interviewer to note certain behaviours.

Plus, autism often presents quite similarly to other disorders (such as anxiety, depression and ADHD). This means it is often quite hard to define which experiences and symptoms may relate to ASD.

#5. A diagnosis may not change anything, BUT it also may… 

So, why would you bother trying to get a diagnosis? Well for a start, it can come as a relief to have an answer. For lots of people, it’s helpful just to know, rather than to suspect or assume. 

Some people have described having a ‘lightbulb moment’ where they finally understand why they feel the way they do. 

An official diagnosis can help you answer a lot questions you might have about yourself. It can also help those around you such as your family, friends or your employer, to understand the difficulties you experience, and how they can make things a little easier. 

There have also been many cases where people have been misdiagnosed with a mental illness or other disability, such as social anxiety disorder or OCD. Knowing opens the door to appropriate treatments and services (some of which you may not even know about). Your doctor can also help you tap into autism support groups and social skill training. All of which can help make the day-to-day that bit easier.

Some people believe a diagnosis won’t change anything and will be an unhelpful label, so why waste time trying to seek one out? And this is fine! Some adults with ASD are happy self-diagnosing and finding their own ways to adapt. It’s up to each person to decide whether a diagnosis would be helpful or not. 

So, if you do want to pursue the path of diagnosis, where to next?

Seeking a diagnosis is completely up to the individual but if it’s something you or someone you know would like to explore, the best first step is to talk to your GP.

Your GP will usually refer you to a clinical psychologist or psychiatrist for consultation. From here, you’ll generally be asked lots of questions about your childhood, experiences at school, and the present day. They may also do some psychological or psychiatric testing before making a formal diagnosis.

It's important to remember that autism is a complex disability and as far as we know there’s no single cause. Instead, it’s likely to be due to a combination of environmental and genetic factors.

Read our other blogs

6 facts about sensory hypersensitivity
4 things that don't cause autism 
6 tips for an inclusive kids party 

Find out more about disability services at House with No Steps

Tags: autism

8 ways to keep your cool this summer

Date Posted: Thursday, 12 January 2017 12:50
Posted By: Nadia Pocock

Summer is definitely here. For me, summer crawls into my life, leaving me exhausted and counting the days until the temperature drops and I can drag myself out of hibernation.

Heat and disability

My name is Melissa Saville. I am a Physiotherapist, Pilates and Yoga teacher; lover of pets, craft and music, and an avid baker. I was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis (MS) a few years back - a condition which affects the central nervous system.


Before I was diagnosed with MS, I spent many years working as a neurological rehabilitation physiotherapist, training and educating people who had had spinal cord or brain injuries.  At the time, I definitely wasn’t thinking that one day I would have to take on board the advice I was giving to others, to manage my own neurological disease. 

The symptoms or effects of MS can vary greatly, but can include weakness, feelings of numbness or tingling, pain, fatigue, bladder and bowel problems, memory loss, depression, and other thinking difficulties. I struggle mainly with fatigue and major depression. 

MS, disability and the heat

Summer is definitely here. For some people this may bring to mind images of beaches, running through the sprinklers, ice cream dripping down sticky fingers, and thongs.

For me, summer crawls into my life - wreaking havoc, leaving me exhausted, collapsed under a fan, decorated in wet towels with a spray bottle hanging from one hand, and counting the days until the temperature drops and I can crawl out of hibernation.

Everyone is affected by the heat but people with disabilities can find it especially hard. 

Many people with MS experience a temporary worsening of their symptoms when the weather is hot or humid, or they have a fever. This is because higher temperatures further impair the ability for the brain and spinal cord's nerves or pathways to conduct the electrical impulses that tell the body and mind what to do.

Because of this, when it is hot I find myself more exhausted than usual, unable to do simple tasks without resting, and often become nauseous. Some days I’m well enough to forget I have this “monkey on my back,” but as the temperature rises this summer, that monkey has unpacked its suitcase and is here to stay.

For others with a disability, the heat can also be tricky for a few reasons - damage to the normal cooling mechanism of the body such as sweating; medications that increase heat or sunlight sensitivity; being unable to afford air conditioning; or needing support to stay hydrated or being aware of the need to do this.

Tips to stay cool

Because of my MS, I need to modify my life to be able to do all the things I love. For anyone struggling with the heat as I am - here are 8 things that I find helpful during summer:

  1. Wear a cooling device

    I like wearing a cooling scarf around my neck when I exercise or on those very hot days. I have a few of them so I can colour coordinate, of course! You can also get cooling hats, vests and even bras! To use them, you put them in water, and the gel inside holds cool temperatures for long periods of time - you can even put them in the fridge to make them extra frosty. Your pharmacist, physio or doctor may be able to help you find these.

  2. Stay Inside

    Sounds simple but fans and air conditioning are wonderful. I don’t have air conditioning so on really hot days I have been known to go to the movie theatre to enjoy the air conditioning there.

  3. Stick to or create your own shade

    Find trees, hats, lightweight devices such as umbrellas that can be clamped to the side of the wheelchair - whatever works for you to stay out of the direct sunlight if you have to go out.

  4. Staying cool at night

    Choose a lower thread count for your cotton sheets. Whilst you may equate high thread count with luxury, in fact, the higher the thread count, the more tightly knit and less breathable the fabric is. Consider your mattress choice as well - some memory foam or latex mattresses with a high content of synthetic rather than natural fibres will feel hotter. You can also find cooling pillows and a cooling bed pad that sits on the top of your mattress and prevents a build-up of body heat.

  5. Planning

    This is something I’m not always very good at - but avoiding the hottest part of the day (10-3pm) really does help. Whilst I would love to be an early riser, I’m not, so I save any exercise for the afternoon or evening when the sun’s not so hot. Also, because my brain can be a little foggy in the afternoon heat, I save important tasks for the mornings or evenings when I’m fresh.

  6. Wardrobe review

    My wardrobe is stocked with lightweight, loose-fitting clothing made from natural fibres (I like cotton or linen).

  7. Have some delicious, cool snacks on hand

    My freezer is stocked with frozen grapes, icy poles and frozen water bottles. I also have an empty water bottle in my car in case I forget to bring one with me to stay hydrated. The frozen ones are my favourite though, as I can cool myself down quickly by placing it on my wrists or neck.

  8. Yoga

    Huh? How could yoga possibly be used to keep me cool? I love to use a technique called Sitali or Sitkari breathing to cool me down and nearly everybody can do this. The practice involves curling your tongue, as if you are drinking in air through a straw (or resting your tongue behind your front teeth if you find this difficult), and breathing in deeply- allowing the air to move over your moist tongue, before breathing out through your nose.  I find this cooling not only for my body but also my mind which is good if I’m sitting in a traffic jam! 

There is no right or wrong way to keep you cool this summer. Talk to your physio, doctor or other health professional for more ideas and to help you decide what is going to work best for you or your loved one.

I hope these tips have got you thinking of ways to make your summer more comfortable!

- Melissa

Read our other blogs

Myths about multiple sclerosis (MS)

6 facts you might not know about therapy animals

10 things not to say to someone with a mental illness

Find out more about disability services at House with No Steps
Tags: health fitness MS

6 facts about sensory hypersensitivity

Date Posted: Wednesday, 14 December 2016 12:14
Posted By: Nadia Pocock

Hear the term sensory hypersensitivity, but not sure what it really means? Let’s take a look at what it’s all about – from common triggers, to practical management techniques.

Woman with sensory hypersensitivity

1. Sensory hypersensitivity isn’t people just being ‘touchy’.

While sensory experiences are often enjoyable (the taste of cake, or the smell of fresh linen) there are times when they can be too much.

People with hypersensitivity are oversensitive to things in their environment. If you’ve ever been irritated by the sound of a dripping tap or a shirt that’s too tight, or you flinch if someone touches your arm, you’ll have some idea of what sensory hypersensitivity feels like.

While these things may make you feel annoyed or tetchy, it can be quite different to those who are experiencing it day to day.

For some people, they may also experience sensory overload which happens when the sensory experiences around a person are too great for their nervous system - and they are not able to process or make meaning of it. As you can imagine, this can be very stressful, uncomfortable, and at times intolerable.

2. Some conditions and disabilities can make people more prone to sensory hypersensitivity.

While anyone can experience sensory hypersensitivity, there are some conditions that make people more susceptible – including autism, sensory processing disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder, fibromyalgia, and chronic fatigue syndrome. 

3. Many things can be triggers. 

As you may expect, loud noises and bright lights can be triggers for sensory hypersensitivity - and what can be a trigger for one person, can be very different from another. 

For example, the texture or flavour of food, the feel of fabric on the skin, the clatter of a spoon, the pitch of a particular song, or the smell of shampoo can all be triggers. 

“When I go into a crowded area my sinuses are overloaded with different aromas and I find it very difficult to breathe,” says Patricia. “One of the worst offenders are women who wear lots of strong perfume, another is cigarette smoke. Stale popcorn in the movie theatres is another aroma that turns my stomach.”

4. Everyone reacts differently.

Just as triggers can be different for different people, so can people’s responses. 

Some people may find it hard to concentrate or sit still. “Everything comes at me at once,” explains one House with No Steps customer. “Every sound is like someone is in my ear with a megaphone, and I can’t focus on anything. It all becomes a blur, like there are bees buzzing around in my head.” 

Others may feel irritated, restless, or angry. “It makes me feel like I have so many angry feelings and my boiler is going to explode,” described another customer. “I can’t sit still when I have a tickle in my boiler."

And for some, they may become anxious or panicked, and even freeze or be unable to talk, "For me the first thing that I notice is the increase in anxiety levels, particularly if I am in a crowded room,” says Hannah, a House with No Step customer. 

“This makes my muscles really tense up. Then if I do not get out, I suddenly feel as if there is an invisible wall between my brain and the rest of my body. I know and understand exactly what is happening to me and around me, I just cannot express anything. This cuts in just before I have a full blown panic attack. So I am a statue in a room full of people." 

5. Kids with hypersensitivity are not ‘just naughty’

Sometimes kids with hypersensitivity can seem fussy or even naughty to others – they may refuse to wear certain clothes or brush their hair, only eat soft foods such as mashed potato, cover their ears or hit their heads, or appear to have a ‘tantrum’.

But it’s important to know that this is not related to the child being naughty or poor discipline in any way. This is a child’s response to trying to resolve their distress.

6. There many ways to manage sensory hypersensitivity.

For children and adults, occupational therapy can help reduce sensory sensitivity, however there are also some techniques that people can use to manage things themselves. 

If you do start to feel overwhelmed, taking a break can help you to re-set and re-charge. 

It’s also a good idea to take note of what can trigger you – for example, if you’re sensitive to noise, you could try blocking background noises with earplugs, and listening to calming music or white noise instead. 

Or if crowds are problematic, try visiting restaurants and shops in non-peak times, and avoiding situations where you know you’ll feel out of control. 

One way to think about it is to put yourself on a “sensory diet” that’s suited to your personal needs. This involves reducing sensory experiences that are potentially harmful (such as using earplugs around loud noises), but still making sure you get enough ‘nourishment’ to your senses (such as enjoying soft music in the case of our hearing sense) – much as we’d aim for a healthy balance of foods.

And if in doubt, don’t hesitate to seek support from a professional.

Read our other blogs

6 tips for an inclusive kids party
4 things that don't cause autism 
6 facts you might not know about therapy animals

Find out more about disability services at House with No Steps

5 disability news stories that raised eyebrows this year

Date Posted: Wednesday, 07 December 2016 08:57
Posted By: Nadia Pocock

We've scoured social media to bring you the most talked about disability stories for the year 

top disability stories of 2016

With 2016 drawing to a close, we're taking a look back at the last twelve months – and the stories about disability that raised our eyebrows on social media for all sorts of reasons.

Here are the top five disability stories that have had the biggest reaction online this year so far…

1. That time UK’s Channel 4 put in a superhuman effort with their Paralympics campaign. 

On the heels of their wildly successful 2012 Paralympic trailer, this year UK’s Channel 4 took things up a notch with their ad to promote Rio’s Paralympic event. 

Dubbed ‘We’re The Superhumans’, this ad uses the power of humour to celebrate people from all walks of life – and shift society’s perceptions of disability. 

Broadening its focus beyond the sporting arena, the ad pays tribute to 140 people with disabilities, who are all conquering life in unexpected ways. From a blind pianist, to a pilot, to a mum changing her baby’s nappy using her feet, it’s a montage of amazing moments – all set to a pumping Sammy Davis Junior soundtrack (performed by a band of musicians from around the world, all with disabilities).

Viewed by millions of people, it was certainly one of our favourite ads this year at House with No Steps – check it out for yourself to see what all the fuss is about! 

2. That time Donald Trump offended someone (ok…it wasn’t the only time). 

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ll be aware of some of the controversy Donald Trump has stirred up this year. He certainly raised a few hackles at a rally in South Carolina when he mocked New York Times reporter Serge Kovaleski – who has a condition called arthrogryposis that limits the movement of his arms.

When addressing comments made by Kovaleski, Trump waved his arms and spoke in an exaggerated manner in what appeared to be a deliberate dig. 

However, Trump later claimed that "I merely mimicked what I thought would be a flustered reporter trying to get out of a statement he made long ago. If Mr. Kovaleski is handicapped, I would not know because I do not know what he looks like…. He should stop using his disability to grandstand and get back to reporting for a newspaper that is rapidly going down the tubes."

The New York Times commented, "We find it's outrageous that he would ridicule the appearance of one of our reporters”. See how it all went down below. 

3. That time Lego unveiled its first figure with a disability.

For some time, Danish toymaker Lego has been under pressure to make toys that reflect real life more accurately – and last year, this reached boiling point thanks to the #toyslikeme petition, which attracted over 20,000 signatures.

The good news? In June 2016, Lego responded by releasing its first ever mini-figure with a disability: a beanie-wearing boy in a wheelchair accompanied by an assistance dog.

Lego wheelchair figure

Launched as part of Lego’s latest CITY toy set, the new figure is accompanied by an ice-cream vendor, cyclist and picnickers.

Good stuff, Lego, we love your work!

Put it on your Christmas list and check it out here.

4. That time we welcomed a note-worthy new $5 bill.

By now, one of Australia’s shiny new $5 bills has probably found its way into your wallet, having been released in September this year.

But the exciting part of this story was there was much more to this new note than a cool new design – and it’s in a large part all thanks to Sydney teenager Connor McLeod, who launched a discrimination complaint with the Australian Human Rights Commission, and started a petition calling for action on accessible currency.

As a result, the new $5 was developed to be accessible to blind and vision-impaired people. Each note features two small raised dots (about the size of a sprinkles on a piece of fairy bread), which will help it be more easily identified.

These tactile features have been integrated into the note itself using a new printing technology, so they shouldn’t get squashed or wear off (a feat much harder than you would think).

New five dollar note

So how did people with low vision cope in the past? Up until now, they had to ask a stranger to tell them a note’s denomination, use a clumsy machine to measure the note’s size, or use a smartphone app (however most smartphones have inaccessible touchscreens for those with a vision impairment).

You can therefore see why this is such a great step forward for people with vision impairments, and a testament to what perseverance can achieve!

5. That time a three-legged puppy won hearts, awards and job offers.

Back in 2014, German film students Jacob Frey and Markus Kranzler created a rather special short film for their film school graduation project. Entitled “The Present”, the film tells the story of a young boy who is given a puppy that has three legs.

While initially unenthusiastic, the young boy warms to the puppy and they go on to share a beautiful friendship (there is more to this story, but we’ll be careful not to spoil the ending).

Since its launch, the film has won hearts all over the globe, and won 59 international awards (and counting) – and it’s easy to see why the film has struck such a chord with so many people.

This year, the story again captured people’s attention, with the creators being offered jobs at Walt Disney and Pixar Animation Studios – showing off their talents by working on films such as The Good Dinosaur and the Secret Life of Pets.

Check it out below.

Which stories made you sit up and take notice this year? We’d love to hear from you – drop us a comment below.

Read our other blogs

The disability parking debate
10 things not to say to someone with a disability 
"Run Forest, Run!". Disability stereotypes in the media

Find out more about disability services at House with No Steps

Tags: Media

5 hot topics that got you talking this year

Date Posted: Friday, 02 December 2016 14:49
Posted By: Nadia Pocock

This year we wanted to get people talking about disability, so we put all topics on the table – here are our most hotly debated blogs from 2016!

Someone commenting on a top blog

This year we decided that we wanted to get people talking – talking about disability and about topics that are often seen as ‘taboo’.

So we decided to put all topics on the table – sex, language, parking permits, and more. And it sure got you guys talking!

As 2016 comes to an end, here are the most hotly debated blogs we posted this year.

Topic #1: The disability parking debate

International symbol of access

We were blown away by the response to our blog on disability parking – or more specifically, people with a disability being verbally abused, left nasty notes, thrown filthy looks, or having their cars keyed for rightfully parking in a disability space.

Hundreds of people commented on Facebook about their similar experiences - where others had assumed they were ‘rorting’ the system for parking in an accessible spot.

This was often because they weren’t using a wheelchair, or didn’t have a ‘visible disability’ - but in fact 9 out of 10 disabilities are invisible.

What you said…

Topic #2: My story living with a disability: Prader-Willi syndrome

Kate: my life with Prader-Willi syndrome

One of our most talked about blogs this year was written by our customer, Kate, who has Prader-Willi Syndrome (PWS).

Kate shared how this rare and complex genetic disability means that she has chronic hunger and an obsession with food.

“People with Prader-Willi syndrome have an unsatisfied hunger meaning they always feel hungry. They don’t have the signal that comes from the brain, the light-bulb going on saying, hey you’re full!”, she says.

"I have eaten out of bins before. And being around food in shopping centres is very hard. I have to admit, I have stolen food from shops when I didn’t have any money."

What you said…

Topic #3: 10 things not to say to someone with a disability

Man in wheelchair talking with girl

We know that it’s not always easy to know what to say to someone with a disability – but no matter how good the intentions, some comments can do more harm than good.

Hands up if anyone with a disability has ever been told, ‘It’s so good to see you out and about!’, or ‘“I know a great doctor/priest, I bet he could fix you.”

From the Facebook comments on our blog, ‘10 things not to say to someone with a disability’, we found that many people were putting their hands up high!

When we posted this article, the conversation sure got rolling with differing opinions of what should be left unsaid.

What you said...

Topic #4: Sex and disability: the facts

Sex and disability

Talking about sex is often seen as off limits, and even more so when it comes to people with a disability. 

But this year we weren’t shying away from this topic, publishing not one but two blogs: Sex and disability: the facts, and Sex and disability: the facts part 2.

People with a disability are often seen as asexual, or even hyper-sexual, and we were out to prove just how wrong that can be.

We know that having a disability doesn’t mean someone can’t enjoy a great sex life - whether it’s a long-term relationship or a fun fling. And by the Facebook comments on our blogs, we found that our online community agreed!

What you said...

Topic #5: Let’s end the R-word

End the rword

Back in March we asked our customers why people should not not use the R-word (retard), and the stories they shared sure got people talking!

When people use the R-word, it is often to insult people with a disability, or to call someone or something stupid - “You’re being so retarded”. 

What’s wrong with this? Leigh shared a story to explain how the R-word made him feel, “I was walking home one day, walking along minding my own business, and a car drove past and the guy yelled both the R-word and the f-word. It was really really hurtful.”

Although we feel the R-word is hurtful, derogatory, and reinforces negative stereotypes, the reaction to our blog online was split.  For House with No Steps, this just means there is more work to be done to be done.

What you said...

 Read our other blogs

10 things not to say to someone with a mental illness
4 things that don't cause autism
Online trolls targeting people with a disability

Find out more about disability services at House with No Steps

Disabled vs disability. Which is right?

Date Posted: Wednesday, 23 November 2016 10:00
Posted By: Nadia Pocock

Disabled person vs person with a disability. Autistic person vs person with autism. They may sound similar, but these terms can actually be very different from one another.

Group of people holding speech bubbles

Up until quite recently, language such as ‘disabled person’ was still widely used across Australia. These days, we’ve seen a shift in the way we talk about disability, with terms such as ‘person with a disability’ used instead. 

This new way of speaking is called ‘person-first language’, and replaces the older style ‘identity-first language’ – but what’s the difference and why the change? 

In a nutshell, person-first language is where the person comes before the disability such as a ‘person with a disability’ or ‘person with autism’. 

And identity-first language is where the disability comes before the person such as ‘disabled person’ or ‘autistic person’.

While most organisations only use person-first language, some people with a disability still prefer to use identity-first language themselves. 

So let’s take a look at both sides of the argument below.

The person-first argument

"It’s about seeing me as a person, not seeing my disability."

The idea behind person-first language is that it puts the person first – it’s about seeing the person, not the disability.  

If you use disability as a descriptor (‘deaf person’, ‘autistic person’), it places emphasis on the disability. However, many people feel that having a disability doesn’t define or describe them in anyway. They are just like everyone else, they just happen to have a disability. 

“I always prefer person-first language because my disability isn’t a huge part of me, it’s secondary to who I am,” explains a House with No Steps customer. 

"There’s much more to me than my disability."

People with a disability are parents, siblings, friends, co-workers or neighbours. They may be sporty, sensitive, smart, self-deprecating, or have a goofy sense of humour. 

A disability is not the sole factor that defines a person, it’s just one part of the picture. People all have individual strengths, skills, interests, likes, and dislikes – things that have nothing to do with their disability! 

Whatever the case, we are all complex and interesting people, and that’s what person-first language reminds us about.

A House with No Steps customer explains, “When it comes down to it, I would much prefer to be known as the ‘cool, quirky girl who loves vintage dresses’ rather than the ‘disabled girl’. But if you must describe me and my disability, I am a ‘person with a disability’ any day.”

The identity-first argument

"My disability is not a negative or something to be ashamed of."

Some people think that language such as ‘person with autism’ or ‘person with a disability’ turns disability into something negative, something that needs to be tucked away at the end of a sentence. 

Instead, they see ‘autistic person’ or ‘disabled person’ as terms which embrace and celebrate their disability – and who it makes them.

Prominent autism-rights activist Jim Sinclair writes, “Saying ‘person with autism’ suggests that autism is something bad – so bad that is isn't even consistent with being a person. Nobody objects to using adjectives to refer to characteristics of a person that are considered positive or neutral."  

"We talk about athletic or musical people, not about ‘people with athleticism’ or ‘people with musicality.’ It is only when someone has decided that the characteristic being referred to is negative that suddenly people want to separate it from the person.”

"I am my disability, it is part of me."

People also believe that ‘person with autism’ or ‘person with a disability’ implies that the disability can (or should) be separated from the person. 

In fact for many people with a disability, they feel their disability is integrated into who they are – and their disability cannot be separated from their identity, nor do they want it to be.

Jim Sinclair says, “Saying 'person with autism' suggests that the autism can be separated from the person.  But this is not the case.  Autism is part of me.  Autism is hard-wired into the ways my brain works. I am autistic because I cannot be separated from how my brain works.”

Also in the words of the late Stella Young: “I've never had to say that I'm a person who's a woman, or a person who is Australian, or a person who knits. Somehow, we're supposed to buy this notion that if we use the term ‘disabled’ too much, it might strip us of our personhood.”

"Person-first language can be clunky and awkward."

Fans of identity-first language feel it is less awkward, repetitive, and makes for smoother communication. They see terms such as ‘person with a disability’ as trickier to weave into conversation, and therefore more cumbersome.

Australians love to shorten our words whenever we can – barbie, arvo, Maccas, cuppa, footy, biccy, the list goes on. However, person-first language does the opposite – and for some this can feel unnatural, forced, and 'too PC’.

So what’s the verdict?

In Australia, person-first language is the most widely accepted approach, and one House with No Steps uses in all our communications. 

That said, it’s personal and there are no hard and fast rules. Ultimately the best way to address someone is always using their name – and if you’re not sure how they’d like to be referred to otherwise, you can always politely ask! 

But, when in doubt, we suggest you default to person-first language. 

It (hopefully) goes without saying that hurtful or derogatory terms like ‘retard’ and ‘spastic’ should always be avoided.  In our view this is not being overly politically correct, this is just showing people respect.

And for a quick overview of acceptable words and phrases, check out our handy disability language reference guide here.

Do you prefer person-first or identity first language? We’d love to hear from you – just write your comment below or drop us a line

Read our other blogs

10 things not to say to someone with a disability
10 things not to say to someone with a mental illness
Online trolls targeting people with a disability

Find out more about disability services at House with No Steps

NDIS real-talk: getting to the nitty-gritty

Date Posted: Thursday, 10 November 2016 11:58
Posted By: Nadia Pocock

Our Community Engagement Manager, Jessie, talks about the nitty-gritty of the NDIS 

NDIS Graphic

“How are you finding the NDIS?” it’s a question that I am asked almost every day. It’s not that the people asking don’t know about the NDIS, it’s that they want the real story, the nitty-gritty.

It’s not too hard to find positive stories about the NDIS, but negative stories are quite easy to come by as well. 

People with a disability, families, service providers, the NDIA, and government organisations are all learning – it’s a new world we’re all operating in. The NDIA’s processes have changed many times since the trial sites started in 2013, and have continued to change with the full roll-out beginning this year. 

Service providers’ internal processes are constantly changing to better cater for customers and increase sustainability. People with a disability and their carers have had to learn how to negotiate with the NDIA for funding, and with service providers on their funds are used for services. Often, people did not know the full effects of the change to the NDIS before they went into their planning meetings.

How much NDIS funding are people receiving?

Often, people want to know what the “average” funding outcome is. I could tell you that, according to the NDIA, the average plan amount is $36,049 (NDIA Quarterly Report June 2016). Or that a majority of my customers are quite happy with their funding but are still trying to understand exactly how to navigate the NDIS world. But the truth is, no one is having the same experience. The plan amount will vary depending on your situation and the levels of satisfaction are not solely dictated by the NDIS.

Another question I am often asked is “Did anyone get less funding?” The short answer is yes, a small number did. Sometimes, it was that there was a mistake, and the person had to request a plan review. Other times, the NDIA and the individual had different definitions of “reasonable and necessary.” The majority of the time, when people have received less fund it has been after a plan review. The main reason for this is that the individual has built capacity and doesn’t need as much support any more. Which is an excellent outcome for all parties. 

Quite a few people were confused about what the NDIS will and won’t fund. Gym memberships and holiday accommodation won’t be funded, but you can use your NDIS budget for the support for you to attend gym or go on holiday.

Are people happy with their outcomes?

In general, people who went into their meetings with clear goals got the best results. But preparing for a meeting is more than just setting goals. It’s important to do a clear review of what your life is like now. From here you can work on what you want your life to look like in the future, and how you will achieve this. 

To put it simply, people who planned well and had a good understanding of what to expect have had excellent outcomes. In addition, many families who went in with little or no pre-planning or understanding of the NDIS were able to navigate the system with support and achieve great outcomes.

There are also some families who are challenging the decisions made by the NDIA. And some families have still not even heard of the NDIS. So really, it’s a mixed kettle of fish. 

So, how am I finding the NDIS? If you are prepared, do your research and you’ll be fine.

- Jessie Shaw, Community Engagement Manager. Townsville

Find out more

Choosing House with No Steps as an NDIS provider
Find out about our disability services
Meet Jessie - Community Engagement Manager

Find out more about disability services at House with No Steps
Tags: NDIS

6 tips for an inclusive kids party

Date Posted: Thursday, 03 November 2016 12:38
Posted By: Nadia Pocock

Our top 6 tips for making sure your next kids party is warm, welcoming, and fun!

Hosting an inclusive party for people with disabilities

Hosting a children’s party is no mean feat – and making sure all guests, including those with disabilities, can join in may seem challenging at first. The good news? It’s actually not so hard to make a kids’ party inclusive for children with a disability.

Here are our top tips for making sure everyone’s welcome.

1. Drop mum or dad a line. 

If you’re concerned about ‘making a big deal’ about your guest’s disability, don’t be. You’re not a mind reader, but no one expects you to be! A simple phone call to their parents not only shows you care, it allows you to find out how to make the party a fantastic day for their child. And truthfully, most parents will appreciate you taking the time to ask.

Not sure if any of your child’s friends have a disability or specific needs? An easy way to make sure everyone feels welcome is to mention it in the invitation’s RSVP; something along the lines of: “We want everyone to have fun, so please let us know if your child has any specific needs we need to be mindful of.”

2. Encourage the kids to follow your lead. 

Even small children can grasp the idea of being kind and welcoming to others – so before the event, remind your own children how important it is to be inclusive. 

A little light-hearted talk to the entire group at the start of the party can also be a great opportunity to set a positive tone for day. Chances are there will be things you need to tell the group (all about the fun activities you have planned), so you can include a note about everyone joining in and having fun at the same time!

3. Make parents welcome.

Some kids with disabilities may feel more comfortable if their mum or dad attends the party, and at the same time, some parents may also feel more comfortable coming along! 

Especially for kids with anxiety, having a parent there can be reassuring – plus, parents will be attuned to ‘red flags’ that their child is becoming distressed. 

That said, plenty of parents will be happy not to attend. Either way, that initial phone call is a good time to make parents welcome, and see what they think is best.

4. Play it safe with food.

These days, food allergies and sensitivities are par for the course, which just means that options are needed! Often kids with disabilities will have specific dietary requirements - for example, many kids with autism follow a diary free/gluten free diet.

To get an idea of what food you’ll need to whip up, ask guests to let you know about any special diet requirements when they RSVP. 

Luckily there are plenty of gluten, nut, and dairy free recipes and ready-made snacks available (if in doubt, Google for ideas!). You don’t need to go overboard, just try to make sure there’s something for everyone.

5. Watch out for sensory overload.

With so much going on at a party (bright lights! Loud noises! Lots of people!), it’s easy for kids to become overwhelmed. 

For those with a disability like autism or a sensory processing disorder, things can become particularly overwhelming – so when you’re holding a party, be mindful of the level of potential chaos! 

For example, try replacing traditional balloons (which can pop loudly on their own) with foil balloons (which also happen to look great!). Also steer away from strong smells – maybe pop that scented guest soap or potpourri in the cupboard for the day.

If someone is overwhelmed and wants to sit something out, that's okay!  Setting up a dedicated ‘quiet space’ in the party can be a great idea. This way, kids who would rather do something low key (or need a break) can still have a good time. Consider setting this area up with soft lighting, cosy cushions and maybe some books or Lego.

6. Think ahead about access.

If you’re having the party at home, ask your guests’ parents about any potential access issues – for example, if they need a ramp for a wheelchair (which they may even be able bring along), or any extra to help carry any assistive device. 

If it’s being held outdoors, be mindful of surfaces like rocks and gravel that may be hard to navigate. And if you’ve opted for a public place (like a restaurant or bowling alley) be sure to check ahead that they’re accessible (the good news is, most public spaces such as these will almost always will be set up to cater for disabilities).

Have fun!

Most of all though, have fun throwing that party! Inclusion shouldn’t be stressful – it just takes a little bit of preplanning and thought. 

If you have any other questions or suggestions about making a party inclusive, we’d love to hear them – just drop us a line.

Check out our other blogs

4 things that don't cause autism
Raising a child with Down syndrome means wearing many different hats
Sensory activities for kids with disabilities 

Find out more about disability services at House with No Steps

Online trolls targeting people with a disability

Date Posted: Wednesday, 26 October 2016 16:02
Posted By: Nadia Pocock

Many Australians have been abused by online trolls – and this includes many people with a disability. So why does this happen and what can we do?

online troll using computer

Did you ever get bullied at school? If you answered yes, you’ll understand the damage it can do. Sadly, with the introduction of the internet, bullying is even more common these days, particularly as it’s often anonymous. 

Cyber bullying, also at times called ‘trolling’, now affects one in eight Australians – and unfortunately, this includes many people with a disability. 

What is most concerning about this increase in cyber bullying and trolling is that fact it can lead to depression, social anxiety, and low levels of self-esteem. 

So why does this happen and what can we do about it? Let’s answer a few of the commonly asked questions.

What exactly is trolling? 

Well, trolls are those people who write cynical, negative, abusive, or sarcastic comments online about innocent by-standers – just because they can. 

Internet trolls are much like the mythical trolls - except they hide behind a computer screen (instead of under a bridge), and deliberately go out of their way to cause trouble by provoking, disturbing, and upsetting someone. 

Why do trolls target people with a disability? 

While no one is safe from trolls, they tend to attack people who they think are easy targets or in their minds some way “different”, vulnerable, or insecure. The reason people are seen as ‘easy targets’ is really because they don’t conform to society’s often incorrect ideas of what is “normal”. 

This may be to do with disability, race, religion or sexual orientation, or it may be because someone is famous (we’ve all heard of celebrities who’ve been viciously attacked online). 

No matter what the reason behind a troll's actions, it is never ok.

How do trolls attack?

The sad truth is, there are so many examples of trolls being abusive towards people with a disability. Here are just two stories which recently hit the headlines.

Jameson’s story

Jameson Myer, is a young boy with Pfeiffer syndrome – a condition that alters the shape of his head and face. Jameson’s mum, AliceAnn, was horrified one day when she discovered that a cute picture of Jameson which she’d innocently posted on her blog had been turned into a cruel ‘meme’, likening Jameson to a pug dog. 

AliceAnn Myers chose to send a message to her son’s trolls that would make them understand the damage they’d done.

“To everyone that “LOL’d”, shared, and posted that meme, let me start by introducing you to the child you find so funny. His name is Jameson. He is very real, and he was born with Pfeiffer syndrome.” 

Lizzie’s story

Lizzie Velasquez, is another who has had to deal with abuse from online trolls, but also one who refused to let trolls get the better of her. 

Lizzie was born with two rare conditions - Marfan and lipodystrophy – which means she is visually impaired and unable to gain weight, no matter how much she eats.

At just 17 years of age, Lizzie’s life changed forever when she found that someone had made a YouTube video of her titled ‘the world’s ugliest woman’.  The video had been watched over 4million times, and many people had left awful comments including that Lizzie should have been killed at birth.

Since then, Lizzie has embarked on a campaign to end bullying, and raise awareness of her conditions. She has established her own YouTube channel (with 240,000 subscribers), given a TED talk, and released a documentary, to inspire others to feel confident in their own skin.

So, how do you fight back? 

Unfortunately, while you might be tempted to fire back with anger, sometimes the best tactic is to ignore the trolls. 

After all, ultimately what trolls are looking for is a reaction. Deny them the pleasure of an angry reaction, and they'll probably leave you alone – in other words, don't feed the trolls.

However, there are times when it also pays to take a stance, especially if the trolling is particularly abusive and especially if it is threatening. Read on to find out how to take action.

What else can be done?

While more work still needs to be done by social networks and also changes in the legislation, there are some steps you can take if you experience trolling of any kind:

  1. Use Facebook and Instagram’s tools to unfriend, block, and report any kind of online bullying.

  2. If it’s targeted at children, report the culprit to the Office of the Children’s eSafety Commissioner.

  3. If the behaviour is causing serious distress, harm, harassment, stalking, violence or includes threats to harm you, contact the police.

  4. If you witness trolling – do something about it. Reach out to the victim and ask if they’re okay. 

If you or anyone you know is being affected by trolling or cyber bullying, you can seek support from ACORN, Kids Helpline or Lifeline

Check out our other blogs

10 things not to say to someone with a disability 
7 facts about disability in the workplace
The disability parking debate

Find out more about disability services at House with No Steps
Tags: bullying

10 things not to say to someone with a disability

Date Posted: Thursday, 20 October 2016 15:21
Posted By: Nadia Pocock

When it comes to chatting with someone with a disability, there are a few rookie errors (and assumptions) that people sometimes make.

Man in wheelchair talking with girl

As a general rule of thumb, talk to someone with a disability just like you’d want to be treated yourself – be polite, respectful, and interested. As for what NOT to say? Here’s a cheat sheet with a few tips.

1. “What’s wrong with you?”

Firstly remember there is nothing wrong with a person who has a disability so never ask “What’s wrong with you?”.

That aside, asking questions isn’t a bad thing as it shows you’re interested in getting to know someone. But in any conversation, asking anything overly personal is not ok, especially if it’s the first time you’ve met.

Immediately asking someone about their disability (“were you born that way?” for example) says to the person that the first thing you noticed about them was their disability.

Also imagine how you'd feel being asked about your medical history by someone you hardly knew! Not the basis for forming a great relationship, is it?

As you get to know someone better, you might start to talk their disability – but remember some people might be very comfortable talking about their disability, while others may not be, so take cues from the person themselves.

2. “It’s so good to see you out and about!” 

Many people assume that it is a mammoth struggle for people with a disability to even leave the house, or that they are not capable of leading an active, social, interesting life.

For most people with a disability, this couldn’t be further from the truth!

The other problem here is the view that people with a disability are out of place in certain spaces, like clubs. But why shouldn’t someone with a disability be on the dance floor or out having a drink with friends? Absolutely no reason that we can think of!

3. “I know a great doctor/priest, I bet he could fix you.”

Again, this is a well-meaning sentiment that comes across all wrong.

First of all, talking about “fixing” or “curing” someone’s disability immediately suggests that there’s something wrong with them, when there isn’t. Having a disability is part of many people’s identity – it's not something they see as a negative, and nor should you.

On top of all that, it’s likely that the person you’re talking to already has a strong network of medical professionals to support them, so it’s best to leave the recommendations up to them.

4. “But you’re so pretty!”

Talk about a backhanded compliment! The real problem here lies in the ‘but’. It suggests that being pretty doesn’t ‘go’ with having a disability – and that if you have a disability, you should for some reason be frumpy or unattractive.

Of course this is ridiculous. Whether a disability is visible or invisible, people with a disability can be fabulously gorgeous.

5. “Here, let me do that for you.” 

Everyone can use a little help now and then, whether they have a disability or not – so this is a bit of a tricky one.

While you might want to make things easier for someone with a disability, it’s important to respect their space and independence. A good approach is to offer to help, but don’t make it too big a deal (or be offended if your offer is turned down). There’s a big difference between offering a helping hand, and taking over.

6. “Hey BUDDY!” *Insert head pat /fist bump/ high five attempt*

For some misguided reason, people occasionally treat people with a disability like they’re children. Unless they really ARE children, this is clearly not ok!

Never assume that someone with a disability is any less intelligent or mature than you are. Excessive use of terms like ‘buddy’ and ‘sweetie’, or hair ruffling and fist bumping can come across as patronising or just plain cringe-worthy.

7. “My neighbour Amy has a disability, do you know her??”

You know that thing that happens when you’re travelling overseas, and someone asks you if you know their random friend in Australia? And of course, it’s someone you’ve never heard of, because Australia’s population is enormous? Well, this is the equivalent of that.

People with a disability don’t all know each other – there’s no secret club, so it’s not really worth asking!

8. **Ignores the fact that person with a disability is even there**

One of the ickiest things you can say to someone with a disability is to say nothing at all. Whether it’s a waiter in a restaurant or an acquaintance on the street, many people won’t even acknowledge someone with a disability – instead, choosing to address a person they’re with. This is just downright rude (after all, who likes to be spoken about as though they’re not there?!).

Also don’t ever assume someone who is non-verbal can’t understand what you’re saying. Don't be too shy to talk to them directly - if necessary, they may just use an aid such as a talking device or communication board to respond.


While some people slip into childlike language, others pump up the volume or start talking really s-l-o-w-l-y. However, even if the person you’re talking to has a hearing impairment, neither of these things actually help (sorry, but it’s true).

Just speak at your usual pace and volume, and make sure the person you’re talking to can see your mouth (in case they rely on lip reading).

And if they don’t understand, don’t repeat yourself over and over – just try phrasing things in a different way.

10. “You’re just sooooo inspiring.”

Once again, this is a well-meaning comment that can come across as a bit patronising. OK sure, if the person you're talking to has done something incredible, like set an ambitious goal and achieved it, then sure it’s appropriate to say they’re inspiring.

But if you’re just saying that because the person has a disability, hold your tongue – in their eyes, they’re just living their life and probably going about their day-to-day which may mean going to work, cooking dinner, and then watching the Bachelor! A great life sure – but probably not actions they feel they need praise for.

Got any other suggestions about what to say (or not say) to someone with a disability? We’d love to hear from you in the comments section below.

Check out our other blogs

10 thing not to say to someone with a mental illness 
The disability parking debate 
Sex and disability - the facts

Find out more about disability services at House with No Steps

7 facts about disability in the workplace

Date Posted: Friday, 07 October 2016 13:27
Posted By: Nadia Pocock

It’s not always easy for people with a disability to be part of the workforce – but, thanks to changes in the law, things are improving. 

Woman with a disability working in an office

Having a disability shouldn’t stop anyone from finding a job (and neither should discrimination!). 

However, the rights of people with a disability in the workplace can be quite confusing to understand. So we’ve taken a look at a few key facts which you may need to know.

FACT #1: In the workplace ‘disability’ is a pretty broad term.

Often when people think ‘disability’ their minds jump to people with physical disabilities such as those who use wheelchairs. But in the workplace, disability can refer to physical, intellectual, psychiatric, sensory, neurological, and learning disabilities. Even people with Hepatitis C or HIV are counted as having a disability. 

Why is this worth noting? Well, basically it means that the laws don’t just protect people with a physical disability – they’re here for everyone who may be discriminated against due to a disability.

FACT #2: Discrimination isn't ok. In fact, it’s illegal.  

Just to recap, disability discrimination refers to people being treated unfairly (and missing out on job opportunities) just because they have a disability. 

The good news? In Australia, the law protects employees with a disability from discrimination at all stages of employment - from the initial interview right through to leaving the company.

The sad truth? Some employers do still discriminate against applicants with a disability. 

Sometimes this discrimination is more obvious, such as telling someone flat out that they won’t be considered for the job because they assume they’ll be ‘too slow’.  Other times, discrimination is more indirect – like when businesses don’t provide access for people who use wheelchairs. 

Whatever form it takes, it’s not OK.

FACT #3: There are times when an employer can refuse you a job because of your disability.

Sometimes it can be legal for a company to refuse someone a job because of their disability. This can be the case if you can’t perform the ‘inherent requirements’ of the position. In other words, you must be able to carry out the duties of the job.

These ‘inherent requirements’ will depend on the job – for instance, a person with low vision may not meet the requirements to be a delivery driver. 

But, if your disability won’t affect your performance, you deserve a fair shot – and employers aren't allowed to turn you down just because of your disability.

That’s why the laws exist – to ensure there’s an even playing field for everyone.

FACT #4: In some cases, workplaces must make changes to suit your needs.  

Sometimes, a workplace might need a few adjustments to make it accessible and safe for an employee with a disability.

Employers must make what are called ‘reasonable adjustments’ for a person with a disability who is offered a job, or to an existing employee, to make sure they can do the requirements of the job.

Perhaps a ramp needs to be installed, doorways widened to allow wheelchair access, or a bigger computer screen is necessary. If such an adjustment can be made, it’s the employer’s responsibility to make it happen.

In some cases, employers do not have to make these changes if they can show that it would be very difficult to do so, or be very high cost.

On the upside, employers don’t always have to carry to cost of these alterations. The Australian Government’s Workplace Modifications Scheme can assist where there are costs in modifying the workplace or purchasing equipment for eligible employees with disability.

FACT #5: It can be up to you if you tell your boss about your disability, or not.

You only need to tell your employer about your disability if it has the potential to endanger yourself or your co-workers, or, if it could affect your ability to do the job. 

For example, if you have epilepsy and your job involves operating heavy machinery, you need to tell your employer. 

It’s also good to keep in mind that if you do not let your employer know about any illness, disability, or injury – you may not be covered by Workers Compensation if the condition recurs or gets worse on the job.

Otherwise it’s completely up to you whether you tell anyone or not – some people prefer to keep things private, while others are comfortable sharing. The only thing worth noting is that, if you discuss your disability with your boss, he or she may be able to make changes to your workplace to make things a little easier. 

FACT #6: Your boss isn’t allowed to tell anyone about your disability, unless you say so.

That’s right: by law (the Privacy Act), your employer must keep details of your disability confidential unless you give consent.

It is up to you whether you want to tell your colleagues about your disability.

FACT #7: If you’ve experienced discrimination you’re not alone and you can take action.

If you experience discrimination don’t feel ashamed, and know you’re well within your rights to take action. 

As a first step, you might choose to raise the issue directly with the people involved, or with a manager, supervisor, or the Human Resources department. 

Or, if you’re not comfortable with this, you can make a complaint to the Australian Human Rights Commission (or have a solicitor or advocate do this on your behalf). 

Your complaint to the Commission will need to be in writing, and describe when, where, what happened, and who was involved. There is a complaint form that you can fill in and post or fax back, or you can do it online. If you are not able to put your complaint in writing, the Commission can help you with this.

Share your own experiences with us in the comments section below!

Check out our other blogs

People with autism excelling in technology careers

Savant syndrome: the truth behind Rain Man 

The disability parking debate 

Find out more about disability services at House with No Steps

The disability parking debate

Date Posted: Wednesday, 14 September 2016 08:34
Posted By: Nadia Pocock

An alarming number of people believe the term ‘disability’ only refers to someone who uses a wheelchair – but in actual fact, 9 out of 10 disabilities are invisible.

International symbol of access

Brain injuries, congestive heart failure, lung disease, MS, neurological disorders, lupus, and arthritis are just a few disabilities which can be invisible to an outsider.

The challenge for people living with an invisible disability? Others can assume they’re ‘rorting’ the system, especially when it comes to accessible parking.

Parking vigilantes are on the rise

While it’s illegal to park in an accessible parking space without a permit (and you’ll be up for a hefty fine if you do) some people have taken it upon themselves to become parking vigilantes, trying to catch people out.

Although these vigilantes think they’re doing the right thing, they often misread the situation – shaming people of cheating the system, when in fact the person parking is perfectly entitled to use an accessible parking space.

Shockingly, it’s common for people with a disability to be verbally abused, left nasty notes, thrown filthy looks, or have their cars keyed.

Recently, Justine Van Den Borne from Melbourne who has Multiple Sclerosis, appeared in the headlines when – after parking in an accessible parking spot – she found a note on her car reading ‘Did you forget your wheelchair?’ This was despite the fact that Justine had clearly displayed her Australian Disability Parking Permit.

What this ‘do-gooder’ didn’t know was that it was a rare day when Justine could walk without assistance and had decided to spend the day out with her daughter.

In the US, a Mother and her daughter, Kaitlyn, were also shocked to find a note on their car reading, “Greetings. I observed you parking in this handicap parking place today. It appears that you are not really handicap - perhaps just in a hurry or worse, just plain lazy.”

Kaitlyn, however, has a rare genetic disorder called hypophosphatasia that leaves her bones weak and brittle. She was born with 13 bone fractures and has had dozens more since then.

It’s important to remember that if someone has an appropriate permit, it is not up for us to cast judgement. However, if you think someone is abusing the system, read on to find out what you can do.

If someone doesn’t use a wheelchair, why do they need disability parking?

Before you roll your eyes at someone pulling into an accessible parking spot, remember it’s impossible to know at a glance whether or not they require a disability parking permit.

A person who has a prosthetic limb or mobility issues may find it hard to walk long distances, others may have chronic pain or breathing difficulties which means walking can be harder.

Keep in mind that parents and carers of people with a disability can also use an accessible parking spot if they are transporting, dropping off, or picking up a person who has a permit themselves.

What should I do if I don’t see a disability parking permit on a car?

In NSW, parking in a disability space without a permit will result in a hefty $519 fine and offenders will also lose a demerit point.

If you do see an illegally parked car parked in a public space and feel the need to do something, you can report it to your local council. Local council areas can be identified on the Office of Local Government website. In privately operated car parks or shopping centres, you can also report the issue to the manager.

And remember being abusive and taking vigilante action (like damaging someone’s car) is as illegal as parking in a disabled car space without a permit.

How do you qualify for a permit?

The Australian Disability Parking Scheme (ADPS) was designed to help people with genuine mobility disabilities. And you can rest assured these permits aren’t given out lightly.

Before anyone can get a disability parking permit, they need to meet the criteria which includes providing a doctor’s certificate.

In NSW for example, guidelines state that if you use a wheelchair or other mobility aid, your physical condition is detrimentally affected by walking 100m, or if you’re permanently visually impaired, you can be granted a permit.

Once someone has a Australian Disability Parking Permit, they can park in parking spaces showing the international symbol of access and can receive concessions in most public parking spaces where the sign or meter shows specific time limits.

Share your own experiences with us in the comments section below!

Read our other blogs

10 things not to say to someone with a mental illness
6 facts you might not know about therapy animals

Sex and disability: the facts

Find out more about disability services at House with No Steps
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