Festival of Abilities celebrates people of all abilities at Bicentennial Park | Gallery, Video

“WE focus on our abilities.”

They’re fighting words from a Tamworth family who’s proving living with a disability “isn’t the end of the world”.

Tamworth couple Matthew and Belinda Hooley were among more than 1000 people to converge on Bicentennial Park on Saturday for the Festival of Abilities. 

Organised by Ability Links, the festival is about bringing the community together to celebrate people of all abilities.

“We were told we could never have kids because of our disabilities, but we believed in ourselves and did,” Mr Hooley said.

“We live independently. We focus on our abilities.”

The couple have two sons. Josh, a miracle child, is now 11, and living with cerebral palsy, Dyspraxia and reflux. Thomas, 4, has autism and club foot. 

Last year, the family accessed Ability Links, a service that works closely with people with a disability, their families and carers to support them to fulfil their goals, hopes and dreams.

“They’re wonderful,” Mrs Hooley said.

“They helped us any way they could. It’s raising awareness of people with a disability that want to be known.”

The family believes attitudes towards people with a disability are “slowly starting to change”.

“I like to show other people that it’s not the end of the world,” Mrs Hooley said.

“Even though you have a disability, you can still do things.”

Ability Links New England North West coordinator Brett Pischke said the festival was about promoting inclusion and allowing people to experience new things.

“With the NDIS coming in and the Ability Links program, those barriers are starting to break down. It’s more socially acceptable now to see someone out and about, people are now actually enjoying themselves instead of being stuck at home,” he said.

Blind cricketer Lindsay Heaven, who debuted for Australia at the age of 18, was at the festival to promote the sport of vision impaired cricket.

Pathfinders, the auspice body for Ability Links, CEO Alan Brennan said the festival empowered people with a disability “to get out and become part of our society, not behind closed doors anymore”.

“It’s about building people’s self esteem, helping them understand that they are a very important part of our society, we want them to be part of our society, no longer marginalised,” he said.

“It doesn’t matter what age or what type of disability, it’s about ability.

“Everyone’s got an ability.”

Imagine Better, Celebrate Together

The Festival of Abilities was also the launching pad for a social campaign, Imagine Better, Celebrate Together.

Run by a small group of local social entrepreneurs, the campaign aims to change the way we all think about community, carers, and people with a disability.

Everyone is born into caring families and raised by communities.

However, for many people with a disability they have become segregated in their own communities as demonstrated by the current high number of government policies surrounding Disability Inclusion.

“The reality is that people with a disability are part of the family, and have always played a key role as highly valued community members,” Michael Ticehurst said.

He is one of many local social entrepreneurs with the newly created Imagine Better Celebrate Together team, who want to change the way we all think about community, carers, and people with a disability.

“Our motivation is that if the belief and desire of people with a disability is to imagine better for themselves; then we need to create the same belief and desire within the community that they too can imagine better for people with a disability,” he said.

“And one way to easily do this is by recognising everyone in the community, workplace, and at home who are achieving great things for people with a disability.”

The group has set up a Facebook campaign to encourage family, friends, workmates, neighbours, teachers, coaches and carers to have some fun and create a 90-second video to recognise people in the community, schools, shops, etc who are doing great things for people with a disability.

The videos will be judged and up to 40 community recognition are on offer for the Tamworth and Gunnedah communities, drawn from eight categories including My Choice and Control, Relationships, Daily Living, Home, Health & Wellbeing, Lifelong Learning, Work, and Social/Community/Civic Participation.

The inaugural Imagine Better Celebrate Together Community Recognitions Dinner will be held at Tamworth Town Hall on November 25.

Video entries open Monday, August 28 and close midnight Monday, October 2.

The Facebook Page is Imagine Better Celebrate Together or email imaginebettercelebratetogether@gmail.com to find out more.