Geelong Disability Awards

Kirrily Hayward has a lot to say and we need to listen / photo by Pam Hutchinson

There are a lot of events and particularly business events in Geelong these days, and while it’s great to catch up and to build your networks, every now and then you go to an event and you walk away uplifted and seriously proud of the place where you live.

That was what the Geelong Awards for People with a Disability did for me this week.

I had met Kirrily Hayward a few times at events before and enjoyed her intelligent take on the world and they way she found something to laugh at, even with the big issues. I knew she was a loud and proud campaigner for marriage equality and disability rights. I didn’t know that this fierce and funny young woman was living in an aged care facility.

Sometimes, you can be proud of where you live and be angry and ashamed at the same time. I know I am, and we need local people with loud voices to get behind the desperate need for appropriate disability housing.

Kirrily was recognised with the Advocacy Award on Monday night, with the awards coinciding with the VALiD Having a Say conference also held in Geelong this week.

A proud and opinionated young gay woman living in aged care facility; just think about that for a minute. Kirrily said she’s made some new friends in the facility, but is using her experience to speak out for the need for change for all young people living in nursing homes. She also advocates for LGBTIQ people with a disability through the “In Bed Project”.


Everyone has a story ... / photo by Pam Hutchinson

Kirrily was one of four outstanding local achievers celebrated as award winners, and one of a bevy of award nominees whose contributions shine a light on the diversity of issues, challenges and opportunities being tackled by Geelong locals with a disability. Their stories all deserve to be told and we’ll be sharing them with you in coming issues.


Chris Hall is wheeling up funds for MND research / photo by Pam Hutchinson

The Achievement Award went to Leopold local, Chris Hall, whose achievement was nothing to do with his disability and everything to do with fighting to make a difference for a mate.

Chris said he barely knew anything about Motor Neurone Disease until he lost a close friend to the incurable condition in 2015. He saw the need for a cure first hand and looked for a way to help find one. So he started wheeling up and down the waterfront from Eastern Beach, clocking up thousands of kilometres and fundraising through donations and organising live music events.


Dr Melanie Thomson with her family / photo by Pam Hutchinson

The Leadership Award went to Dr Melanie Thomson, an experienced medical research scientist with over 20 years of experience in her field.

While running her own research lab at the Deakin Medical School, Melanie was diagnosed with tumefactive Multiple Sclerosis in 2014. Since her MS diagnosis, which is now treated and under control, Melanie has taken on the role of patient advocate – giving her the unique position of understanding the challenges of having a disability while being able to empathise with the difficulties faced by medical researchers.

Since moving on from her role as a research scientist, Melanie has been a significant advocate for women in science and is now employed by a national not-for-profit medical company.


Linda Stokoe is championing the relationship rights of people with disability / photo by Pam Hutchinson

Linda Stokoe is a peer educator and co-researcher on the Sexual Lives and Respectful Relationships program, employed by Deakin University as part of the initiative.

The program is run in collaboration with community organisations, advocating for the sexuality and respectful relationships rights for people with an intellectual disability. Linda was a presenter at last year’s VALiD Having a Say Conference and Melbourne University’s Sex, Sexuality and the Rights of People with Disability conference in April 2017. Using her own experiences and her peer insights to advocate on the best way to further the rights of people with a disability, Linda was awarded the Volunteering & Employment Award on Monday night.


Lee Stamps (Stampsy from K-Rock, awards co-MC) with Chloe Hayden (past winner and guest speaker)

Lee Stamps (Stampsy from K-Rock, awards co-MC) with Chloe Hayden (past winner and guest speaker)

Julie Graham (GenU Executive General Manager) with Caitlin Haddad & Paula Allen (Committee for Geelong)

Julie Graham (GenU Executive General Manager) with Caitlin Haddad & Paula Allen (Committee for Geelong)

Tony and Debbie Spence (Prestige Jayco), and Geelong Mayor Cr. Bruce Harwood (awards presenter)

Tony and Debbie Spence (Prestige Jayco), and Geelong Mayor Cr. Bruce Harwood (awards presenter)

The Geelong Awards for People with a Disability are supported by the Victorian Advocacy League for Individuals with Disability (VALiD), Barwon Disability Resource Council (BDRC), K Rock, Bay 93.9, Geelong Advertiser and Adcell Group. genU’s Australian Disability Enterprise, Seasons, catered the event.

Photography by Pam Hutchinson, Pam Hutchinson Photography

Feature Image Courtesy: Tract Consulting
Website by Red Onion Creative