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Future Shapers Community Carly Findlay
Photograph: Sam Biddle

Future Shapers: Carly Findlay, the writer, speaker and proud appearance activist

She's working towards an inclusive society where accessibility isn't an afterthought

Written by
Rushani Epa

Time Out is profiling the incredible people who are shaping the future of Melbourne in our Future Shaper series. We have asked a panel of esteemed judges comprising Senator Lidia Thorpe (Greens Senator for Victoria), Simon Abrahams (creative director and CEO of Melbourne Fringe), Claire Ferres Miles (CEO of Sustainability Victoria) Pat Nourse (creative director, Melbourne Food and Wine Festival), Peter Tullin (co-founder and CEO of Remix Summits) and Kate Vinot (chair of Zoos Victoria) to help us identify the people changing the future of Melbourne in the areas of food and drink; arts; community and culture; civics; and sustainability. In community and culture, one such person is Carly Findlay.

Carly Findlay has been busy. The writer, speaker and self-described appearance activist works part-time as Melbourne Fringe Festival’s access and inclusion coordinator, has published a memoir called Say Hello, edited Growing up Disabled in Australia with Black Inc Books, and that’s not even the half of it. The outspoken advocate for people living with a disability is planning a podcast that talks to disabled women (with a focus on disabled Women of Colour), a children’s book and numerous events centred around Growing Up Disabled in Australia, too.

So what does an appearance activist do? “I help change perceptions around appearance, diversity and disability,” she says. “So I advise on best practice accessibility for deaf and disabled audiences and artists, and how to improve the sector in that space. I also freelance and do lots of training around access and a lot of different things that relate to appearance, diversity and disability.”

Accessibility stands as a big problem for those living with a disability. It can range from venues not offering wheelchair access to not providing visitors with a separate, quiet area if they might need a break. “Accessibility shouldn’t be an afterthought but something that is constantly thought about and provided in events,” she says. “The Melbourne art scene, in general, has improved on accessibility, but we still do have so far to go. So I think it is about making sure that all businesses consider access when they build their venues, when they put on events and when they recruit people so that it isn't just on disabled people to do it.” 

“I feel like there's an expectation that we should just accept the crumbs, you know, the bare minimum. And I think that disabled people need to be more vocal in saying, ‘Well, no, we are not going to just accept the bare minimum. We want more. We deserve more.’”

And she openly uses the ‘d’ word, believing that it shouldn’t be taboo. “I don't think that parents should adopt their child's diagnosis with their identity, you know, saying, ‘I'm a special needs mum’. I also think that just because you have worked in the industry or sector, it doesn't mean you know everything. I get a lot of people messaging me to tell me how I should be changing my language because the people they work with suffer special needs or are differently abled. I feel like there's a lot of people that get offended on the behalf of disabled people for things that they think are politically correct.” Focussing so much on language as opposed to the bigger picture makes Findlay feel like the real issues are being ignored. “They’re being pushed down. And we haven't moved past this yet. I really wish that we weren't still talking about the right language.”

So where do we start in order to make our society more accessible and inclusive? It’s simple. “Listen and amplify the voices of disabled people,” she says. “Twitter is a really great place to start getting online and looking at #disability. There's loads of people who you can follow in the disability community. I think becoming a part of the disability community has really helped me in the last ten or 12 years, and connecting with others despite having different diagnoses or different conditions is really important. The other thing is to read, and [if you live with a disability] I think it's really important to step outside your own disability and accessibility experience. So, for example, my access needs are very minimal compared to other people's access states. And yet, I constantly think about other types of accessibility. I think it's really important to be an ally in your own community as well.”

Read about more of our Future Shapers

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