Seeing the Ability in Disability: Zac Newland

International Day of People with Disability, held annually on 3 December, is a day that aims to increase public awareness, understanding and acceptance of people with disability and celebrate their achievements and contributions. This year’s theme is Seeing the Ability in Disability.

Current Bachelor of Engineering and Diploma of Professional Practice, Zac Newland shared some of his insights into life as a student with a disability

Over the course of my university studies in mechatronic engineering, I’ve had the opportunity to participate in many different activities, which have tested my abilities at times but have also given me the means to show what I am capable of.

I have led team projects, built a remote gate prototype and an automated greenhouse, and I am currently on my second industry placement. The placements have been particularly useful for me, as I have been able to apply my knowledge in the classroom in a practical manner that can produce actual results and effect real change.

For example, in my first placement, I was able to continue developing my remote gate into a more useable form, which I have almost completed now. That project has great implications for the agricultural sector and seeing that come into being is very satisfying.

I have also been able to apply my knowledge outside of the university to upgrade my equipment, like my braces and wheelchair. This has allowed me to live independently during my current placement.

The Student Accessibility and Equity staff, my peers, and my lecturers have all been very supportive during my interactions with them and have helped provide me with the means to achieve. They have worked with me to ensure I have full access to all the resources I need, and all the events that I would like to attend. They have also helped me with scholarship applications.

Moving forward I plan to continue working on myself and on my projects, such as my upcoming thesis on the family farm, to help others in similar situations to my own. For instance, I am thinking of ways that I can make better use of my leg braces, so I have greater independence with less need for complex equipment. I am also looking for employment, considering that I am close to my graduation next year.

From my experience, most people wish to help me however they can, but can sometimes be put off or otherwise discouraged, which I believe can come from a lack of understanding of my disability in some cases.

Zac (front and centre) with CQUni staff from Indigenous Engagement, Careers and Student Accessibility. Zac was a guest speaker at a Transition Expo in Mackay for school leavers talking about his CQUni pathway through SUN to undergraduate studies.

When people engage in conversation with me, I often notice that their opinions and viewpoints shift as they begin to understand more about me. It is often forgotten that the disabilities themselves are not the defining factor in life and that we all have our own shortcomings, some more visible than others.

Having an awareness of what you can do well and what you would like to improve allows you to focus your efforts, and this can only be effectively carried out within the context of a conversation and mutual understanding.

It is our job to start this conversation and keep it moving in a direction that can help those around us.

IDPwD is a United Nations observed day celebrated internationally. It aims to increase public awareness, understanding and acceptance of people with disability and celebrate their achievements and contributions.

Information on how you can get involved in the day as an individual or organisation and how to break down barriers (both structural and attitudinal) for people with disability can be found online.

Blog written by Zac Newland.

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