2 December 2016, Perth, Western Australia



* The following speech was delivered by Catia Malaquias at an event held by National Disability Services WA, in celebration of International Day of People With Disability #IDPWD

Thank you for your generous introduction.

I am so happy to be here today and I feel privileged to have been asked to speak about the work and mission of Starting With Julius.

But before I begin, as a non-disabled person invited on this stage, I would like to acknowledge people with disability for allowing me to speak to their context and on this day.

For those of you who don’t know, Starting With Julius is a Western Australian-based project established 3 years ago and which, through the support of people with disability and companies – including people and companies in WA and some of which are here today – has been able to make an impact on the national and international stage.

Starting With Julius is committed to the representation of people with disability in advertising, media and beyond, including education, to stimulate cultural transformation for a world in which people with disability are recognised, respected and valued as equal citizens and full participants in every area of life.

So why start with Julius? Well, Julius is my 7 year old son and in 2013 he was the first person with Down syndrome to feature in an Australian-wide, high profile mainstream advertising campaign for a kids fashion brand called eeni meeni miini moh. He actually featured in 7 campaigns for them and this captured the interest of the media and presented an opportunity to talk about disability representation in mainstream ads – and why it matters.

But to really understand the mission of Starting with Julius, we need to look back longer, to a time long before Julius.  A time when attitudes to people like my son, were largely driven by fear, ignorance and even superstition.  When people with disability were routinely kept apart from the rest of society and denied the most fundamental human rights – including rights to family, education, work and community.

It is true, things have changed dramatically in the last few decades. An international disability rights movement, a United Nations Convention on disability and legal and policy reforms in Australia and overseas, have brought about better access to services, education and employment, a move away from institutionalised living and greater focus on accessibility.

And yet, in 2016 people with disability continue to face very significant obstacles and exclusion.

Children with disability and their families around Australia still struggle to access and maintain education in regular schools alongside their non-disabled peers.  Discrimination and attitudinal barriers to employment means that alarming numbers of people with disability remain shut out of the labour market and denied opportunities for socio-economic advancement.

When Julius was born with Down syndrome, I started to see the world with some appreciation of these barriers.  I also began to realise what I didnt see people with disability in our mainstream media “out of sight, out of mind” – the classic exclusionary cliché – but so true. And I realised that not being visible hurts – it reinforces the entrenched historical assumption – that it is acceptable to exclude people with disability, that “special people” should be somewhere else – in “special places” doing “special things”.

And this brings me to what many believe is perhaps the fundamental concern of our time for people with disability.  Now that we have achieved so much in the way of formal rights, how do we remove the social barriers that stand in the way of the realisation of those rightsthe realisation of meaningful participation and inclusion?

I know that there is no “quick fix” to many of the issues that people with disability continue to face – but I also know that more than ever before, we are living in the age of mass-reach media and its impact on shifting cultural attitudes must be harnessed and not underestimated.

Historically, the media, overtly or by omission, has played a role in reinforcing social exclusion for people with disability – but the media equally has the capacity today, to alter those same attitudes that it helped perpetuate.

Advertising and media does not have to be part of “the problem” – it, and business that it supports, can very much be part of “the solution”.

Starting With Julius is founded on the belief that advertising and media have a powerful role in “disrupting” and “reshaping” the way that society perceives disability.

Our initial focus so far has been on ‘ad inclusion’. Why? Because mainstream advertising, at its simplest, provides two vital components to engaging the broader community – first, “mass reach” (as advertising is all pervasive), and secondly “positive endorsement” (as advertising imagery is inherently promotive).

This year I have been delighted to see the remarkable, committed and sustained effort of Wesfarmers-owned retail giants Kmart and Target – which are represented here today – in reflecting the diversity of their employees and customers and the communities in which they operate, by including models with disability in their catalogues, on-line advertising and television commercials.

Betts Kids Shoes is another WA-based company embracing inclusive advertising.

Western Australia has in a very real sense been leading ‘ad inclusion’ in Australia, and the world has been noticing.

For children with disability who, like all, are developing their own individual identities, seeing others who share a similar experience, portrayed in a positive and inclusive manner in the media, provides crucial self-validation and empowerment.  I watched 13 year-old Tyla Jones on Channel 10’s The Project the other day speak about what it meant for her to see Starting With Julius Ambassador, 10 year-old West Australian Emily Prior, who is here today, on the cover of a Target catalogue.

But inclusive advertising actually matters to ALL children.  As a parent, I want ALL my children to be exposed to positive role-models with whom they can identify – as well as role-models who can teach them about the value of human diversity. I want them to be the future citizens who will go on to implement the vision of a diverse society that welcomes and includes ALL as equals.

Critically to achieve that vision, people with disability need to be supported to access advertising and media as platforms through which they can represent themselves authentically and share their own perspectives – because ultimately it is people with disability themselves who hold the greatest power to shift society’s attitudes and the burden of history.

As a community, we need to recognise that history and support the rights of people with disability, by challenging all forms of exclusion, not only in advertising and media but in every area of life.  And we must start by giving people with disability the chance to share their stories and the respect of listening to them.

So without more, I would like to introduce you to an incredible West Australian, a fierce advocate, a recent model for Target Australia, a dedicated and decorated athlete, a mentor to others, a Starting with Julius Ambassador and my friend  – Robyn Lambird.

Thank you.

[Cover photo © eeni meeni miini moh ]

Thank you for visiting our website.  You can also keep up with our mission for #adinclusion by liking our Facebook page or following us on Twitter @StartingWJulius