By Anj Barker OAM
Content Warning: This post could be distressing for some people if you require support please call Lifeline on 13 11 14 or 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732.
To me my journey as a leader began before my injury. Prior to obtaining an Acquired Brain Injury due to a brutal attack from my ex- boyfriend when I was 16, I was a natural leader through sporting and schooling activities. The week before my injury I was selected as Year 11 VCE Leader. After my attack the World as I knew it changed, but my role as a Leader didn’t.
Whilst recovering in a Nursing Home, I spoke up for people and tried to influence the way disabled people were treated. I represented Young People in Nursing Homes Alliance at two ALP fringe conferences in Sydney to get a National Insurance Scheme up and running and get young people the care they deserved and out of Nursing Homes. I was told I was to be put in a Nursing Home and forgotten about because I would never improve and probably die. But I thought do they know who they are talking too! I remember thinking medical people are meant to be smart, even though my body didn’t work, but my mind did and there was no way I was going to die laying there and I wouldn’t accept the boundaries that they were putting on me. I knew I could reshape how disabled people were treated and perceived.
I started doing talks to educate people about Brain Injury and against Domestic Violence. I have spoken to around 45,000 people, around Australia, mainly secondary schools speaking to adolescents and trying to stop the cycle of domestic violence and educating everyone about what the “Red-flags” can be/are. I feel everyone who hears me speak also comes away with a better understanding and awareness of disability and the person with it.
I have been on numerous committees and councils who want to change the lives of young disabled people; these include YDAS and Y-House.
I was fortunate enough to be selected out of 300 women worldwide to attend the International Women’s Health Coalition in New York, helping to rewrite International Law around the rights of the female child in third world countries.
A few years back I was asked to open the Caulfield Rehab Centre. I am an Ambassador for the Summer Foundation and in that capacity years earlier I attended a round table event I had given my input into what a facility like that should provide/entail and Caulfield Rehab listened and put many of my ideas into their new building.
I have been asked to consult on many issues, one being 1800RESPECT, around development of a hidden App named Sunny, for disabled victims of abuse to have on their mobile phones.
I have also been recognised for my leadership through receiving Victoria’s Young Australian of the Year Award and my honourable Order of Australia Medal. I am proudly an Australia Day Ambassador.
Six years ago I obtained a position with the National Australia Bank in there security section which I am pleased to say I am still with despite Covid 19
Moving forward I haven’t let my disability stop me from doing the things I enjoy; I have abseiled, rock-climbed, gone sky-diving, been in V8 super cars, sit-skiing, completed acting and writing courses, numerous TAFE courses including a Leadership plus course at RMIT and most recently have taken up piano lessons.
I really feel that every individual should never let their circumstances define them. Determination, communication, empathy, resilience, honesty and passion is what I believe has made me an effective leader.
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The blog posts do not necessarily represent the views and opinions of Women with Disabilities Australia (WWDA), and blog posts are contributions made by women, girls or non-binary persons with disability about what leadership means to them. All possible care has been taken in the preparation of the information contained in this document. WWDA disclaims any liability for the accuracy and sufficiency of the information and under no circumstances shall be liable in negligence or otherwise in or arising out of the preparation or supply of any of the information aforesaid.