By Leanne Claussen
When people see me, they don’t think that I’m an intelligent person. They don’t think I’m a leader…
Hi, I’m Leanne, I’m a Mum of six children and I happen to have a disability. I’ve always been overweight but in 2013 my life changed when my legs started getting bigger. I have Lymphoedema and it has reduced my mobility to an incredible extent. Walking is slow and difficult and, eventually, I got too big to drive. This loss of independence was and still is, heartbreaking and now I rely on my kids to get me from place to place. Having a disability has impacted my ability to live as well as parent the way I want to, but we have found a way that works for us.
Our family life, unfortunately, has been disrupted for many years, as my family have been part of the child protection system. This separation has changed us forever but something positive has come out of it; a very difficult but also very important, silver lining so to speak.
Around six years ago, I decided to help people in my position. This also includes people with a disability. This has been challenging but incredibly rewarding as well. Standing up as a leader and speaking on behalf of others, was difficult at first. However, people listened. They listened to my story about what I’ve been through and now, incredible as it may seem, they are coming to me, to gather my lived experience and that of those who have joined me. You see, I created a business, a social enterprise, created solely to support others and share our lived experiences to change the systems we find ourselves in. It’s called Parents on a Mission.
My 23-year-old son has great difficulty accepting what I do, as he sees me not physically coping with 2-hour meetings, or even just trying to learn new skills etc. I’m a leader in my field and, although he understands why I’m doing this, he thinks that I’m not ‘ok’ enough to do it. I have tried to explain it to him, but he thinks I shouldn’t be doing this, if doing it brings me to tears or if it hurts me physically.
But you know what? I don’t want to just sit at home; I want to make a difference and to do that, I work around my physical barriers. We talk about this all the time and every now and then, I see glimpses of myself in him, when he gets up on his soapbox about something important to him. In these times, I see the leader he could become and that makes me proud.
My 28-year-old daughter has followed in my footsteps into self-employment. She supports my endeavours to change the status quo and helps me to keep going when I want to give up, because she can see the good that I’m doing.
My younger children have accepted that I can’t do as much with them as I’d like to, but they don’t understand the full extent of my disability. This will be an ongoing journey for them; discovering what my daily life is actually like. I parent to the best of my ability when I get to see them and tell them bits and pieces about things I do, such as speaking at events. I show them pictures and I know that one day they’ll understand my leadership roles. I hope they will also follow in my footsteps and want to make a difference in the world.
There are some people who are born leaders and there are others, such as myself, that fall into this role through circumstance. I feel like I lead in multiple ways, such as demonstrating to others, that someone like me, can work to bring like-minded people together, to create system-wide change.
I know that when people see me, they don’t think I’m an intelligent person. Unfortunately, it’s ingrained into society that people who look like me shouldn’t be able to do the things I do. I’m here to say that I am, and you are, a valuable member of society. You matter and your leadership should be valued…
You may have thought about joining a group or forum or going to listen to a public hearing about something that affects your life and decided that someone like you can’t or shouldn’t do this. Guess what? You are an amazing soul whose body or mind may be different to others but that just makes you unique. The world needs your uniqueness.
I may not be able to walk around a shopping centre and I can’t play in the sand at the beach, but I’ve got a good mind, a beautiful heart and I’m the best Mum I can be. I’m a leader of parents, who are on a Mission, just like me. It’s time for you to stand up and be counted. If you have a passion, if you have a cause that’s important to you, take a leaf from my book and make your voice count. Inspire others, inspire your children and most of all, believe in yourself and your leadership. You’ve got this!
If you want to become a parent or person on a mission or just want to find out more about what I do, please visit:
Hi, I’m Leanne Claussen, I’m 47 and a mother of 6 children, a woman with a disability and a CEO of a social enterprise. I use my lived experience in the child protection and disability sectors, to help decision makers understand the impacts of their decisions and to improve the lives of others in my situation.
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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.