Des Orr

B. 1947

As a young lad I was put in various children’s homes in Brisbane. During the school holidays, for two weeks in August and six weeks at Christmas, I would go back to my parents who lived in Chinchilla. My childhood was quite challenging. I have cerebral palsy which affects my speech and ability to walk. But you soon get over all that. Living in the homes was good in that it gave me the opportunity to do things I might not have had the chance to do otherwise. They also helped me with my cerebral palsy. In those days, anything to do with a disability had a stigma attached to it. I’ve been lucky though to have had people in my life who encouraged me. When I was growing up, employment for people with a disability wasn’t really a thing. I got involved on a couple of committees and in projects that tried to improve opportunities for people with a disability. I joined the Cerebral Palsy League and was a member of their Board for 20 years. I couldn’t walk so I had to rely on a manual wheelchair to get around. The only way I could manoeuvre the wheelchair was to pedal backwards, down the street and everywhere. When you have to rely on a wheelchair you become very aware of things like footpaths and gutters and how difficult navigating these can be. Whenever I go out on my own, it is like an obstacle course. I took it upon myself to improve awareness and access even though it wasn’t easy and not many people listened in the early days. In 1980 I took up the gauntlet. I established HHelp (Help Handicapped Enter Life Project) to help people with a disability help themselves. I wrote articles and talked to anyone I could about the issue. We convinced Australia Post to feature our logo on the limited-edition front cover for International Year of the Disabled. Channel 10 then celebrated its 21st anniversary with a telethon that raised $60,000 for HHelp. Our organisation grew and it is now part of what’s known today as YellowBridge QLD. I continue to help wherever I can and volunteer every week at their op shop which provides work and training for people with a disability. There is still much more to do to make our society inclusive for all abilities, but we definitely have come a long way.

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