Home' Aurora : Aurora February 2012 Contents 10
Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle www.mn.catholic.org.au
"L AST YEAR I met Prince Philip, Duke
of Edinburgh. He shook my hand
and asked, 'Are you safe in that
thing? Do you have a licence to drive it?'
He was referring to my wheelchair!" recalls
22-year-old Novocastrian Madeleine Sobb.
After completing her Higher School
Certificate at St Francis Xavier's College
Hamilton, Madeleine attended TAFE,
studying Millinery, Design Fundamentals
and Small Business Management.
"In 2009, I began a business with three
of my classmates through the Renew
Newcastle project called Mad Hatter
Millinery. We made hats in our workshop
and had a retail gallery space for people to
share in our passion: browsing, trying on
"Growing up I dreamt of sharing my love of
creating handmade things and being able
to sell them. Mad Hatter Millinery was an
and gave me the
chance to fulfill
Another long held passion led Madeleine
to move to Melbourne in February 2011
to begin her Bachelor of Applied Science
in Disability Studies at RMIT University,
one of only two in Australia offering
undergraduate degrees in disability.
"It prepares people to be leaders in
the disability sector. Graduates work
in the day to day support of people
with disabilities or advocacy, case
management, policy and supervision.
"I had always been an outspoken person
with the attitude that people with a
disability who are able to speak up for
their rights and the rights of others,
should do so because there are so
many people who can't speak for
Madeleine has a rare bone
growth disorder called Spondlo
Dysplasia. "In general terms
that means that my bones have
grown at an extremely slow rate
and therefore I am of short stature. I am
at my full adult height of 86cm. It also
means I have scoliosis of the spine and
two dislocated hips. I am an electric
wheelchair user most of the time, although
I can walk short distances if needed."
Madeleine has been a rider for nine
years, competing in dressage at state
level for the past four years. In 2010 she
competed nationally for the first time. "My
ultimate goal is to represent Australia at
the Paralympic Games in Rio in 2016.
"I love the liberating feeling that I am in
control. I'm a completely independent
person on horseback. I am also three
times my usual height!
"I love the challenge of dressage
and the accuracy that is needed to
do well when I compete. I think this
enables me to have an outlet for my
slight perfectionist tendencies!"
Madeleine is combining her study with
professional experience in the disability
sector, working two days a week for
the Youth Disability Advocacy Service
co-ordinating a newly established
national voice for young Australians with
disabilities. "Currently there is no national
peak advocacy organisation working to
improve the rights of young Australians
between 12-25 with disabilities, so we are
trying to gain government funding.
"This month I'll start a casual position
with the City of Yarra Council as a
Community Access Appraiser.
This involves visiting business
owners and working with them
to improve access for people
with disabilities: telling them
what's good, what's not so
good and how to fix it.
"Melbourne has some of Australia's
most active disability rights advocates.
Being surrounded by them makes me even
more passionate to act on issues I feel
Last October, I read on Madeleine's
Facebook page that she had been invited
to meet the Queen, and I was interested in
the protocol issue Madeleine faced.
"After much controversy over the fact that
Julia Gillard did not curtsy to Her Majesty,
Stella Young, my good friend and editor of
Ramp Up, the ABC's portal for disability
news and opinions, wrote a blog and
began a Twitter conversation about how a
wheelchair user greets royalty when they
are unable to bow or curtsy. Wheelchair
users gave suggestions. In the end,
the good old handshake was used."
I asked Madeleine to suggest something
for Aurora readers to think about or act
upon that might improve the lives of
people with disabilities.
"A common misconception for many who
haven't had any experience with disability
is that it's a negative experience and that
people with disabilities want to be pitied.
In fact, we would rather that you have
an understanding and offer assistance
so that we have the same opportunities
"People with disabilities are actually
disabled by their environment. If you
give us physical support, equipment,
accessible buildings and transport,
then we are able to have the same
opportunities and make positive
contributions to society just as any other
Australian," Madeleine emphasises.
"Currently, there are many Australians with
disabilities who do not have their basic
needs met on a daily basis: assistance to
get out of bed, shower, and other personal
care. Until these needs are met, they
are not able to participate in education,
employment, recreational activities
and so on."
Madeleine is inspired by others who
advocate for the needs and rights of
people with disabilities and hopes to be
remembered for doing the same. Follow
Madeleine on Twitter (@tinymads) or visit
her website and blog at
You might also like www.abc.net.au/
rampup Find out about the government's
proposed National Disability Insurance
By CATHERINE MAHONY
Madeleine Sobb wears many hats, and
makes them too. While diminutive
in stature, her ambitions and
sta ture, her
passions a e
e lofty i
e lofty i
disabled by their
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