The empowerment and the passion: development through disability

Four Australian women who believe passionately in the power of inclusion and opportunity for people with a disability have had the chance to prove its value across cultures. It was hot and hard  and wheelchair inaccessible — but they say it was worth it.

“Um, Zane, can you please tie my legs together,” Chris says with a cheeky grin and dancing eyes.

“I’ll have to take my belt off and use it,” her husband Zane replies, pretending to be embarrassed.

“It’ll be your fault if my pants fall down.”

Chris tightly grips the handrail on the tuk tuk. Zane gives the leather strap now wrapped around her knees a final tug test and climbs on board.

It is a moment that exemplifies Australian Aid’s Disability Empowerment Skills Exchange (DESE) volunteer program in Laos. It has challenges, and it requires teamwork and lateral thinking — determination and a sense of humour are compulsory.

DESE Team Leader Chris Kerr is here because she is a leading thinker and strategist. A horse riding accident in her teens means she has little control over her legs and when not in a tuk tuk, she travels in a wheelchair.

The belt makes it safe for her to join in on a tuk tuk adventure tour around Laos’ capital, Vientiane. Her husband, Zane, has joined her in South East Asia to support her as she leads the four-woman DESE team.

Paralympian Shelley Chaplin has a month to get the Laos Wheelchair Basketball team firing and ready for international competition.

Chris, Project Development Officer Leone Crayden and Communications and Advocacy Development Officer Nikki Harte are to use their skills to assist people with disabilities to grow as contributors, leaders and decision makers in Vientiane by working with the Lao Disabled People’s Association (LDPA) and the Lao Disabled Women’s Development Centre (LDWDC).

“There’s a willingness to treat people equally,” observes Leone, whose work in Australia is to ensure vulnerable people get access to decent housing.