Northern Beaches resident Nicholas Lapsley is campaigning on behalf of those living with cerebral palsy after having to repeatedly “prove” his already well-established disability to the education board during his recent HSC exams.
Nicholas has launched a petition, Blaze the Trail, with the support of the Cerebral Palsy Alliance, to highlight the difficulties those with the condition face in pursuing further education and employment.
Manly Observer readers may be familiar with Nicholas after we covered his aquatic challenge in February 2022 to raise money for the Cerebral Palsy Alliance (CPA). In the 20 km with 20 Mates Fundraiser, 20 people with varying physical limitations swam a combined 20km to raise $20k in sponsorship for the CPA.
Nicholas is spearheading this new initiative, subtitled Building Better Pathways from School to Work, after enduring an experience in which he had to ‘prove’ his own disability (he has cerebral palsy too).
Nicholas recalled this recent ordeal to Manly Observer and described how it motivated him to help initiate change.
“Blaze the Trail,” Nicholas explained, “is designed to advocate for change in the education and employment system for people with disabilities.
“From my personal experience I had with NESA – the NSW Education Standard Authority – I had to prove my disability by doing a range of OT [Occupational Therapy] assessment for my HSC [Higher School Certificate]…”
NESA was sceptical of the physical challenges Nicholas faced, despite his being diagnosed with cerebral palsy at 18 months of age.
“I would do all my exam and assessment on a laptop,” he continued, “so the teacher could read what I wrote, but when it came to HSC provision I was originally denied the right [to use a laptop]. I put in an appeal and I was then asked to do more tests to prove that my handwriting is no good – due to cerebral palsy.”
Cerebral palsy is a physical disability that affects movement and posture. According to the CPA: “In Australia there are approximately 34,000 people with cerebral palsy. Worldwide, the incidence of cerebral palsy is one in 700 births. There are currently 17 million people in the world who have cerebral palsy.
“For most people, the cause is unknown. There is no known cure..”
Proof before proceeding
Nicholas was accepted into tertiary education even before he’d received his HSC scores.
“In my case, I got an early offer at the International College of Management, Sydney (ICMS),” he revealed, “but they [ICMS] still wanted to see my HSC result.
“My marks would have definitely been lower [if I was prevented from using a laptop computer], as the marker would have found it difficult to read my writing, due to the impact of my cerebral palsy. If I didn’t have the early offer, or the laptop provisions, then my chance of getting into university was slim.”
Nicholas was angered by the NESA trial, and later learned that many people who live with disabilities are asked to ‘prove’ how they struggle with them. This is despite the fact that most of these people are registered as disabled and receive support from accredited institutions like the Cerebral Palsy Alliance.
“After talking with a range of other people with cerebral palsy, I have realised this a bigger issue,” he said. “This is not just the HSC; I heard stories about people having problems entering schools and universities…
“I feel this is ridiculous as I had been through all these tests when I was getting my diagnosis in my early years. I feel a statement from the support teacher and specialist should be enough to prove what I required.”
What advice would he give organisations like NESA to improve their system for dealing with people living with physical disabilities?
“Talk with the support teachers, specialists and the students about the condition, instead of requiring a formal, expensive OT test,” Nicholas insisted. “And form a partnership with a federal health department to request that information, with the consent of the student.”
“On top of education, we are targeting the employment issue as well,” Nicholas revealed. “The unemployment rate for people with disability is double [the able-bodied population] – 10%!”
Assisting Nicholas with the Blaze the Trail campaign is Meret Hassanen, who also lives with cerebral palsy. She told Manly Observer about the day-to-day discrimination she faces.
“At times, I have found people to be surprised that I have a full time job. I think this comes down to assumptions around what people living with disabilities are capable of.”
She continued: “We need to focus on the skills and abilities of people with disabilities and the contributions they make to our workforce and society, rather than making assumptions about what they can and can’t do. Open conversation is key to this.
“I also think we need to increase media representation around people living with disability to show the diversity of the disability community.”
What recommendations do they have to make workplaces more accessible for people living with disabilities?
“The NSW Government should pave the way to employment for people living with disabilities by encouraging businesses to offer internships and mentorships to people living with disability,” Meret recommended.
“Not only do internships and mentorships provide hands-on experience for interns and mentees, they provide great opportunities for businesses to see the value people living with disability can add to their team.”
“Create an education campaign for businesses to break down unconscious bias and stereotype,” Nicholas added. “And hire more people with disabilities into the teaching space.”
Cerebral Palsy Alliance is a not-for-profit organisation, reliant on donations. It is the leading provider of early childhood intervention for those with the condition, providing a multi-discipline therapy service, including physiotherapy, speech pathology and the provision of assistive technology and equipment.
Sign the Blaze the Trail petition online.