Bellingen’s Chiara Richmond-Manno has a simple message for ‘International Day of People with Disability’- “just give us a chance”. At 21 years old Chiara is in “a great place now- my life feels like it is just beginning.” However, Chiara has experienced many of life’s challenges.
Chiara was born with Cerebral Palsy. “There is always an extra layer to deal with,” says Chiara. It was when Chiara left school that she really began to understand challenges and disappointments. “I had always had a plan- but thing’s weren’t going according to my plan. It took me a long time to find employment- doors were being slammed in my face. It was my first experience of discrimination,” says Chiara. Lying awake one night Chiara coined her own version of the ‘Don’t dis my ability’ slogan. “Don’t Dis My Ability- We are a community not a category.” Chiara rightly believed that employers should be embracing those whose lives have presented more difficulties. “We are resilient. We have a story to tell.”
As one of the organisers at the ‘Community Celebrations on the Green’, an event for International Day of People with Disability happening Monday December 3rd at the Urunga Neighbourhood Centre, Chiara hopes this message will be heard. Urunga Neighbourhood Centre and Bellingen Shire Council are partnering to host this community celebration, which will also include the Ian J Cooper Awards for Access and Inclusion.
International Day of People with Disability is a United Nations sanctioned day that is celebrated internationally. It aims to increase public awareness, understanding and acceptance of people with disability and celebrate their achievements and contributions. The theme for this year’s event is empowering persons with disabilities and ensuring inclusiveness and equality.
Chatting to Chiara- you realise this is a young woman who has overcome her challenges and is now feeling that empowerment. “At the same time that potential employers were closing doors, I suffered a complete loss of physical confidence after falling on Bellingen’s previously poor pavements. For people with physical challenges- it is mentally tiring having to constantly concentrate on the surfaces beneath your feet,” says Chiara. “But then I met Adrian Betts.”
Adrian Of “Bellingen Fitness’ is a local personal trainer and Exercise Physiologist. “Bless him. My whole life has changed because of him,” says Chiara. With improved strength and balance has come improved confidence.
“I just celebrated my 21st birthday hang gliding at Point Lookout in Lennox Head. I wanted to do something memorable, something extreme,” says Chiara. “Adrian and I have also recently completed a fun-run together and a day at Treetops Adventure Park in Coffs Harbour. I couldn’t have dreamt of this two years ago,” says Chiara. “I am now confident to walk in busy public spaces, which has allowed me to apply for a job in Child Care Education in Sydney for next year. I know I can tackle anything.”
Chiara’s has an understanding of the issues around inclusion beyond her physical challenges. “My true passion is creative writing. However, there are very few opportunities for young adults in this region to come together with their shared interests,” says Chiara. She would invite other young adults with a passion to start talking and find ways to bring this community together.
The Community Celebrations on the Green promises a day of true inclusiveness. A Bellingen Shire Council representative will be presenting the Ian J Cooper Awards for Access and Inclusion to local businesses and groups; Urunga’s schools will be performing; Marcel Rodrigue from the Mid North Coast Japanese Karate group will lead ‘Movements for All’; popular Urunga identity Jo Brotherton will enlighten the audience about ‘making Urunga dementia friendly’; the Urunga Lions Club will provide a BBQ lunch and there will be musical entertainment. And of course, Chiara Richmond-Manno will be there to share her own valuable story of resilience and hope. Not a day to be missed!