Growing up with cerebral palsy

Posted on 05 August 2015 by Michelle Wilcox

Volunteer Speaktank speaker Michelle Wilcox is a tenacious woman, determined to live life to its fullest.

Michelle loves skiing, skydiving and overseas adventures – and she also happens to live with cerebral palsy (CP).

At six months of age, I was diagnosed with cerebral palsy. It’s difficult to define the exact moment when I realised that I had a disability. I guess it’s something that I grew up believing and understood that it was just another part of my being.

Cerebral palsy (CP) has affected my muscle strength and coordination throughout my body and I also have a slight speech impediment. 

My independence has always been extremely important to me. I use an electronic wheelchair when accessing the community though it is different for each individual and their personal circumstances.  Personally, gaining a sense of autonomy has always been a bit like training for a marathon in the Olympic Games.  

In my younger days being independent consisted of learning to eat, showering, dressing and accessing the community without requiring any assistance from those around me. I currently have an Individual Support Package (ISP) from the Department of Health and Human Services. I use these funds to have choice and control over accessing a broad range of support to assist me with achieving my goals. I have also been able to purchase adaptive technology devices and software programs that have enabled me to have the freedom to be self-sufficient in all aspects of daily living.    

I completed my Victorian Certificate of Education (VCE) and a Diploma of Community Welfare Work. While I studied, I felt an undercurrent of negative opinions about whether I would have the capacity to work as a community development worker, given that I had a disability. However, I knew I couldn’t allow these views to prevent me from achieving my goals.    

I desperately wanted to make a difference and was determined to be a part of breaking down societal barriers that many people with a disability face. In 2012, I started part-time employment as a Peer Support Worker with the Victorian Advocacy League for Individuals with Disability (VALID). This was the starting point for me and I have since had multiple volunteer and employment positions throughout the disability sector.

I am currently a member of Yooralla’s Independent Advisory Committee which provides me with the opportunity to participate in discussions and make recommendations regarding policies and procedures in relation to human rights issues and the concept of disability.  

I have always been determined to change negative perceptions of people with a disability. As a result and even surprising myself, I have become a teacher and a public speaker. In late 2012, I was appointed the 2013 Field Trainer Scholarship from Field (Furthering Inclusive Learning and Development). This provided me with the opportunity to complete Certificate IV in Training and Assessment and ultimately gain employment working as a teacher at the Centre for Adult Education (CAE).  

These days, I am involved in the Speaktank public speaking program at Yooralla. Through Speaktank, I’m working towards creating greater awareness about cerebral palsy, and people with disability in general, so that as a community we can make inclusion and participation possible for all. 

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Author profile:

Michelle WilcoxMichelle is an intelligent, tenacious and determined woman who is passionate about increasing community awareness and education about disability. Michelle worked as a teacher at the Centre for Adult Education (CAE) for a range of Certificate IV in Disability Studies subjects. Michelle provided education from a theoretical and personal perspective to train people entering the field about working with people with disability. Michelle also has experience as a vocational trainer with Inclusion Melbourne, delivering workplace introductory seminars for new staff and volunteers about making inclusion possible for people with disability.

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