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The Foundation's first guest profile post with Olivia Depares

July 19, 2017
Olivia Depares

Olivia is nineteen, lives in Sydney and is in her second year at Macquarie University studying for a double degree in Law and Arts (International Communications). Olivia has Usher syndrome and is a dual cochlear implant recipient, receiving the first implant at 11 months of age, and the second at nine years of age. Usher syndrome is a genetic condition characterised by partial or total hearing loss and vision loss that worsens over time, affecting her peripheral and night vision. We thank Olivia for taking the time and for generously sharing her story and insights.

My journey 

I have lived a relatively normal life, experiencing much the same things as other kids. However, throughout school I did have extra assistance from the Royal Institute for Deaf and Blind (RIDBC) who provided me with hearing a vision support through two special aide teachers. These teachers assisted in helping my school teachers in modifying and adapting their lessons to best suit my needs. I also received additional assistance and provisions for exams which included extra reading time and enlarged paper to assist in visual fatigue. I was also provided additional assistance when I had excursions and camps.

I participated heavily in swimming from Year 3 to Year 10, competing at state and national competitions within the ‘Swimming with Disability’ cohort. I was largely restricted from playing other sports however due to my cochlea implants which restricted me from participating in contact sports.

I completed my High School Certificate in 2015, achieving an ATAR of 97.5. This allowed me to gain entry into studying Bachelor of Law and Arts at Macquarie University, and I am currently in my second year.

Sport and me

Currently, due to the restrictions upon which sports I can be involved in, I do a lot of individual activities such as going to the gym and running.

When I was younger, I became involved in swimming lessons just as a way of keeping fit, however, as my swimming capabilities increased and I participated in more school swimming carnivals, my coaches encouraged me to compete in state and national competitions. At these competitions I competed in the ‘Swimming with Disability’ division which allowed me to compete with other competitors who had different disabilities.

Because I was so restricted from the sports that I could be involved in, I found that access to sports that addressed my needs was very hard and I didn’t manage to find any other sport, other than swimming, which addressed my needs and which allowed me to be heavily involved. Hence, the lack of ability of other sports and other sports clubs to address disabilities that kids might have that restrict their participation was a major factor that restricted my access to sport.

Sport and young people 

I believe sport is a significant and fundamental activity that all children should be involved in. Sport allows for the child to be physically active, but it also allows them to build friendships as well as confidence.

It would be great to see more sporting associations and clubs providing and promoting sports groups which advocate for kids with disabilities. That way, more pathways are available for kids to pursue the sports that they are interested in and will create a greater aspect of involvement and acceptance.

Ambitions moving forward

My current goals are to finish my university degree, gain some experience through internships and to do some overseas exchange.

There are a range of barriers that could potentially restrict me from achieving my goals and could limit my future job opportunities. My disabilities require that I have access to additional support services and support equipment, and certain companies and business may be limited in providing the certain faculties that I will require and also may not be able to understand the restrictions I am faced with.

Greater assistance with communicating to potential employees about the needs and assistance I may require would be a significant service that people like me would benefit from.

Final advice or comments? 

I believe that many people underestimate how much certain disabilities may impact individuals. Whilst there are some activities or daily tasks that many individuals need assistance with or cannot be involved in, there is a whole other layer of other activities, such as involvement in sport, that can be restricted due to a person’s disability. 

I believe this restriction from sport due to a disability has gone largely unnoticed and hence there is a greater need for associations such as Sport Access Foundation which provide kids with access to sports and allows them to participate in sport despite their disabilities.

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