Improving inclusivity for people with intellectual disability depends on changing community perceptions of their capabilities – and Felicity Crowther (BDisComRehab ’12) is leading the push to drive this change.
As Executive Director of the South Australian Council on Intellectual Disability (SACID), Felicity has led multiple initiatives that promote inclusive practice for people with intellectual disability in South Australia, but she says much more needs to be done.
“Unfortunately, the wider community has rather low expectations. They don’t expect people with intellectual disability to be employable or capable, so they don’t involve them in conversations or decision-making,” says Felicity, noting than an estimated 700,000 Australians live with intellectual disability.
“Public awareness of their capability is hampered – they haven’t had opportunity to see what people with intellectual disability are capable of, so they don’t offer opportunities to them or make inclusive spaces for them – and this is what has to change.”
Felicity is leading the transformation through good example: half of the 20 staff employed at SACID live with an intellectual disability. Felicity has structured the organisation to ensure an accessible and inclusive workplace that serves as an important role model that champions open employment opportunities for people with intellectual disability, who are paid at award rates – the same as other employees at the organisation who do not have intellectual disability.
It also means that people with intellectual disability are participants at all levels of the organisation, including their attendance at meetings with government representatives and at board meetings.
“This practice ensures that the voices and perspectives of people with intellectual disability are at the forefront of everything that the organisation does,” says Felicity.
Her journey within this disability sector began with a placement at Minda Incorporated, where she helped establish a self-advocacy program for people with intellectual disability to have a stronger voice within their community. Success with this initiative led Felicity to take a larger advocacy role by joining the SACID board at a fraught time for the organisation. “We had only $10,000 left in our account, and the SACID board agreed to spend half of that on a grant application, which was our only means of securing a future that could achieve more significant successes.”
Receiving secured funding prompted Felicity to take an executive role in SACID and drive a new era of change. Her passion for change also saw Felicity commence a PhD at Flinders University, researching ‘People with Intellectual Disability as Researchers: Exploring the Experiences of an Inclusive Research Team’.
This project put people with intellectual disability in charge at every step of the research process, from agreeing on the study area to developing and completing the research themselves, and capturing their own experiences at every stage.
Felicity’s research advisor for this project, Rachel High (who graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in 2021), is believed to be the first person living with Down syndrome to graduate with a university degree in Australia.
This unique PhD resulted in Felicity receiving the inaugural Endeavour Foundation Endowment Challenge Fund Inclusive Research Award, and led to her contribution for a 2018 international consensus statement on how to conduct inclusive health research.
Felicity has also won a Development Educators Australia Incorporated Employer Award in 2021 for her work with SACID, and she serves on the board of Inclusion Australia, a national advocacy body on a mission to increase the voice of people with an intellectual disability and their families.
“We advocate to break down barriers to inclusion and make sure that laws, policies and practices support the rights and interests of all people with an intellectual disability,” says Felicity. “With our efforts to improve inclusivity and advocacy, we are always placing the person at the centre of every decision and outcome.”
Felicity Crowther has received a 2022 Distinguished Alumni Award for her distinguished leadership and advocacy in driving an inclusive practice for people with an intellectual disability in South Australia.