It is with great sadness that Flinders University has learnt about the recent passing of Michelle Candy. Michelle was a force of nature; her passion for supporting people with a disability was unique and life-changing for so many volunteers and staff at the Red Cross. We had the great pleasure of speaking with Michelle in late-2022 and are proud to share her story below.
Michelle Candy (1972 – 2023) doesn’t let her own disabilities get in the way of helping others with disabilities to enjoy fulfilling work and volunteer opportunities.
After she graduated, Michelle Candy (BSocWk ’21) felt she lost a job because of her disabilities.
“That was a very tough time for me,” says Michelle.
“I took some time out after that to re-evaluate, and then just at the right time for me a job as a Disability Support Officer at Australian Red Cross came up and I won the role.
“Now I spend my days supporting all Australian Red Cross staff and volunteers with disabilities. I get to know what a person’s disability is, what they need, what are the things that we can put into place to make sure that they can do their role at the best of their capacity.
“This could mean creating a support plan for someone or organising some equipment for them. I’m here to make sure that they know that I’m here to support them and to make them comfortable while at work.”
Starting the conversation about disability
Michelle is also passionate about educating her colleagues on disability. She posts information on the staff noticeboard and gives monthly talks with guest speakers about different types of disabilities. She has also set up some open Q&A sessions where people feel safe to ask any questions they like about disability.
Michelle has Fibromyalgia (in addition to other disabilities) and has spoken about her condition at one of these talks.
“I really wanted to talk to people about what invisible disability looks like,” she says.
Michelle also helped the organisation re-develop policies and procedures to be more inclusive of people with disabilities.
“Australian Red Cross are amazing when it comes to wanting to be inclusive and diverse and it’s an area that they’re really passionate about working on,” Michelle says.
“I’ve changed the way that people here look at disability since I started and that has been one of my proudest accomplishments. I’m now developing a program that can be delivered in any state in Australia.”
Michelle is now building partnerships with other organisations who are working to place volunteers or find employment for people with disabilities at Australian Red Cross.
“They have heard about the work we are doing in this space and want to work with us. There were just six volunteers here when I started 18 months ago – we now have nearly 50!” she says.
Studying with disabilities
“I chose to study at Flinders because it has such a great reputation with the types of organisations that I wanted to work in,” Michelle explains.
“For a long time, I’d wanted to advocate for people with disabilities who also may have mental health issues. I have lived experience in this area, and I knew that with a social work degree I could really make a difference.
“Flinders just felt like the right fit and I ended up having a wonderful experience.”
Michelle admits that completing a degree while managing multiple disabilities was challenging, but she wanted to prove to herself that she could do it.
“Flinders was very supportive and worked with me to develop a great access plan – I also had some amazing lecturers who really wanted to see me succeed,” she says.
“To be a graduate and to be part of the Flinders family now is the most amazing feeling and I just want to tell anyone who has a disability, don’t think you can’t do it. I was in my late 40s when I went to Uni, and now I work in the best job in the world.
“Someone once asked me if I could take a pill to get rid of my disabilities, would I? I said no, because they’ve made me the person I am today. My disabilities may live inside of my body, but I’m the landlady as they say, and what I say goes.”