From Isolation to Connection

When Nathan Johnston was younger, people told him he was “dreaming” when he talked about starting his own business.

The 27-year-old lives with cerebral palsy, uses a wheelchair and cannot read or write.

“All those hurtful things that got said to me by several different people, all of that’s driven me to where I’m at right now,” Mr Johnston said.

“It made me a bit angry — but it made me more determined.”

But today, on International Day of People with Disability (IDPwD), his dream will become a reality, as he launches a social media platform with support from a major corporate.

Mr Johnston lives on a property on the far south coast of NSW, just outside of the Bega Valley.

He uses screen-reading technology to navigate his computer and phone.

When the pandemic began, Mr Johnston went through a “rough patch” as he found himself more isolated than usual and unable to attend his normal activities.

Working from his dining room table, he created a fully accessible social media platform called Disability Club.

“A lot of people [with disability] have trouble navigating mainstream social media, as some of the content is inaccessible,” he said.

“It jumps up and down on my phone when my screen reader is on, and some of the buttons and icons aren’t compatible.”

Mr Johnston entered his concept for Disability Club in an innovation competition and was awarded a $10,000 grant from the National Broadband Network.

The money has fast-tracked web development for the platform and taken Disability Club to the “next level”.

Individuals, with and without disability, can join Disability Club for free, but corporates and disability service providers will pay a fee, eventually providing Mr Johnston with an income.

“I want to start making a living for myself whilst helping other people like myself,” Mr Johnston said.

“Disability Club is all-inclusive, it means people can connect with family and friends, hear about news in the sector and connect with services.”

 

New disability strategy and advisory council

Social Services Minister Anne Ruston said the 4.4 million Australians living with disability should have the same opportunities as anyone else — and employment was one of the most important issues.

“We know that a lot of employers, when we speak to them, say that they are happy to employ somebody with a disability, but that’s not translating into people actually employing people,” she said.

Senator Ruston said employers would be given the “tools” to make them “less reluctant and resistant to employing people with disability in the future”.

The strategy includes funding for the National Disability Data Asset to measure the impact of services and programs accessed by people with disability.

Other areas targeted in the strategy include education; inclusive homes and communities; justice; and community attitudes.

A Disability Advisory Council, headed by Disability Discrimination Commissioner Ben Gauntlett along with others with lived experience, will measure the effectiveness of the strategy.

Mr Johnston admitted he was “shocked” at the support he had received for Disability Club.

“First I want to get everyone in Australia on board, whether it’s free members or corporate members, and then I want to take it international,” he said.

To mark IDPwD, Mr Johnston will take part in an official launch of the platform with guests from the NBN and other sponsors.

Along with Disability Club, Mr Johnston has also developed a music streaming platform, DME3, for musicians with disability.

“I’m excited for the future and feel like there are bigger things to come,” he said.

Mr Johnston said it was important on IDPwD — and every day — that he and other people with disability were treated like everyone else.

“It makes me feel quite proud and warm inside to know I’m getting treated equally,” he said.

“No matter what your dreams are, no matter what capabilities you have got, if you’ve got the support of your family and friends in whatever you do, then you can do it.”