About the Victorian Disability Advisory Council
The Victorian Disability Advisory Council (VDAC) was established in July 2007 under the Disability Act .
The Council provides independent policy and strategy advice to the Minister for Disability, Ageing and Carers to increase the inclusion and participation of people with disability in the Victorian community.
To fulfil its functions, the Council formulates an annual forward agenda and holds bi-monthly meetings.
The Council also works with government and the community to promote disability inclusion, particularly through supporting the development, implementation and monitoring of Inclusive Victoria the state disability plan.
The Chairperson leads and represents the Council and plays a crucial role in facilitating meetings and managing effective relationships with members and key stakeholders.
The Council is supported by the Office for Disability, which is located within the Disability and Communities Branch of the Department of Families, Fairness and Housing.
Read the media announcing the new Victorian Disability Advisory Council.
New Victorian Disability Advisory Council announced
A new Victorian Disability Advisory Council has been appointed to help the Victorian Government continue its important work making the state more inclusive and accessible.
The new appointees bring a wide range of lived experience of disability and expertise in disability inclusion related advocacy, policy, and program delivery.
In line with the Victorian Government commitment to ensuring that government boards and committees reflect the diversity of the Victorian community, the new Council comprises more than fifty per cent women as well as representatives from Aboriginal, LGBTIQ+, culturally diverse and regional Victorians. Young people and carers are also represented.
Current VDAC members
The following people he been appointed to the Council and will serve a fixed term until July 2025:
Chris Varney (Chairperson)
Chris is proudly Autistic and is the Founding Director and Chief Enabling Officer of I CAN Network, Australia’s largest Autistic-led organisation. I CAN employ 74 Autistic adults and mentors over 2,000 young people through 130 I CAN School programs and I CAN Online.
Prior to founding I CAN, Chris was previously a Youth Representative to the UN and active with World Vision.
Chris was a 2018 Victorian Australian of the Year Finalist and 2017 recipient of the Supreme Court of Victoria’s Best Achievement in Human Rights Award. Chris is also a national patron of the Australian Association for Special Education.
Chris is passionate about disability job creation and employment and lives with his young family in Greater Geelong.
Mija Gwyn (Deputy Chairperson)
Mija Gwyn (she/her) is Deaf and uses Auslan as her first language. She resides on Wurundjeri country. Mija is the Manager of Youth Disability Advocacy Service (YDAS). She has led and coordinated community development, film festivals and arts projects in the United Kingdom and Australia.
Mija is currently a member of the Royal Women’s Hospital Community Advisory Committee and Disability Action Plan Advisory Committee. Previously she was the President for Deaf Victoria. She has a Bachelor of Arts from University of Melbourne, in addition to a Master of Communication from Griffith University. She is now completing a Master of Public Policy and Management at University of Melbourne.
Amanda Lawrie-Jones (re-appointee)
Amanda Lawrie-Jones is a skilled Access & Inclusion Consultant with Accessible Action, working in both government and non-government sectors. Her field of expertise focuses on the social model of disability and supports organisations to improve outcomes and increase participation for people with disability. She provides functional expertise and valuable lived experience from the perspectives of people with disability to shift mindsets to promote and embed access and inclusion in the many organisations she works with.
Amanda’s leadership is demonstrated by her commitment to her community by serving on several Boards, including a Chair of the Board of Arts Access Victoria, President of Scleroderma Australia and Scleroderma Victoria.
Caitlin Syer (re-appointee)
Caitlin is a young woman living with intellectual disability and dyspraxia, she feels people with intellectual disability have limited opportunities, especially in areas of education and employment, something she is passionate to change to bring about a more inclusive Victoria.
Caitlin works at the Behavioural Insight division at Victorian Public Sector Commission and a Monash Aquatic and Recreation Centre. She is the Co-founder of Enable, an education platform for Instructors in the Fitness/recreation Industry. Caitlin has published several articles in Australia and the Uk helping to create more inclusive fitness centers.
Caitlin sits on the Knox Disability Advisory Council. She is passionate about the inclusion of people with disabilities in sport and is a proud football player for Mazenod Panthers all -abilities.
Gabrielle Hall (re-appointee)
Gabrielle has a professional background in mental health and community nursing and is trained in holistic health. Following her completion of the Autism CRC Sylvia Rodger Academy Research program, Gabrielle is currently a research consultant for autism academic research and private research organisations. She has published co-authored articles and reports addressing autistic diagnosis, financial wellbeing, education, employment and co-produced research. She is also a board director for Amaze and supports an autistic women’s and gender diverse people’s peer support group. This is proudly her second term as a VDAC member. Gabrielle is an autistic parent with two neurodiverse children.
Martin Heng (re-appointee)
Martin has a BA and MA in English literature from Cambridge University and an MA in Communications from RMIT University. He left England in 1987 and lived, worked and traveled around the world before migrating to Australia in 1997. He worked for Lonely Planet from 1999 to 2020 in numerous roles, including seven years as Editorial Manager. A road accident in 2010 left him a quadriplegic. He was Lonely Planet’s Accessible Travel Manager & Editorial Adviser from 2013 to 2020, in which role he published a number of accessible travel titles, including the world’s largest collection of Accessible Travel Online Resources. Since 2014 he has become a regular speaker at travel conferences around the world, including several UNWTO events, as well as a speaker and facilitator at local accessible tourism events. He is now a freelance consultant, writer and editor. He recently organised a series of inclusive tourism workshops for APEC, and authored an accompanying set of best practice guidelines.
For the last five years he has served as chair of the board of IDEAS, a NSW-based nonprofit providing information to and advocacy services for the disability communities throughout Australia.
Amir Abdi has a Diploma of Health Science and is studying a Bachelor of Psychological Science at Deakin University. He works part-time in the construction industry as a social procurement administrator and is Blind Football Coordinator at Football Victoria. Amir is Captain of Australia’s national blind soccer team and plays for the national goalball team.
He is a passionate disability advocate, particularly for people who seek asylum, people with disability who are newly arrived to Australia, and inclusive education. He is fluent in Braille, English, Kurdish and Persian. Amir’s achievements were recognised in 2018 with a Friends of Refugees award, presented by Professor Gillian Triggs, for his outstanding contribution to the Australian Community for All Abilities Sports and Community Service.
James Griffiths is a proud Wangaaypuwan man. Born in Cobar, NSW, James moved to Victoria in 2000. In 2004, following complications from diabetes James became legally blind and lost all usable site shortly after. In 2007 James developed renal failure and was placed on dialysis. He received a multiple organ transplant in 2008. From that day, James has made it his mission to make a positive difference for all people, especially those with disability.
Current achievements and roles include:
- Member, Wellington Access Inclusion Advisory Group
- Chairman, Sale to Sea
- Chairman, Ramahyuck District Aboriginal Corporation
- Boardmember, Gippsland Disability Advocacy Inc
- Graduate , Gippsland Community Leadership Program
- Indigenous Peer, Vision Australia
- Peer Mentor, Blind Citizens Australia
- Finalist, 2018 Victorian Disability Awards (Emerging Leader category).
In university research teams, Jen has studied the prevalence and prevention of violence against people with disabilities, and women's equality in the NDIS. She also investigated women’s safety in disability services with the Victorian Government's 2018 Ethel Temby scholarship. Jen is Senior Policy Officer at Women with Disabilities Victoria where she advocates for accessible violence prevention and response services.
Samantha (Sam) lives with short stature (dwarfism) and is a diversity and inclusion practitioner with employment experience spanning both the government and private sector. Sam is the current Co Chair of Women with Disabilities Victoria (WDV) and a Researcher at Deakin University. Sam has a research interest in exploring the equity and inclusion of people with disability (primarily women and girls) in community sport from a human rights perspective. Sam is an advocate for disability inclusion and can apply both an academic lens and lived experience to complex policy.
Sam has a Bachelor of Food Science and Nutrition and is completing her Master of Disability and Inclusion.
Akii (they/them) is an internationally awarded, multi-award-winning disability and gender equity advocate and activist, who is deeply passionate about disability rights and non-tokenistic representation. They are a proud, young, neurodivergent (ADHD and Autistic), disabled, transgender non-binary and LGBTIQA+ Queer person of colour (POC) from a refugee background.
A first generation Aussie who lives with multiple complex chronic illnesses, pain and disabilities. Akii is intimate partner (IPV) and family violence (FV) survivor-advocate. They are on several advisory committees across Australia within the health, LGBTIQA+, accessibility and disability/human rights sectors. An experienced expert consultant dedicated to change.
Akii is also an agency-represented and internationally published model, pushing to create a positive change within the media, fashion, and beauty industries for appearance diversity (i.e. surgical scars), disability, mobility aids, gender-diverse, and POC communities.
Laura Pettenuzzo (she/her) is a writer and bibliophile living on Wurundjeri country. As a woman with cerebral palsy and psychosocial disability, she is passionate about all forms of accessibility and inclusion. She has worked in local government advocating for the disability community and currently works with Youth Disability Advocacy Service (YDAS) creating Plain and Easy English content. Laura has been involved in a number of codesign projects including the coproduction of the Carer Gateway with Wellways Australia.
Laura has a Master of Professional Psychology from Monash University, and her writing has been published in various places including The Age.
Diana has had over 15-years of experience working in risk and compliance roles in the finance industry. They finished their finance industry tenure seconding as National Manager of Wholesale Audits.
Diana is a disability advocate and researcher, interested in methodologies where lived experience is valued. They serve as Co-Chair of the Board of Directors for WDV. As a sociology PhD candidate at La Trobe University, their work examines disability and relationality through technologies of care.
As an Associate Research Fellow at Deakin University, Diana is working on an NDRP project to support positive identities for LGBTQ people with intellectual disability. Diana also volunteers for MS Plus, facilitating peer support groups for queer and gender diverse people living with Multiple Sclerosis.
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Reviewed 07 March 2023