Heartbreak High star and award-winning actor Chloe Hayden has shared with the Disability Royal Commission how people misconceive her autism diagnosis because of a lack of representation in Australian media.
The commission is hearing from a range of voices in Brisbane this week as it wraps up its final hearing for 2022.
Witnesses will be giving evidence into what needs to be done to create a more inclusive society that supports people with disability from all walks of life across Australia.
Since October 2019, the commission has heard evidence about violence, abuse, neglect and the exploitation of people with disability.
Chair Ronald Sackville said the breadth of evidence heard since 2019 coupled with delays caused by the Covid-19 pandemic resulted in the Australian government extending the deadline for submissions.
The commission will deliver its report in September 2023.
On Monday, Ms Hayden shared with the commission her experiences working as a disability advocate.
The 25-year-old has campaigned tirelessly to bring a voice to those with autism after she couldn’t find any representation in the Australian media landscape.
“We’ve been taught for our entire lives that who we are is wrong, a deficit and broken, but I love being disabled and if I had a genie and a magic lamp come up to me and say I’ll make you (abled bodied), I would kick him,” Ms Hayden said.
After the disability advocate was diagnosed with autism when she was 13, she turned to social media to show the world that people with a disability deserve to have their voices heard.
“It is so important that young people grow up seeing themselves as disabled and not wishing that they could change, but simply existing and understanding that they are supposed to exist,” Ms Hayden said.
“It would be so wonderful to get to a point in our society where representation isn’t even a word anymore because it’s so normal.”
Ms Hayden won the Audience Choice for Best Actress award at the AACTA Awards last week.
She told the commission that many people were confused when she’d tell them about her autism because she didn’t fit the mould of what they thought someone with a disability looked like.
Ms Hayden said even her own mother “cried” when the diagnosis confirmed autism because she thought her daughter would grow up to be like Rain Man, the Hollywood film starring Dustin Hoffman, who plays an autistic man.
Ms Hayden said this type of representation “is always horrendous and very stereotyped” but she hoped “authentic casting” in the future would create the necessary change in media to ensure everyone feels included.
“Disabled people have to be in the room; if you’re only using disabled people as your box ticked, that’s not representation,” she said.
“I grew up my whole life thinking I wasn’t supposed to exist and a very large reason for that was because I didn’t see myself represented.
“The amount of flack I’ve copped because of being autistic and because I’m not like these characters, it happens all the time.
“If you’re going to have representation, make it honest or don’t have it at all.”
Speaking on Monday, disability advocate and educator Summer Farrelly – who identifies as they/them – gave evidence before the commission about their experience living with disabilities
The 15-year-old uses their online platform, which has 41,000 followers on Facebook, to “educate the educators” about ways to better include those with disabilities in the classroom.
Summer told the commission about their lived experience with autism and ADHD and how they navigated the world while being home-schooled and their animal-assisted learning program Chickens2Love.
They explained having teachers understand that not everyone answers questions in a timely manner doesn’t mean they’re not willing to engage in learning.
“Rather than talking to educators about what they’ve seen and what they think should be done, speak to the youth about how they can be supported,” Summer said.
“You need to speak to them and not someone who’s observed.
“They are living it and they’ve got a fresher perspective on it.”
Summer said it was important to have services accessible that “celebrate a person’s communication style” through offering diverse options, whether it’s through email or verbal communication.
“Inclusion looks different to everybody because we’re all different,” they said.
“Inclusion means that we don’t look at a person based on a risk factor which exists, we look at a person based on the value they provide and the right they have to be their authentic self.
“Inclusion means that we welcome people to tell us how they need to be educated and remember that people all share one common (goal) – an internal desire to feel that they hold.”
Summer thanked the commission taking the time to listen to those with lived experiences.
“It’s important to involve the perspective of those you’re trying to assist because they know their perspective best because they’re the people living it,” the said.
The royal commission will also hear evidence from Heartbreak High actor Chloe Hayden and the 2022 Australian of the Year Dylan Alcott over the coming days.
Mr Sackville said the Brisbane hearing was the first time all six commissioners were able to meet in person to hear evidence since the launch of the commission in 2019.
Mr Sackville sits on the commission alongside Rhonda Galbally, Alastair McEwin, John Ryan, Andrea Mason and Barbara Bennett.
He said the commission expected to receive 6500 submissions by the end of 2022.
Aisling Brennan is a reporter at the Sunshine Coast Daily with a focus on covering court and crime. She’s always had an interest in covering issues that mean something to the community, whether that’s council’s app… Read more