On top of the world

Lismores Joel Satherley receiving his National Disability Award from Jenny Macklin, the new Minister for Families, Housing and Community Services, and Bill Shorten, the new Parliamentary Secretary for Disabilities and Childrens Services. It was their first official engagement in their new ministerial positions. Right: Joel climbing Mt Warning last year with the help of supporters.

Joel Satherley has a popular weekly radio show, is preparing for a major art exhibition, has recorded his own CD of music and talks regularly at international conferences.

He also has cerebral palsy and autism. And now, a National Disability Award.

On Monday in Canberra Joel was presented with a Personal Achievement Award for his determination to lead a full life despite his disability.

Joels mother Zoe said the 24-year-old has had to face many obstacles, but he has always overcome them, leaving the people he meets along the way inspired by his sheer force of will.

Its hard to believe only a few years ago he was refused entry to the schools in his neighbourhood we were living on the Central Coast because of his disability, Zoe said. I made hundreds of phone calls and the only school that would take him was Nimbin High School thats why we moved here. He made the most deep and enduring friendships, and he really challenged everyones stereotypes. He never looked back from there and I think he made people realise there are no barriers to inclusion other than their own prejudice. If you can breathe you can be included.

Last year Joel declared he wanted to climb Mt Warning a challenge he would not be swayed from despite the fact he cant walk unassisted.

Zoe and the family made several attempts themselves but it was simply too tough and too dangerous, and she realised they couldnt climb the mountain alone. So she enlisted the help of work mates from Southern Cross University and googled a climbing expert in Bendigo named Steve Morris to see if he had appropriate equipment to facilitate their quest.

I couldnt believe it this stranger came all the way up from Bendigo, with his wife and children, to be there on the day. In the end there was a team of about 30 people, Zoe said. I also found out who the traditional owners were and got their blessing. Wollumbin is a sacred mens site and women arent traditionally allowed on the mountain. But they all knew this was an initiation journey for Joel and they didnt mind women being there with him.

Zoe said reaching the top was a touching moment for everyone involved.

It was pouring rain and you couldnt see a thing! It made us all realise that this was about the journey, not the view, said Zoe. We all just stopped and focussed on this amazing achievement that we as a community had come together to make happen. Steve said it was the most significant climb of his life. People were crying it was just beautiful.

While Zoe has always encouraged Joel to dream large even she was gob-smacked when he won the National Disability Award.

I just squealed and jumped up and down, Zoe said. My knees went weak.

While Joel finds it difficult to be interviewed and channel his thoughts on the spot, hes mastered the art of public speaking so he can get his message of hope and resilience out to others. He now travels to conferences all over Australia inspiring people with his moving story.

Zoe said when Joel recounted his experience of climbing Mt Warning earlier this year at a national disability conference in Sydney, there wasnt a dry eye in the house.

For me, it was my Mt Everest. I dreamed about it, and talked about it, and pestered everyone who would listen about it and never ever gave up dreaming that one day I would stand on its summit, he said to the gathered crowd. I learnt that day that you can create your own reality and that your passion, single-mindedness and belief in yourself can help you manifest your dreams. You have to have a vision clearly in your heart and believe in yourself, even when others doubt you and say its not possible.


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