Australian Network on Disability turns 20!

Australian Network on Disability 2000-2020 Making A Difference

We are incredibly excited and proud to be celebrating the Australian Network on Disability’s 20th anniversary! On 13 October, we virtually celebrated the remarkable achievements of our network, here’s some of the highlights.

Peter Wilson AM, Chair of Australian Network on Disability

The evening began with Peter Wilson AM sharing the successes and growth of the Australian Network on Disability (AND) over the past 20 years.

“Indeed, this has been a long and rewarding journey. In our early days, we were often told that employment of people with disability was ‘not a blip on the radar screen’. Prior to AND – there was no ‘go to’ organisation that assisted employers to navigate their journey to disability confidence. Actually, there was no expression or aspiration for ‘disability confidence’ itself.” – Peter Wilson AM

Starting with 2 members with 40 employees, to now 301 members who collectively employ over 1.7 million people, we are so proud of this growth and the achievements of our network.

These achievements and the story of AND’s 20 years will soon be shared in our 2019-20 Annual Report. Subscribe to our newsletter to ensure you don’t miss the release of our Annual Report.

John and Steven Bennett, founding Board members of AND

John and Steven shared the story of why and how “Employers making a difference” came to be. John and Steven were inspired by their father who was injured in an explosion while serving in the air force. When their father moved to Australia, he found it difficult to find employment. His injuries changed how people treated him.

Steven shared that employers didn’t like the way their father looked. He had the attributes that every employee needed, yet he was continually rejected because of the way he looked. Despite his amazing ability and his many attributes.

John and Steven talked about their father’s persistence and determination. He found a role as a barrister’s clerk. After a while he became one of the most sought-after clerks in Sydney. His reputation, integrity and ability overcame his disability.

“I thank you all on behalf of the Sidney Bennetts of this world who turned his scars into stars.” – John Bennett

Belinda Curtis, AND Board member

Belinda recounted the challenging early years when AND didn’t have a strong presence and faced difficulty getting to the right people. It was hard to get the traction needed build relationships.

Belinda talked about the early days when the AND office was in the basement of a building in Chatswood and was extremely hard to find. Through numerous passageways, doors, floors and lifts, Belinda said she always had a sense of relief whenever she saw the AND logo on the door.

“Getting to that office, was similar to the journey that AND has taken. The road has been tough and not always clear, but with a strong vision, grit and determination and the help and support of others along the way, we have made it to a really great place.” – Belinda Curtis

“We have also built a fantastic organisation with dynamic leadership, 300 employers all working towards creating a more equitable society that includes people with disability in all aspects of business. It has been a real privilege to be part of this story for 17 years.” – Belinda Curtis

Rania Saab, AND Board member

“I have watched the lives that AND has transformed on both ends of the scale, linking people with disability with savvy organisations that want to be inclusive and take advantage of the huge talent pool available in our nation.” – Rania Saab

As a living tribute to what our programs achieve, Rania shared her story of her 15-year journey with AND. From being one of the seven students who participated in the first Stepping into Law program in 2005, to now an AND Board member since 2012.

“Participating in both the Stepping into program and the PACE mentoring program were invaluable to me because they helped me develop the belief that I could successfully follow a career path of my choosing irrespective of my disability. The programs offered by AND launched my career and shaped my professional life.” – Rania Saab

“It is a privilege to be on the board and continue to witness the amazing accomplishments of the organisation. I have watched the membership grow to 300 members, seen the programs expand, and new relationships develop.” – Rania Saab

Suzanne Colbert AM, founding CEO of AND

“I have always felt privileged to lead our mission to create mutual benefit for people with disability and for employers. I feel as privileged today as I did 20 years ago.” – Suzanne Colbert

“In the early days it was tough. There were sometimes where I felt like I couldn’t make progress at all. … but there were always people who were fellow travellers, kindred spirits, people who believed in our vision that people with disability should have the same chance at winning a job than anyone else and that we needed a fairer and more accessible and inclusive Australia.” – Suzanne Colbert

Suzanne shared some of her many amazing stories of how this network came to be and announced that her 20-year journey with AND is coming to an end. Suzanne will step down as CEO at the end of the year. She personally thanked the Board, AND team, members and supporters, for the trust, confidence, experience and support along AND’s and her personal journey.

“Thank you to the many hands and hearts who have supported me, encouraged me, and challenged me along this journey.” – Suzanne Colbert

“Suzanne, you have been a passionate advocate for people with disability and have earned an enormous respect right across the nation. For your genuine beliefs and willingness to add value and make connections. That has been recognised many ways including with your order of Australia. Like all good leaders, you leave a very strong organisation behind.” – Peter Wilson

Four women in corporate attire sitting in a meeting room smiling and holding wine. TV screen in the background of people on a Zoom meeting

Image: Suzanne Colbert, Belinda Curtis, Amy Whalley and Rania Saab and the virtual team.

Comments from our fellow travellers and kindred spirits:

“Today is indeed a celebration – such an achievement – AND is now internationally recognised as one of the world’s leading business disability networks – if not THE leading network – you have changed the way business leaders see their world – and liberated business leadership behind the economic and social inclusion of so many. Well done all.” – Susan Scott-Parker, Business Disability International

“Congratulations to an amazing team of wonderful people who have made AND such an impactful and inclusive organisation in Australia and beyond. Thanks to Suzanne for your leadership, vision, passion and connection.” – Paul O’Connor, former AND Board member

“Delighted to be here with all my AND friends on this great occasion. Congratulations!” – Richard Barnett, former AND Board member

“Terrific stories and what a proud moment for those that have stayed the course for many of those years, onwards and upwards for AND!” – Ainsley Barahona Santos, AND Board member.

“It really is special to be part of your celebration – it is tremendous to hear of your story. It is one of determination and resilience and vision!” – Kate Nash, PurpleSpace

“Congratulations to everyone who has been a part of AND’s success and for assisting in the build of a better working world in Australia!” – Angie Elrick, PurpleSpace

Six people in corporate attire having a Zoom meeting

Image: Steven Bennett, Victoria Armstrong, John Bennett, Suzanne Colbert, Belinda Curtis and Rania Saab.

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