In a first for Dylan Alcott AO, he delivered a keynote speech from his bed on Friday, when he appeared via video link at a business event in the Moreton Bay Region.
It followed an injury suffered overseas and doctors’ orders not to travel.
Dylan explained his absence in typical authentic fashion.
“I actually sat on something hot and I’ve got a big burn on my bottom. Being in a wheelchair – you sit on your arse all day, unfortunately, so the doctor has banned me from flying,” he explained to the audience at the Eatons Hill Hotel.
The unusual presentation took nothing away from his central message for businesses, employers and the wider community to be more inclusive and reset their thinking about disability.
See photos from the event at the end of this story.
Dylan was born with a tumour wrapped around his spinal cord, but life-saving surgery to remove it made him a paraplegic.
He paid tribute to his family for getting him through numerous significant health challenges and making him the man he is today.
His big brother Zac is his best mate but someone who didn’t cut him any slack when they were growing up.
Dylan is firmly of the view his brother’s attitude was one of the best things he could have done for him.
“It made me realise that if Zac didn’t care that I was in a wheelchair, why should I care that I was in the wheelchair,” he explained.
It was a mindset he held onto until his early teens when he couldn’t keep up with his friends as much and they became less patient.
He was labelled “the cripple or the spastic” by many.
“These words hurt and unfortunately for me, I started believing them, and I became embarrassed about the fact that I had a disability,” he recalled.
Dylan said he stayed at home for two years, embarrassed to leave the house.
|“I wasn’t proud of the person that I was and yet it ruined my life and I never thought I was going to get over it,” he explained.|
They were feelings he shared with no one.
“I felt like a burden. I know a lot of people with disability often feel like I did,” he said.
When he was about 15, Dylan decided he needed to do something about it and get his life back.
“If you put yourself out there, good things tend to happen,” he said.
“I’m a firm believer in life, you make your own luck by putting yourself in situations that you might feel uncomfortable in.”
It started with turning up to a friend’s house party, which he had not been invited to because his friend didn’t know if he would be able to make it up two stairs.
“What I found was my mates didn’t hate me because I’m different, they were actually just embarrassed to talk about my disability with me,” Dylan recalled.
|“I used to shy away from those conversations because I wasn’t proud of the person I was. From that day on, I decided to never let my disability get in the way of anything that I wanted to do ever again.”|
He said it changed his life and opened the door to pursue his passion – paralympic sport which started with basketball from the age of 17 years (two Paralympics).
In 2013, at the age of 22, he made the switch to tennis and trained hard so he could enter the wildcard playoff for the Australia Open in 2014.
Successfully securing his place at the Open in 2014 led to glittering career, which spanned eight years, during which he won 15 grand slam singles titles and was No.1 in the world for five years.
In 2021, was the only male in the world, in any form of tennis, to win the Golden Slam – all four grand slams and a gold medal in the same year. In 2022, he was named Australian of the Year.
Making a difference
Dylan said his sporting success and high profile have been a platform to ‘live out his purpose’, changing perceptions so all people with disability can live the lives they deserve to live.
He said the challenge to overcome the stigma remains with many still believing people with disability are “broken, less capable, unemployable, unachieving, undatable, can’t have sex, aren’t consumers, don’t use tourism, don’t travel, don’t go to the pub, don’t go to hotels, don’t do anything”.
While accessibility is a challenge, he said the hardest barrier to break down was a lack of expectation.
Dylan said often people think it’s ‘inspirational’ to see people with disability doing everyday things because there is a perception they can’t do anything.
He said greater representation was needed to change that perception – in workplaces, in leadership positions, on boards, in schools, on screens and in government.
Dylan encouraged those at the event to ask questions of people with lived experience to make their businesses more inclusive.
He said it was the right thing to do but also good business, catering to a large market which often included their families and carers.
There are 4.5 million people with disability in Australia, including 20 per cent of Queenslanders.
|“We also make great employees as well, when we get given the opportunity to work,” he said.|
In his view, the most important life lesson he’s learnt is the power of positive perception - no matter what cards you’re dealt with - and using it to become the best version of yourself.
“I used to say the Dylan in the wheelchair and the Dylan that walks is the same Dylan but that’s crap. The Dylan in the wheelchair is a much better version of any other Dylan that could have ever lived. I’m easily the luckiest person in this room, if not this world, to be living the life that I live and I would not change that for the world,” he said.
The business event was organised by Moreton Bay Region Industry and Tourism supported by strategic partner Moreton Bay Regional Council, and sponsored by EPIC Assist, Bishopp Outdoor Advertising, Innovate Moreton Bay, RDA Moreton Bay, Apex Building Products, Pinata Farms, Comiskey Group and Village Motors.
Photo gallery from the event (click through)
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