Moving bodies, moving boundaries

An insight into the organisation that is enhancing lives and changing perceptions of people with disability.

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, the 2015 Survey of Disability, Ageing and Carers found that almost 4.3 million Australians have reported living with disability.

The summary of findings report stated that 3.7 million of those Australians had a specific limitation or restriction with core activities, communication, mobility or self-care.

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Info-graphic made on Canva by Jiordan Tolli

One in 12 Australians with disability reported they had experienced discrimination or unfair treatment because of their disability.

The report also found that over one-third of women and over one-quarter of men aged 15 years and over had avoided situations because of their disability.

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Info-graphic made on Canva by Jiordan Tolli

The stereotypical way people with disability are perceived in society results in the negative affect of participation and potential.

Thankfully, a number of organisations in Australia are doing their part to provide supportive and social environments, tailored to meet specific learning needs.

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Image from the e.motion21 website

E.motion 21 is a non for profit organisation that provides an Australian-first, innovative dance and fitness programs for children and young adults with Down syndrome.

Their vision is to enhance lives and change perceptions of Down syndrome within society.

By moving bodies and moving boundaries through dance, fitness and performance, the organisation works towards ending societies pre-conceived ideas.

“Historically, we haven’t given people with a disability the opportunity to reach their potential. Society carries a lot of misunderstanding and lack of awareness about the possibilities based on their limited experience,” Founder Cate Sayers says.

Image from the e.motion21 website

Unable to find appropriate dance classes to meet her daughter’s learning needs, Sayers founded the organisation in 2009 in the Melbourne suburb of Kew.

“I was determined to change the status quo for my daughter to have a life full of health, happiness and respect – to participate in every way and to be the best she could be,” Sayers says.

“With appropriate support people with Down syndrome can achieve the same things in life and they absolutely want to, it just may take a little longer for them to get there.” – Cate Sayers

“Her gritty determination shines through at school, at basketball, at dance, with her constant nagging to play on her ipad, to invite friends over for a party, and for the latest iphone.  She is like every other Australian teenage girl, except she works four times as hard to keep up and without complaining.”

“My daughter with Down syndrome embodies the Australian ethos of ‘hard working’.  But are we as a society giving her and others with a disability a fair go?”

Unfortunately, in Australia people aged between 15 and 64 years with disability have both lower participation (53%) and higher unemployment rates (9.4%) than people without disability, according to the Australian Network on Disability 

Info-graphic made on Canva by Jiordan Tolli

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Info-graphic made on Canva by Jiordan Tolli

La Trobe Equity and Diversity Manager, Shannon Kerrigan says ‘instead of people looking at the ‘disability’ I would encourage everyone to look at the abilities first’. 

With the help of dedicated staff across all campuses, the La Trobe team try to provide a range of programs to support individuals in their study to enable an equal outcome once they’re finished university.

“Lack of exposure and fear can lead people to feel uncomfortable and uncertain when meeting somebody with a disability,” Kerrigan says.

Until we see full and fair representation across communities, workplaces and the media “we will not be able to break down preconceived ideas about the value in the diversity of our community members, including those with a disability.”

“In many cases the incredible talent and capacity of people with a disability gets lost in the focus on the small area in which they might need assistance. Our strengths as a community are in our diversity not in our similarity, so embrace the difference,” Kerrigan says.

Image from Pixabay

Sayers says to create a positive change, e.motion 21 is constantly working to uncover new potential, promote understanding and raise expectations, starting with inclusion and participation

Backed by 2013 RMIT University research, the benefits of the e.motion21 program are wide-ranging and include health, exercise, social and self-esteem outcomes for participants.

Children experienced an increase or improvement in fitness, self esteem, social confidence, friendships and communication.

  • 20% boost in personal well-being after youth attended classes.
  • 28% increase in Cardiovascular fitness.
  • Increased stamina to fulfil daily activities

Parents were shown to form positive networks and friendships, supporting each other and all that comes with having a child with Down Syndrome.

Apart from participants and families, Sayers says because of e.motion21, societal changes are constantly taking place.

“After every performance we change a member of the public’s perceptions of a person with DS, and it’s just terrific to see time and time again at the end of a performance, “Wow I didn’t think they could do that.”

“Often it’s not the disability that is the barrier to people reaching their potential; it is the reaction to the disability from society” – Cate Sayers

Alexandra (Alle) Sayers, e.motion21 participant and catalyst for the entire movement, says her favourite part about the organisation is “meeting my friends and I love dancing, it makes me feel good.”

“Being selected to perform on stage in South Africa to open the World Down Syndrome Congress,” has been one of Alle’s best achievements. An achievement that wouldn’t have been able to take place if it wasn’t for e.motion21.

Image from the e.motion21 website

“All people with DS need and benefit from opportunities for fun, physical health, wellbeing and social connection,” Sayers says.

“E.motion21 has strategically chosen to be performance-based for a lot of reasons. It does actually celebrate people with Down syndrome at a new level.”

“It’s a really beautiful way of engaging with people in the community – not only for the onlooker, but obviously for the dancers themselves to be celebrated.”

Image from the e.motion21 website

Since the first class in 2009, e.motion 21 has established nine sites across Victoria and continues to grow.

Now a fully endorsed Australian charity, e.motion21 has continued to progress and expand.

Earlier this year, the organisation premiered a documentary called Raising The Bar, which follows six young people with Down Syndrome who meet at the World Down Syndrome Congress in India.

“With awareness and understanding, open hearts and minds, we can create opportunities for all.” – Cate Sayers

When looking towards the future, Sayers says that gaps need to be filled in order to shift societies attitudes. Inclusion being her most important goal.

“Have an open mindset, raise expectations, give enough guidance and support but not too much, get to know someone, be respectful, be open minded,” Sayers says.

“Fundamental human rights leads to opportunities, which leads to education, which leads to meaningful & sustainable employment. If all the steps are taken, belonging and inclusion will follow.”

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Info-graphic made on Canva by Jiordan Tolli


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