Avoid making assumptions about others, and remember that not all disabilities are visible.

Those were among the powerful messages from an event hosted by Enable, Commonwealth Bank’s accessibility and inclusion network, ahead of International Day of People with Disability on Saturday, December 3.

“The onus is on us to build a brighter future for all”

The event included a panel discussion featuring three long-time CommBank employees, who shared their lived experiences with disability: Scott Pavitt, who was born missing his fingers; Shari Cosgriff, who has rheumatoid arthritis and is also a carer for her husband; and Al Reid, a carer for his girlfriend, who has low vision.

A topic the panellists repeatedly touched on was misconceptions about people with disabilities and their capabilities.

“Sometimes I’ve found over my life, people just assume things,” said Mr Pavitt. “I’ve got a very visible disability but I can definitely do the work.”

Mr Reid spoke about how, because his partner doesn’t have a cane or a guide dog, they have sometimes been questioned when they’ve parked their car in a mobility space. Ms Cosgriff shared a similar story about how her husband, who wears an ostomy bag after surgery for bowel cancer, has been also been questioned while using accessible toilets.

“Disability takes various forms,” said Ms Cosgriff. “Not all disabilities are visible.”

She also reflected on how things have improved: when she joined the bank 25 years ago, she was required to get a specialist letter stating she was fit to work. She contrasted that to her more recent experiences, when colleagues proactively supported her while she cared for her husband during his cancer treatment.

Mr Pavitt, who has worked at the bank for 10 years, affirmed those improvements by praising workplace systems that provide the option to advise whether he needs any adjustments for his role. “I really like how our systems have that built into it now,” he said.

Mr Reid shared how his girlfriend’s experiences have given him insights he’s carried into the bank, explaining how he’s worked on products or systems and challenged his colleagues to ask: “Could someone use this with their eyes closed?”

“Because I don’t know who the end user is… maybe they can’t see,” he said.

The panellists echoed these sentiments.

“The onus is on us to build a brighter future for all,” said Ms Cosgriff, referring to Commonwealth Bank’s purpose. “Everyone can take part in helping to improve accessibility for our staff and our customers,” added Mr Pavitt.

The magpie that helped to save a life

The event concluded with a keynote speech and Q&A with two-time para surfing champion Sam Bloom, who shared her remarkable life story.

In 2013, on holiday in Thailand with her photographer husband Cameron and their three sons, Sam fell six metres from a balcony when its rotten railing collapsed. The accident severely damaged her spinal cord, leaving her paralysed from the chest down, and doctors told her she would never walk again.

Sam spoke frankly about how “broken and useless” she felt after the accident. But her life changed again after her family rescued an injured baby magpie they dubbed Penguin — and who soon became a beloved, and cheeky, member of their household.

“Shoving food into that greedy little beak without getting my fingers nipped gave me enormous joy,” said Sam. “I honestly thought we were saving Penguin’s life, but what I didn’t realise at the time was that, in a way, she was saving my life as well.”

Her family’s life alongside Penguin is documented on her Instagram account, @samjbloom, and in the bestselling book Penguin Bloom, which was adapted into a Netflix film starring Naomi Watts.

Cameron Bloom and Sam Bloom with Jo Edwards, Co-Chair of Enable Cameron Bloom and Sam Bloom with Jo Edwards, Co-Chair of Enable

Sam spoke about how she also found a renewed sense of purpose after the accident through kayaking and surfing, which led to her winning gold for Australia at the World Para Surfing Championships in 2018 and 2020.

“No matter how much you hurt, or how bad you feel, accepting the love of others, and loving them in return to whatever degree you can, will help you feel whole again,” Sam concluded. “Trust me — I know.”

To learn more about Commonwealth Bank’s goal to be Australia’s most accessible bank, go to: commbank.com.au/accessibility

Banner image: Enable panel featuring Scott Pavitt, Shari Cosgriff, Al Reid, and moderator Matt Barran.

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