George Taleporos has been the manager of the Youth Disability Advocacy Service for over a decade and an outspoken leader in disability advocacy, youth engagement and service reform.
Last year he lead the charge against the ABC’s decision to scrap the disability and opinion news website Ramp Up by staging a public protest.
Writing for The Guardian, George said: “The site was us, telling our own stories, without the distorting filter of the mainstream media, who are determined to turn us into objects of pity or inspiration, with little scope in between”.
In a desperate effort to keep the site running George subsequently helped coordinate a crowd funding campaign, organised a protest and even ended up being escorted from the ABC’s Melbourne premises by police. But unfortunately, Ramp Up’s fate was sealed.
In a further blow, former Ramp Up editor, comedian and much loved and respected disability campaigner, Stella Young, died in December last year prompting thousands to express their sorrow on social media.
Across the space of just a few months the community had lost two of its most important and passionate voices.
George was born and raised in Melbourne, attending a school for children with disabilities and was one of the first kids to be “integrated”.
“This meant that I spent some time in both a school just for kids with disabilities and slowly increased the amount of time that I was at a regular school.
“Looking back, I think it has made me a better advocate for young people with disabilities because I’ve seen both systems and the many flaws that they both have.
“It has also made me a strong advocate for governments to provide the necessary support to children and young people with disabilities because the reality is, special schools do not get people into higher education, and it really is education that enables young people to pursue careers of our own choosing and get ahead in life.”
As proof of theory, George has a PhD in psychology and an honours degree in sociology. He’s been published in a range of books and peer reviewed publications; his passion about disability and employment a constant theme.
“Unfortunately, we live in a society of low expectations of people with a disability and this means that we are constantly overlooked in the employment market.
“This is why people with disabilities continue to have some of the highest levels of poverty in Australia and a major reason why so few of us are part of the mainstream workforce.
“A job is such a significant part of most people’s lives, and it should be the same for people with a disability.
“You would also think that the disability sector would be doing better when it comes to employing people with disability, but the picture there is not much better.
“Imagine if women’s organisations were run by men, this would not be seen as acceptable but for some reason the same does not apply to disability and again, this goes back to negative attitudes and Australian society’s low expectations of people with disabilites.
“I’m passionate about mainstream employment of people with disabilities, because of the difference it has made to my life and the opportunities it provides for all of us to contribute and have valued roles in our community. It is so important that for young people with disabilities can grow up knowing that they can pursue their dreams and be whoever they want to be, whether that is a teacher, nurse, plumber, singer, writer, advocate, business owner, Prime Minister, sex worker or whatever.
“We’ve had a long history of being silenced by institutions, literally and figuratively. Is it simply that we’re seen as the least important, and least likely to stand up for ourselves?
"It would be a mistake to underestimate us.”