International Day of People with Disability - Hope 103.2

International Day of People with Disability

December 3 marks the 21st Anniversary of the International Day of People with Disability and is an opportunity to reflect on the achievements of people with disability in Australia and all around the world.Audio – Professor Ron McCallum talks to Hope 103.2’s Karen Tong Download Audio Media Player Error Update your browser or Flash plugin “We’ve […]

By Karen TongMonday 2 Dec 2013Social JusticeReading Time: 3 minutes

December 3 marks the 21st Anniversary of the International Day of People with Disability and is an opportunity to reflect on the achievements of people with disability in Australia and all around the world.

Audio – Professor Ron McCallum talks to Hope 103.2’s Karen Tong


“We’ve seen changes in the old, out-of-date stereotyped attitudes of we people with disabilities,” says Professor Ronald McCallum, the 2013 Patron for the International Day of People with Disability.

In Australia, these changes have been reflected in policy, with the National Disability Strategy agreed to by all Federal, State and Territory Governments in 2011, and the launch of the National Disability Insurance Scheme in July 2013.

Professor McCallum, who prefers to be called Ron, will also reflect on his own lived experience of disability. Ron was born totally blind and fought hard to gain a career in law, a career in which he has achieved great success as the first-ever totally blind person to have been appointed to a full professorship in any field at any university in Australia or New Zealand. This year, he was awarded the Michael Kirby Lifetime Achievement Award at the Lawyers Weekly Australian Law Awards.

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Professor Ron McCallum

“In those days, grown up blind people made baskets and worked as telephone operators,” says Ron, who was a student at the Royal Victoria Institute for the Blind, “I wanted to carve out a broader career.” 

Throughout university, Ron asked fellow students and friends to read law books onto tape recorders so that he could read them at any time. 

In 1973, as a graduate law student in Queens University Canada, Ron’s regular readers returned home for the summer break, so he enlisted the help of inmates he was working with at a local prison. 

“So I said, ‘would any of you guys like to read to me over the summer now that the students have gone home?’ And one of them said, ‘Well Ron, we ain’t going anywhere so we’d be happy to help’,” says Ron. “I found it quite extraordinary that they who hadn’t had many chances in their lives, many had come from broken and disruptive homes, were helping me … onto a career that they could only dream about.”

The International Day of People with Disability also provides an opportunity for people to make a positive contribution to the lives of 4 million Australians with disability.

For Ron, such people include his wife, Professor Mary Crock, to whom he became engaged six weeks after meeting her. They have been married for almost 28 years.

“She has been an extraordinary support to me and has helped me over the last three decades in being a university professor, in being an adviser to governments, in being a Dean of a Law School and in working at the UN,” says Ron. 

He is also grateful for his late mother “who was determined that I would grow up as an ordinary child … and I wouldn’t be mollycoddled.”

The theme for this year's International Day for People with Disability is: ‘Break barriers and open doors: to realise an inclusive society for all.’

“I want the 18.5 per cent of we people with disabilities to be included in all aspects of life – sport, culture, employment and family,” says Ron. 

He is particularly passionate about improving employment opportunities for people with disabilities. 

“We persons with disabilities want to work, we want to use our talents to build this great nation of ours,” says Ron. “If you’re running a business, have you looked out to employ a person with disabilities, have you even thought about that?”

“I want my sisters and brothers with disability to take their places, or should I say take our places, as part of the warp and weft of Australian society and allow us to join hands with you, to work together, to play together, to live together, and to help build this great country of ours.”