“I DON’T believe in letting autism stop me from achieving,” Bendigo man Daniel Giles said.
The 27-year-old has been named in the Queen’s Birthday 2017 Honours List as a recipient of a Medal of the Order of Australia for his service to people with a disability, and to the community.
“It’s an honour I wasn't really expecting, but I’m so thankful for the people who nominated me, as I believe it’s one of the highest honours in Australia,” Mr Giles said.
“But I don’t contribute to the community for an award. I do it because I want to better society for everyone.”
His is a long list of achievements, ranging from membership of the Victorian Disability Advisory Council and Autism Stakeholder Advisory Group to founding the 24-hour charity fundraiser AutismWalk.
The former City of Greater Bendigo Young Citizen of the Year volunteers at the Kennington Catholic Parish and a range of other initiatives, including the the biannual Australian Catholic Youth Festival.
While Mr Giles said society had generally become much more accepting of people with disabilities, there was still work to be done.
“Especially in promoting, for example, a change of attitude towards people with less visible disability,” he said.
“Sadly, at least 40 per cent of people with autism – or I believe around that figure - are unemployed, and that needs to be addressed.
“Also, I believe we’ve got to address the exclusion that happens both at the start and end of life.”
“Include people with a disability in all aspects of life, whether that be employment, independent living, housing – and with respect to that, one size does not fit all.”
He said there was scope to make cities more accessible, by improving footpaths and church facilities.
But Mr Giles emphasised the need for understanding.
“When you first hear about a disability of a child, even prenatally, don’t settle on the deficits,” he said.
“You do need to know the challenges a child will face, but also reflect and ponder upon the contribution they’ll make to society.”
With what Mr Giles described as “the right support”, he completed his VCE and graduated from university with honours in graphic design.
“I present very confidently, but people don’t understand the reality – that it takes, from what I believe, a lot more energy just to function in day-to-day life,” he said.
“If you catch me on a good day, it might appear that I have hardly any disability, but there will be days where I’m struggling to function.”
He believed educating employers was the key to addressing the lack of employment for many people with disability.
“And adapting recruitment processes so that there’s an even, equal playing field for everyone,” Mr Giles said.