Sean was born in Liverpool, England and emigrated to Australia, aged 11, in 1973 as a "10 Pound Pom". He was recognised as an Australian by descent in 1979.
He sailed in the 1980 Sydney to Hobart yacht race and has held several national fishing records with a 4.2 m long tiger shark being his largest capture.
Initially training as Technical Officer with Telecom, Sean progressed to work in Computer-Aided Design and Graphics as a Sales Engineer, his career saw him move from Sydney to Melbourne and then to Canberra.
In the late 1990s Sean retrained as a Microsoft Systems Engineer initially working as a contractor in the ACT and then moving to Darwin as an IT contractor for the United Nations.
In June 2000 Sean was on a cycling holiday in the Northern Territory bush, with his partner, Steph Maxwell, when he had an accident on his mountain bike sustaining a high-level spinal cord injury (C2/C3 ) that paralysed him from the shoulders down. He now uses an electric wheelchair for mobility.
"In RNSH intensive care the doctors didn't expect me to be able to breathe again without the aid of a ventilator. I still think of learning to breathe again as one of my greatest achievements"
"Spinal cord injuries take a long time to heal and rehab takes even longer. By the time the house was converted for wheelchair use it was almost 14 months from injury to going home to Canberra".
"Staring at the hospital ceiling paralysed and on life support I knew my future lay in technology. Initially I thought I would use voice recognition software to control a computer and go back to working in the computer industry".
Back home in Canberra Sean found it difficult to convince people that he could still be a productive employee. He eventually became a volunteer explainer at Questacon, a job which helped him get back into the routine of work.
It wasn't long before Steph and Sean were being asked to be on government committees, from planning and access panels to support funding review committees. Meeting people led to requests for assistance in purchasing assistive technology solutions.
"Volunteering to help people choose appropriate assistive technology forced me to look more closely at people with disabilities other than a spinal cord injury. Sometimes it was confronting work, but intensely satisfying to be able to use my technical knowledge to help people be more independent in their own environment and more productive at work".
Paid work came Sean's way in August 2004 when he was asked to head up the "Consumers in Control" project, an early forerunner of today's consumer directed funding models in disability and aged care service provision. Once again he was exposed to people's search for better services and funding.
Sean became a committee member of PWD ACT, a consumer-run systemic advocacy group. He undertook their consumer advocacy course and became heavily involved in campaigns to improve community health services for People with a Disability, access to equipment services and long-running problems with wheelchair accessible taxis.
In mid-2007 Sean started working for Hartley Lifecare, a local accommodation and support service, to start up and manage their Accenture sponsored Assistive Technology program. This allowed him to continue his passion in matching technology to a disabled person’s needs and capabilities. He started focusing his energies on a "Technology to Work" program aiming at using technology, training and employer/employee disability awareness to help people get meaningful work.
Sean left Hartley's in late 2009 and now runs his own technology, training and awareness business for people with a disability, C3 Solutions.
“Often it's small and inexpensive devices that can bridge the gap between inability and ability to do everyday things using technology. Because we all relate to new gadgets, when people with a disability can use everyday technology it provides some common ground for communication and this helps break down long-standing awareness barriers”.
It is Sean's advocacy and technology work that brought him closer to the wider disability community and acutely aware of individual and families need for a peer to give them a voice with politicians, government and in the media. Eventually this led Sean to be a campaigner with the "Every Australian Counts" campaign for a National Disability Insurance Scheme. His involvement with the campaign has seen him joining other campaigners at Parliament house lobbying our politicians for a fully funded NDIS.
Sean has been involved in the following committees, panels and campaigns..
- The ACT planning minister's Access and Planning Panel (ARAPAC).
- Support funding options consultation (Disability ACT)
- The ISP review panel 2003-2005.
- Consumers in Control (CiC) 2004-2006.
- Paraquad regional peer representative 2003-2006.
- People with Disabilities 2005-present.
- Better Community Health services for people with a disability.
- Better and more affordable equipment provision (ACT Health).
- Wheelchair accessible "Liberty Swing" for ACT Playspaces lobbying and consultation.
- Various access consultations and lobbying.
- NDIS consultation 2011?
- Wheelchair Accessible Taxis lobbying for better quality service.
- Every Australian Counts campaign for an NDIS 2011-present.
Some tips for engaging with people in a wheelchair.
- If people offer their hand to shake, then do so. Otherwise a gentle shake/touch on their shoulder is good. Most people can feel their shoulders.
- Where possible position yourself at the same level that they are, a chair is ideal for this.
- Please don't lean on people's wheelchairs. Some consider their wheelchair to be part of their body.
- In general treat and speak to people the same as anyone else.
- If you're unsure about anything, just ask, people will let you know what they need or prefer.