NAIDOC Week: meet Cody Skinner!

This is NAIDOC Week, the time to celebrate Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and an opportunity to recognise the contributions that Indigenous Australians make to Australia. This week we’re focusing on Indigenous staff who are making an incredible impact at some of our member organisations.

Today we talk to Aruma’s Peer Support Mentor Cody Skinner. From Caboolture, Queensland, Cody is making a difference to the charity’s customers. You can see a video about Cody here and read more about Aruma too.

Founded in 1962 by Lionel and Dorothy Watts, Aruma helps people with a disability live a great life. The charity provides services in the Australian Capital Territory, New South Wales, Victoria and Queensland to more than 5,000 customers. The staff are particularly proud of their peer mentoring support program which promotes the organisation’s human rights agenda.

Tell us about yourself?

I’m a peer mentor at Aruma. My background is Indigenous, and my people are from Western Queensland. I recently opened up about being gay. I’m deaf, and I live with autism. I’ve had some bad experiences being bullied due to my disabilities and my personality, and now I do a lot of advocacy work on disability rights.

I believe everyone should be recognised and acknowledged. It doesn’t matter about your background; everyone should be heard and have equal rights.

I decided to stand up and advocate for people with disabilities to ensure they have a good future and life. It’s about moving forward for the future, and so they won’t have to face what I went through.

Some people think disability means having limits. But it’s not about that; it’s a condition you have. The word ‘ability’ in disability means we can overcome the challenges we face in life.

You’re a peer support mentor. What does your work involve?

In my peer mentor role, I’ve been involved in our Reconciliation Action Plan Indigenous Group to improve services for Indigenous customers as a way to close the gap and acknowledge their culture in our organisation. I network during Indigenous events in the community as part of this.

I teach my language, Auslan – the sign language of the deaf in Australia – to our customers and other colleagues, and they have been improving and communicating in Auslan ever since. In this work, I have promoted knowledge about deaf culture for when future deaf customers join our organisation.

I run some advocacy and human rights workshops with our customers, and since then, some of our customers have become more confident in speaking about their rights to have access to independent living in their community. I’m also involved in NDIS planning, as we are an NDIS-registered provider, and I also attend customer planning meetings.

In the community, I network with other organisations and politicians like our local MPs. I do this to bring ideas to improve services in our organisation and to promote awareness of human rights.

I also do community engagement at shopping centres and community expos to talk to locals about Aruma and human rights. I have spoken to over 2,500 people.

Recently, I undertook training in personal development to improve my skills in the peer mentor program, and this training has opened up more opportunities for me.

I also get involved in our human rights committee, which meets four times a year. It’s an interesting group where we can discuss human rights topics and how we can improve services for people living with a disability.

What do you enjoy most about working at Aruma?

I enjoy working for Aruma because it acknowledges human rights for all. I’m proud to be working in their peer mentor program. I enjoy working with our customers and empowering them to stand up for human rights too. 

What work have you done at Aruma that you are most proud of or excited about?

When I first started as a customer of Aruma, other customers wanted to learn Auslan, so I taught them. Now all Caboolture customers and staff are signing Auslan and going home to learn more on their own. This has inspired me as we acknowledge deaf values at Aruma.

I also represent Aruma at conferences and forums. I’m excited about growing our organisation and achieving more awareness of human rights.

Do you get a sense of accomplishment from being involved in their mission?

Absolutely! It has empowered me every day. I’m always exploring exciting opportunities to move forward for the future and celebrate human rights.

Do you feel personally rewarded by your involvement with Aruma? How?

 Yes, I do. It’s thanks to the great feedback from staff and customers on the great work that we do. 

What would you tell your friends and other people about working with Aruma?

A lot of people in my community have asked me why I’m involved with Aruma. I tell them it’s because of the wonderful things that we do in our community that inspired people to join our organisation.

What do you do when you’re not at Aruma? 

I run my own disability advocacy business, which involves promoting disability awareness to people in the community and to other service organisations. I travel around Australia and the local community in Queensland to talk about my disabilities and to conduct advocacy.

I speak to business and local MPs about raising disability awareness in our community. Some of this involves talking about the NDIS and issues around the scheme.

I also talk to people about Aboriginal cultures, LGBT issues and deaf awareness training, to build more understanding in the community.

At other times, I teach Auslan/deaf awareness training to interested people. I also have a Facebook blog: https://www.facebook.com/codyskinnerlifewithdisability/

What about your spare time?

I go out for coffee with family and friends. I like travelling, and I’m fond of fishing trips and other adventures. I enjoy going to sports events at stadiums too.