The Southern Cross : February 2010
The Southern Cross February 2010 Page 7 www.adelaide.catholic.org.au news By Lindy McNamara Breaking down barriers and always "giving it a go" has been a lifetime mantra for Dudley Afford. Confined to a wheelchair due to quadraplegia, a sufferer of cerebral palsy and with severe vision impairment, Dudley was not expected to live beyond birth, let alone become an advocate for the young disabled. However, he has packed a lot into his 22 years, continually amazing all those around him and defying the odds. A testament to his unwavering faith and commitment was the announcement late last year that Dudley had won the National Disability Rights Young Leader Award, which recognises exceptional efforts in improving the lives of people with disability. He travelled to Canberra with his proud parents Heather and Brett to receive the award -- and have his photograph taken with Prime Minister Kevin Rudd. "I was really surprised," Dudley said, adding that the teacher who nominated him -- Jean Shoecroft, the Head of the Senior School at Marden Open Access College -- was very happy to discover he had "come up trumps", as was his teacher Gill Maguire. While it was acknowledgement of his achievements, Dudley doesn't rest on his laurels and is waiting for his next challenge "to unfold". "Nothing is too hard. You've always got to give it a go," he said. Just to hear those words must be magic for his parents. When Dudley spoke with The Southern Cross his mum Heather busied herself in the background, unpacking and putting away clothes for Dudley after he had spent a couple of days at their family home in Macclesfield. Every so often she prompted Dudley for a comment or helped find a book. She was quick to share a laugh or brush his cheek, with a tenderness that showed the deep love of a mother for her child. The past couple of decades have been a rollercoaster for the Affords. They have moved home countless times in order for Dudley to have an education and find his place in the world. "When we knew Dudley was going to be disabled, we decided we would do the best we could and give him as many choices as possible -- and experience the real world as much as possible," Heather explained. They were told their premature baby was not expected to live and if he did, he would never speak, sit up and would have serious difficulty swallowing. Undeterred they took their baby home to their farm in Saddleworth and until age three gave him as many farm experiences as possible. They then heard about Conductive Education (CE) which focuses on improving cognitive ability and motor skills. They sold their farm and went to live in a caravan park in Tongala, Victoria, so Dudley could attend a local CE school set up by Dominican Sister Johanna Cash. Imagine their joy when Dudley finally began to speak -- constantly asking for "ham sandwiches" for lunch! That was just the start. When the school was closed they uprooted and moved to Adelaide so Dudley could attend a new school being run by Sr Johanna. At age six another milestone was achieved when Dudley was accepted into mainstream schooling at St Joseph's School in Kensington. His progress and achievements continued and Dudley flourished. It was also around this time he decided to become a Catholic, even though he was from an Anglican family. "Dudley makes his own choices," Heather laughed. Dudley, who was confirmed at age 19, acknowledges that the Sisters of St Joseph and his faith have had a profound impact on his life and attending Mass every day is important for his spiritual wellbeing. School studies continued at Mount Barker High School and Dudley's leadership skills were recognised as he was elected to the Student Representative Council. During this time he completed work experience and started volunteering at the Flora McDonald Lodge, a home for the elderly run by the Sisters of St Joseph at Cowandilla. He decided this was where he wanted to live. "I loved it there and felt I truly belonged. I wanted to make my home there -- a desire that seemed too way-out to achieve," Dudley wrote at the time. And so he started "sending" G-mails which a priest and friend had introduced him to, explaining that the G stood for God and they were a way of praying. His prayers were answered and he was accepted to live at the nursing home. "I found to my utter delight that work was in progress to adapt a room for me and my special needs. I was speechless! Mum cried." Heather admits it was a huge step and goes to show anything is possible. As for the future, young Dudley plans to continue his studies at the Open Access College and this year will focus on nursing homes. He doesn't have a cause to pursue at the moment but mentions that there are no disabled access buses running along Sir Donald Bradman Drive and a couple of letters might need to be written! As for Heather, she's as proud as punch and rightly so. Asked for three words to describe her son she paused and thought carefully, finally offering four: "Dudley is caring, spiritual, honest and determined. "His caring for other people makes a real difference." Dudley defies the odds MOTHER'S LOVE: With the support of his mum Heather and dad Brett, Dudley strives to change the way for young people with disabilities and show by example that anything is possible. Photo: Kate Elmes.