Small Person With a Mighty Voice for Disability
Ambassador for the upcoming Brisbane Disability Expo, country music singer Renee McAlpin may be tiny due to the rheumatoid arthritis she suffered as a child, but she has a big heart and strong voice for people with disability. Renee plans to use her platform as ambassador on October 15 at the Royal International Convention Centre to inspire others through music and stories about her own fight to live a rich, happy life.
“I’m honoured and very excited to have this opportunity,” says Renee, “When I do other performances, I’m promoting myself, but at the Brisbane Disability Expo I will be promoting a better life for people with disability.
“I want to make people more aware of what is out there, to inspire them to go out and try something new, to encourage them to speak up and keep trying for what they really want. I know from my own experience that with hard work and self-belief, you can achieve anything."
Renee was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis at the age of ten months and underwent many surgeries in the first 14 years of her life. Surgeons cut ligaments and tendons to straighten her limbs and correct her posture so that she could walk without leg braces and crutches. She remembers how, at one point, she was encased in plaster from her armpits to her big toes.
Music, she says, was the one saving grace during the many months she was immobilised. Not coming to country music until later in her life, artists like Westlife, Tina Arena, Backstreet Boys kept her company and allowed her mind to soar, far from the pain and confinement of her hospital bed.
Renee laughs about how people are often surprised when meeting her because, weighing in at just 25 kilograms, she is as small as a child. Now 41, she has retained a sweet voice and playful manner, but you have only to talk to her for a few minutes before you realise what a strong advocate she is for the rights of people with disability.
Accessibility, says Renee, is still the biggest obstacle faced by people with disability in Australia. Finding transport for a wheelchair, being able to go to the bathroom when you have to be manually lifted, finding WHS solutions to lift her into and out of a pool for workouts with a physiotherapist — these are all obstacles that require a lot of time and effort to overcome. Solutions can take months to work out.
After a trip to the United States recently, Renee was surprised about how well people with disability are catered for there. Coming back to Australia, she realised that lack of education and consideration can still cause ongoing problems for people with disability here. She has had to perform from her wheelchair on the floor after it was impossible to lift her and her heavy, 90 kilogram wheelchair onstage at the world-renowned Tamworth Country Music Festival. Renee is frustrated that a simple ramp could not be a standard requirement for people like herself. It would even seem logical for roadies who lift heavy instruments and sound equipment onto and off the stage.
“Music is my passion and my disability drives me to do well,” says Renee. “I want to prove that I can do it. I want people to take me seriously because I’m no different to anyone else on the stage.
“I’m just as capable of songwriting and recording albums, traveling, promoting myself, doing guest spots and showcases. It’s what other people think when they see me that is the real obstacle to doing the job.”
Renee has produced three albums and worked with country music greats Adam Brand, Sara Storer, Col Finley, Troy Cassar-Daley, Luke O’Shea, Kerry Kennedy and Double Barrel, Adam Kilpatrick and John Stone. She was selected in the top ten artists to sing at Sydney Paralympic Games 2000.
Renee will perform at the Brisbane Disability Expo opening ceremony between 10:30am and 12:00pm, come down and enjoy the entertainment! The expo also includes over 100 exhibitors, government agencies, disability advocacy and advisory groups. NDIS booth and presentations, on-stage entertainment, food and coffee vans will make the expo an enjoyable day out for all.
More about Renee McAlpin
Visit the Renee McAlpin website
More about Social Impact Institute
Social Impact Institute (formerly 4community) has been managing disability expos for five years, developing partnerships with local entities to increase social impact for the greater good of the disability sector. As innovators, creatives and strategic problem solvers, Social Impact Institute links community members with organisations who are interested in developing creative solutions to complex problems.