The Ability Radio Project helping give a voice to people with cognitive differences @ Zed

ARPlogoOne of the reasons I love community radio so much is the commitment to community access for people and ideas not represented in the mainstream media.  And Triple Zed is renowned for being on the cutting edge of new and inclusive ideas that embrace diversity.

So when I got together with Ben Stimpson earlier this year,  we agreed that the people we work with, people with intellectual disabilities (ID) are one of the most marginalized and stigmatized groups in Australian society who aren’t ever heard in public life but have so much to offer.  Ben works with the Community Living Association (CLA)  – a support service set up by people with ID and I am a social worker and member of WWILD-SVP, a sexual assault service for people with ID.  We felt that community radio presented a great opportunity to give people with ID a voice in public and hopefully break down some barriers.

We envisioned an amazingly untried thing: getting people with ID to talk about their lives and interests for radio.  Having very little idea whether it was do-able, but throwing ourselves into it anyway, we set up a weekly radio group. Participants came from disability support agencies including CLA.   Everyone who came to our group loved music and listened to the radio.  Some of them were amazed that they should ever get such an opportunity.

We ran a 14 week program that was democratic and discursive, and based on the premise that everyone can contribute in some way.  CLA gave us two social work interns, Kirsty and Georgia, to help out.  Support workers joined in too.

Unlike a normal classroom, our radio group was interactive and flexible.  We had wide-ranging discussions about life, community, democracy, radio, schools, and many other things, that incorporated the use of recording equipment and radio concepts as a framework. We toured Zed and the ABC, and had radio and disability sector guests. We interviewed each other, we made t-shirts, we developed communication skills, played our favourite music to the group, and even sang (in my case, badly).  And we ate lots of cake (thanks to Espresso Train@ Nundah).  And, wow, did we listen to so much Death (and other varieties of) Metal interspersed with Beach Boys (a crazy combination, I know).   Everyone involved loved coming to radio group, even if it did get a bit noisy sometimes.  Some of the group members were so keen that they will be mentoring our second semester of radiogroup starting in late August in the training rooms of WWILD at Woolowin.

The outcomes of the group have been all we hoped:  firm friendships were made, the quiet group members gained confidence, while the loud ones learnt some restraint, everyone learnt some interview and technical skills, and we discovered a depth of thought about the world that only time and patience can allow to develop.   As the amazing Felice said, “I can do everything you can do, it just takes me a bit longer to get there”.

You can listen to our 10 part Segments series “Voiceability” (produced for the CBAA) and other interviews and packages on our Soundcloud page here:

You can read more about the ARP group on our blog:

Kim Stewart is a social worker, radio producer and Secretary of 4ZZZ.  This article first appeared in the Radio Times:


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