Recently retired, Dianne McGowan has had a long career working to achieve something close to her heart – equal employment opportunity for women with a disability. In 2018, Dianne was nominated for the Lesley Hall Lifetime Achievement Award at the inaugural National Awards for Disability Leadership.
While Dianne is incredibly modest about her nomination, it’s clear that she has long been an advocate for women with disabilities; driven by her own experiences as a woman with Cerebral Palsy and a significant hearing impairment.
Despite having a hearing impairment from birth, she says that medical intervention at that time was only a fraction of what it is today, and so her hearing impairment was not detected until she was 18. “I remember finding hearing difficult as a child at school, and I taught myself to lipread to muddle through,” she recalls.
When it was finally diagnosed on a visit to a rehab centre for physical therapy, she says that she refused to wear hearing aids because, like many teenagers, she didn’t want to feel different. In fact, it wasn’t until the first of her two sons was born that she decided she needed to do something about it and started using hearing aids.
Over the years, her hearing continued to deteriorate, but like many people in Dianne’s situation, she adjusted to the loss and continued on without realising there was another option, until a friend spoke of how her cochlear implant was life-changing.
“My son encouraged me to get a hearing test, and from there it became apparent that I was a suitable candidate for a cochlear implant. Because my friend had shared her experience, I was quite excited by the opportunity,” she says.
She remembers fondly, the moment five years ago, when her implant was switched on. “It was simply wonderful – my family was with me, and it was an exciting moment in my life.”
From there, she says she really focused on practicing communication, and working with Janet, her RIDBC audiologist, to make the most of the opportunity. “Janet and the team at RIDBC were just fantastic, they really helped me to learn to use my cochlear implant. Essentially, they taught me to hear again and it really has been the best thing I have ever done for myself.”
Dianne says the employment playing field for women with a disability is not equal, and it’s something she is continuing, even in retirement, to advocate for. She first became involved with Women with Disabilities ACT (WWDA) through working with Women with Disabilities Australia after being made redundant, ironically from a role that was about supporting people with disabilities in employment.
“It’s a tough time, trying to find a job, and many employers don’t understand that with a hearing impairment, you can do the same things as everyone else – particularly with a cochlear implant.”
Of her career, she says that when she eventually found employment opportunities, she had very supportive employers. Particularly when it came to using the telephone. “With my hearing aids, I couldn’t use the phone really at all – it was very difficult and so I just shied away from it.” Since getting her cochlear implants, she says this has changed.
“I can use the telephone easily and independently, which is huge.” She says she has also found a new appreciation for music, and loves going to concerts. “It’s just wonderful,” she says, with obvious joy.
Dianne says she will continue to advocate for the rights of women with disabilities for as long as she can. She was most recently involved with a video production by the Canberra Chamber of Commerce about equal opportunity and inclusion, showcasing her career and abilities. “People with a disability can offer so much to a business, and many people who are struggling to find employment are prepared to give 110% to a role when they get the opportunity,” she says.
This Hearing Awareness Week, Dianne wants to encourage all people who think their hearing is declining to get tested and consider the options available to them. “My cochlear implant has made such a huge difference to my life, both in my work and at home. I can contribute in work meetings and social discussions like I never could before. It’s really changed everything.”