Disability advocacy is a new part of Paris’s story

Posted on 13 Sep 2023

By Matthew Schulz, journalist, Institute of Community Directors

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As a disabled woman, Paris McMullen has no representation in politics.

“I’m starting from scratch,” she says, “and that’s really scary.”

But by participating in Women Leading Locally, she has found a clear path. “I have all the tools I need to run for election. It’s not a big mystery like it was before.” 

Paris first considered entering politics after being frustrated that short-term pandemic lockdown debates were overshadowing long-term problems like the climate crisis. A friend connected her to the Geelong chapter of Women in Local Democracy (WILD), and she was amazed by what she found. 

“Here was a whole community of very engaged and very passionate women encouraging other women to enter the political space and make a difference.”

So when Paris learned about Women Leading Locally, she applied. Why not? 

During the program, her political motivations expanded. The values session “made me think about what I was doing and why I was doing it,” and she now considers disability advocacy an important plank in any future campaign. 

This shift reflects a personal journey of becoming true to herself.

“Having a disability always felt like something that I needed to hide,” she says.

“I don’t have to hide who I am, and in fact that’s actually great, I can help people.”

No team leaders or managers in the water industry had a visible disability. Initially, she felt that she had to present herself as an able-bodied person capable of doing everything.

But now: “I don’t have to hide who I am, and in fact that’s actually great, I can help people.”

She gave a talk about her experiences with disability, and colleagues were supportive – some even felt seen for the first time.

When Paris runs for local government in future, there’s a lot on her agenda, from the environment to cost of living and Geelong’s changing industry. But she’s added one clear goal: “I want to improve the lives of people with disabilities,” she said. 

“How do you start when there’s nothing?” she wondered, commenting on the lack of political representation.

It’s not easy, but it starts with one person.

More information

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