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Featured Profile: MAGIC Project Manager Lisa Harrison

James Stanley and Lisa Harrison, from the MAGIC Project
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The inspired MAGIC (Macarthur Access Group for Inclusive Communities) Project is run by extraordinary people working to help their community to recognise difference and develop inclusivity. Nominated for a ZEST Award in 2017, the MAGIC Project is a potent fusion of community, businesses and passionate individuals working with the collective goal of changing attitudes towards inclusion, through a positive, person-centred approach.

The beneficial impact of the MAGIC Project for the community is enormous: increasing participation and extending opportunities for social mobility means better spaces, shared experiences and increased wellbeing. Benefit to businesses is also significant, says Project Manager, Lisa Harrison. “People living with disability account for 19% of the population. It makes no financial sense to exclude a significant portion of the community from engaging with your business.”

Businesses that become MAGIC-endorsed are initially assessed for accessibility and are then offered a tailor-made inclusivity strategy and training program.  Accredited businesses are advertised on the MAGIC website and App, listed by category and detailing what’s available, giving people an informed choice of places to go. Participating businesses also have the option to display an accreditation sticker in the window of their premises – an increasingly familiar sight in the Macarthur region.

Participation in the program is free. In 2017, 107 businesses were MAGIC-endorsed throughout Macarthur and Wollondilly, where the Project currently extends. Community response has been overwhelmingly positive, with businesses reporting a noticeable clientele pick-up. People using the App can leave a review when they have a positive experience, and often return – with their friends.

In 2013, Sector Connect – a not-for-profit peak body organisation – was successful in gaining funds via Family and Community Services to deliver the MAGIC Project. Lisa was appointed the role of the MAGIC Project Manager in 2014. The need for the MAGIC Project came in response to consultations with families of people living with a disability, identifying challenges in accessing services, businesses and the broader community. The MAGIC Project has produced the ‘Missed Business Guide’, a publication setting out the MAGIC Charter and scope of the Project: addressing attitudes to diversity, inclusivity and infrastructure, with an aspirational approach to attitudinal change. Lisa vehemently attributes the Project’s start-up, continued success and public profile as being equally credited to the contribution of the dedicated and passionate members of the MAGIC Working Committee Group.

Managing ‘Inclusivity’ means looking at the accessibility, attitude, etiquette, words and skills required to make people included. Accessibility relates to access to parking or transport, obstacles to entry and ease of access, bathrooms, counter heights, resource shelves and staff attitude. Lisa observes that difficulties to becoming an inclusive business often have to do with limitations to the building or space – for example, in premises that are heritage-listed or have stairs. Attitude is the key starting point. “Our focus is on the changes that can be made in each space, specifically. With the right attitude you can get around most obstacles.”

A key element in MAGIC accreditation is training to assist business owners and staff with implementing inclusivity practices. The Disability Awareness Training package has been running for 12 months, with facilitators from the Working Committee – many of whom have direct or indirect experience of living with disability. The MAGIC facilitators undertook training with St Vincent de Paul inclusivity service, Ability Links, to enable their delivery of on-site training and gain confidence in speaking in front of people.

In developing the training program, a common attitude obstacle Lisa identified is a sense of fear about engaging with people living with disability. “We see that there is often fear around interacting with people with disability. People worry they are going to be getting it wrong, or offending someone.” The training sessions evolved to include a Q and A, led by a person living with disability, with the opportunity for participants to ask the questions they may not ordinarily like to ask. “Stories are powerful,” Lisa says. “It’s hard to convey just how much impact people gain from these shared experiences.”

Rhonda McCall is a vision-impaired MAGIC committee member and training facilitator. With her guide dog, vision-obscuring goggles and canes, Rhonda runs a training session that gives people the experience of being vision impaired. Other facilitators, Eric Third and David Napier, deliver different perspectives to the training by sharing their challenges of living with mobility issues.  Partially quadriplegic, Eric opens the Q and A by telling how it came about, taking questions on his life before and after his accident. Lisa identifies empathy as a key part in attitude shift. “Essentially, what is gained in these sessions is the very real sense that we are all the same. We all want a meaningful and purposeful life. We all have obstacles to overcome.”

Previous experience as a respite carer, for high-needs children from birth to aged 13, Lisa’s passion for her work culminates in her recently-completed Degree in Social Science, graduating in December with a Major in Disability. While the MAGIC Project is currently funded until June 2018, Lisa aspires for its person-centred approach to ultimately result in more people adopting the attitude of inclusion: that they check themselves and those around them, for inclusive language and behavior. “A large part of what we do is to educate, to help people realise the power of words. Things have come a long way, towards better choice and empowerment. What we do is to build the arenas and hope that it spreads.”

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