Our finalists of the 2021 Blind Australian of the Year awards have been announced! Arkan Yousef from NSW, Dr. Paul Harpur from QLD & Nastasia (Nas) Campanella from NSW.
Read more about their journeys below.
Arkan Yousef was a teacher in Iraq for 19 years before he started losing his sight. Fearing life as a blind man in his hostile home country, he fled to Greece and then Australia in 2006.
The losing of his sight was the biggest hardship to encounter but he never lost his passion for teaching; enthusiasm and positive outlook in life to achieve his goals by helping others through his Volunteer work at Western Sydney Migrant Resource Centre.
To many a few; Arkan’s voluntary work that contributed to the community include:
Volunteer in teaching mathematics in Arabic, English, and Chaldean languages at Western Sydney MRC to assist students with their homework.
Initiated Homework Program for several local high schools in Western Sydney Volunteer teaching the basics of computer for blind people at vision Australia, to teach computer skills using adaptive technology software with talking program NVDA.
Provide companionship support to people in nursing homes by connecting with residents who have limited or no English in Arabic and Chaldean languages through the Community Visitors Scheme program.
As a result of his dedication to community service; he has been recognised with numerous awards of appreciation and service, including a finalist in the Pride of Australia Award 2013.
His recent achievement is getting two Masters degrees in mathematics to be completed this year. Arkan is resilient and has a passion to,
1. To Challenge himself and others by pushing boundaries in order to reach his and others’ full potential despite his disability. He showcases his support by empowering others through his teaching voluntary work for students to strive for the best and not give up when facing challenges.
2. To inspire and be an inspiration to others. Arkan has the ability to work and support people in his community to take on opportunities made available in this country of Australia.
3. To ignite trust. Arkan is a self-believer and has the strength and ability to build others up so they can be empowered to overcome any obstacles they face in life. He encourages his students and community to have confidence and trust in themselves to achieve anything they wish for in life. With him teaching mathematics he built trust with students and people in the community by walking side by side and showing them how to face life challenges, face any obstacles to build up their confidence.
He has proven that he’s unstoppable in achieving anything in life regardless of his disability. He is determined to help others and wouldn’t allow his blindness to stop him from doing what he loves. He has full trust in himself and encourages his students and the people he helps to build trust within themselves.
Dr. Paul Harper
Associate Professor Paul Harpur is a leading international and comparative disability rights legal academic. He has held many positions including recently 2020 academic fellow of the Harvard Law School Project on Disabilities.
He is the holder of a prestigious Fulbright Future Scholarship entitled “Universally Designed for Whom? Disability, the Law and Practice of Expanding the “Normal User”.
Associate Professor Paul Harper is a member of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Automated Decision-Making and Society, which receives funding from the Australian Government. He also leads a US Social Science Research Council’s Just Tech Covid-L9 Rapid Response Grant, with funds provided by the Ford Foundation and the MacArthur Foundation.
He has legal practice and teaching expertise in teaching anti-discrimination laws, human rights, labour laws, and work health and safety laws.
In 2019 he was named a fellow of the Higher Education Academy. Paul Harpur’s focus on disability inclusion forms part of a group of world-leading scholars across The University of Queensland who, individually and collectively, advance ability equality and promote the full realization of all human rights and fundamental freedoms for all persons with disabilities.
Professor Harpur chairs the UQ Disability Inclusion Group, which supports the university in its implementation of the UQ Disability Action Plan. He also sits on the Academic Board, the University Senate’s sub-committee focusing on inclusion, and on the Senate Committee for Equity Diversity and Inclusion.
Recipient of the UQ Awards for Excellence for his service to promoting disability inclusion and the UQ DIG received the highest accolade in the diversity category.
Associate Professor Harpur is a TEDx Speaker and has given numerous keynotes and speeches, including addressing the International Labour Organization in Geneva. Associate Professor Harpur has a mixture of practice and research experience, having formerly practiced as a lawyer and continuing to work as an industrial relations special advisor in a national private practice, IRIQ Law, as a special advisor.
Associate Professor Harpur is active on boards and promoting the rights of persons with disabilities, as well as the rights of persons with disabilities to use assistance animals. He also regularly appears in the news speaking on disability law and policies.
Outside the law, Associate Professor Harpur has previously been a professional athlete with a disability, competing in the 2000 Sydney and 2004 Athens Paralympics, the 2002 Manchester and 2006 Melbourne Commonwealth Games, and a range of other World Titles and international competitions.
Nastasia (Nas) Campanella
Nastasia (Nas) is an accomplished journalist and a passionate advocate for diversity, inclusion, and for the rights of people with disabilities.
She has made an outstanding contribution to the way people with disabilities are portrayed in the mainstream media, by supporting them to tell their own stories, their own way.
Nas lost her sight when she was six months old. She is totally blind and lives with a neurological condition called Charcot-Marie-Tooth (CMT) which affects the sensitivity in her fingertips and means she can’t read Braille.
Nas was always interested in a career in radio, and as a blind child, radio enabled her to learn about the world around her. After school, Nas studied for a degree in Communications at the University of Technology Sydney, majoring in journalism.
While completing her studies, Nas undertook a number of unpaid internships to help build her experience and portfolio of work. After graduating, Nas began a difficult job-hunting journey, facing harsh discrimination based on her disability.
Determined not to give up, Nas landed her first role as a cadet with the ABC in their Sydney newsroom. She worked as a reporter in regional New South Wales and after moving back to Sydney, she accepted a role as the newsreader for Triple J youth radio station. Nas became the first blind newsreader in the world to read and operate the studio for herself, live to air.
Nas held this position for seven years and during this time, she became aware of how her public profile could affect change across society. This led Nas to find a role where she could combine her journalism skills with her interests in advocacy.
In 2020 she was appointed as the ABC’s Disability Affairs Reporter and in little more than twelve months, she has changed the way people with disabilities are portrayed in the media, by empowering people with disabilities to tell their own stories, highlighting previously unseen issues and creating powerful change.
For example, her coverage of the difficulties faced by people with intellectual disabilities in receiving the COVID-19 vaccination resulted in the vaccination of almost 200 people with disabilities in residential care.
Aside from her impressive journalism resume, Nas has also worked as an advisor to the tourism industry on accessible travel and has developed disability awareness training for a range of organisations, including the United Nations.
She was also part of a Disability Empowerment Skills Exchange in Fiji where she worked in a media communications and advocacy role with the Spinal Injury Association in Suva.
Nas also works as an MC and public speaker, presenting on topics like inclusive education, adaptive technology, accessibility, and supporting women to climb the corporate ladder.
Nas is a freelance writer and has held several board positions in the disability sector.
She is a mentor to people with disabilities and mental illness and is an ambassador for organisations including Motivation Australia and NextSense.
In 2020, Nas won an Aspire Award, recognising her contributions and achievements in service to the Australian people.