DEBORAH Haygarth has multiple sclerosis, and work to do.

She won’t let her affliction deter her devoted advocacy for women living with disability, and G21-Geelong Region Alliance has opened its doors to help enable her mission.

Deborah, 60, mother of three and grandmother of five, is a founding member of the Barwon hub of Women with Disabilities Victoria (WDV) leadership network and devotes time to promoting its events and messages.

Contact between WDV and G21’s Health and Wellbeing Pillar has led to her being able to work from G21’s central Geelong office four hours a week.

“G21 taking me on is giving me a place rather than sitting at home with the laptop on my knee, I think it’s great for me personally,” she says.

“I’ve been volunteering for a lot of years with different things so it’s great to get acknowledgement of being employed and coming to work.”

At this point -- mid-November 2017 -- much of her work is focusing on networking promotion of a WDV Barwon Hub event featuring screening of the film Defiant Lives, which highlights the work of disability activists in the UK, America and Australia.

Film-maker Sarah Barton will introduce the film, and three other speakers will focus on the issue of gender-based violence.

The mixed event, with drinks and canapes, will be at Geelong’s Eastern Hub from 6pm on December 8, 2017. People can visit for more information and tickets.


Deborah’s passion for WDV aligns with her wish to empower women living with disability.

“To try and help them advocate for themselves, giving them roles they’ve possibly never done before, and to also be a part of the community,” she says.

“It’s like peer support in some ways, mixing with people like themselves I suppose.

“There’s a place for everyone in our group, no pressure to be doing things. You can just come along and join us.”

She has seen women grow with support, one who was too fearful of public transport to venture from Geelong joined her on the train to WDV headquarters in Melbourne. Another too shy to speak in front of a crowd now addresses audiences of hundreds.

“It gives people confidence I think, and they understand what their abilities are,” Deborah says.

Deborah’s own diagnosis with multiple sclerosis in 2000 answered a lot of questions, after symptoms had nagged over several years.

“When it was finally diagnosed it was almost a relief,” she says.

 “I thought I’d had a stroke, I thought I might have had a tumour, so it felt like a relief it was MS.

“But I do believe your mental attitude has a lot to do with your health. I’m really positive and keep moving so I think that helps me.”

She was a youth worker at the time and previously had her own business as a signwriter and screen printer in Talbot.

Though the debilitating effect of her illness on her hands has diminished her professional art capacity she still loves participating in weekly drawing classes in Belmont.

Deborah’s advocacy for women living with disability has led to public recognition including a 2017 Geelong Women in Community Life Living with a Disability Award, which acknowledged her as an outstanding community contributor.

Her citation said she had advocated for, impacted on and influenced the lives of many people living with disabilities across Greater Geelong and Surf Coast regions, fostering connections and social interaction.

She is determined to continue the work, with G21 providing a workplace.

“Being positive, that’s my main thing,” she says.

“And happy.”