With a mind for ethics and a heart for equality, disability-advocate Gary Allen is highly regarded and influential in the employment and entrepreneurial sector. Fighting for the representation and inclusion of people living with a disability, we spoke to Gary about his professional journey, the emerging issues present in Australian society, and his pioneering program Enabled.VIP.
ON DISCLOSING A DIAGNOSIS
Choosing to define himself by his career, not his MS diagnosis, Gary excelled in his profession and went from working in politics in 1996 to managing the ethics team at Griffith University in 2003. For over 20 years, Gary has now worked in research institutions, state and federal government departments and research ethics committees across Australia, Canada, Vietnam and the United Kingdom. “At the risk of sounding arrogant, there’s probably about three or four people in the country that do the same sort of work I do.” However, leading such a successful professional life whilst living with MS required a level of honesty and vulnerability from Gary in the beginning. “I wasn’t coy about my diagnosis. I know that there are people that have been unlucky with that experience, but I was lucky. Although, when I initially went in for the job interview, I consciously left my cane outside the room. I needn’t have worried though, the university was super cool and very supportive. And they have continued to be along the way.”
Taking insight from his own experiences, Gary is a big believer in being upfront and going through the process of educating your potential employer about your diagnosis. “One of the things I say to young people is ‘would you even want to work for somebody who is so ignorant that they don’t actually understand or care?’ If a person is relapsing-remitting, there are going to be exacerbations; there will be symptoms present. If you’ve already had that conversation with your employer, then it’s much easier to say ‘I’m having a bad day. I need to take some leave or make some changes for a while.’ If you haven’t had that conversation, then you haven’t laid that supportive groundwork,” says Gary.