Erin’s journey towards human rights: 6 years on Accessible Leadership

Erin Gough

After participating in the inaugural 2011 Be. Leadership Programme, a young 19-year-old Erin Gough found the confidence boost she needed to become more involved in the sector.

"Before I wasn’t too involved in the disability sector or community in general. It gave me the confidence to become more involved and I guess that might have encouraged some interest in the advocacy stuff that I might not have had before".

This advocacy work refers to her role as a Human Rights Advisor at the Human Rights Commission, focusing on disability issues. This work involves policy, advocacy and human rights work in spaces such as education, historic abuse of disabled people, inclusion, housing and transport.

While it has been six years since Erin completed the programme, she says the learnings and networks she gained during that year helped her in the community based roles she undertook following the programme.

"What I learnt and some of the networks that I gained were helpful. All the things around the principles of leadership, different types of leadership and some of the facilitating skills would have contributed to some of the work I did prior to gaining this role [at the Human Rights Commission".

"I still have some very good friends from the programme and I talk to them quite a lot and utilize them as mentors. They work quite extensively in the public sector so that has been quite helpful starting my career"

Erin believes access is an important movement and she is interested in the work Be is doing to make that happen.

"Disabled people are a large population and we all have a right to access our environment and community without barriers. Being able to get around is integral to someone's wellbeing. We have money to spend and we have capital to use so from a business perspective it makes sense to be accessible".

In terms of leadership however, she says there are always different leadership styles that can influence change to happen, and each style has a part to play.

"In my own role, the way that I would see leadership influencing that would be through the advocacy that we do and the policy analysis that we undertake and building up stakeholder relationships with the decision makers that lead to change"

"One of the frustrations is that it does take a while to make small changes but part of being a leader is being patient and trying different approaches to try and make that happen".

The next step, she says, is to encourage other young people to take up leadership positions and not be afraid just because they’re young.

"I would encourage people that are young to not be afraid to lead and to not be afraid to take up some of these leadership roles. As young people we have a unique perspective to bring and because we have grown up with all this technology and we use social media so much that we do have channels and power to make change that haven’t always been there"

"I think there is a tendency to think that because you're young you don’t have enough experience that you can‘t make a difference. Or that people that are older will know better than you and I don’t think that is necessarily true".

Erin travelled to the United Nations in New York to attend the Conference of States Parties to the Conventions of Rights of Persons with Disabilities in June 2017. She wrote about her thoughts on attending and even made a video about her experiences navigating airplane travel and the Big Apple in a wheelchair.