Giancarlo de Vera (they/he) is a passionate advocate for disability, multiculturalism, racial justice, LGBTIQ+ affairs and cultural diversity. They work at People with Disability Australia as the Senior Manager, Policy, and hold various leadership roles in addition to this one.

Giancarlo is the inaugural Secretary of the Disabled Australian Lawyers Association, Treasurer of the Australian Centre for Disability Law, Board Director of the Tenants Union of NSW, and is the immediate past President of the Australian GLBTI Multicultural Council. In 2021, Giancarlo was named one of the 40 Under 40 Most Influential Asian-Australians and in 2022 was listed in Pro Bono Australia’s Impact 25.

Before Giancarlo was diagnosed with a psychosocial disability in their early twenties, they had worked in the diplomatic corps and in community development in the Philippines, India and the Solomon Islands.

“I had a particular professional and personal interest in youth engagement and development, microfinance and health, working alongside governments and multilateral organisations like the Asian Development Bank,” they said. “With the UN, I was initially part of a legal team trying to refer Myanmar for prosecution for war crimes and crimes against humanity in the International Criminal Court, which ultimately failed due to politics.”

“Throughout my career, I have remained engaged with UN treaty body mechanisms that monitor the implementation of different international conventions, with the most recent opportunity being the lead youth delegate at the UN Conference of State Parties to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in June 2023 at UNHQ in NYC,” they said.

Giancarlo stepped up to be an IDPwD Ambassador because: “I wanted to be the role model that I never had, so those after me don’t feel like they’re alone – there are other disabled LGBTIQA+ people with disability from culturally and racially marginalised backgrounds out there!”

Inspiration and legacy

Giancarlo is a trained lawyer and says it took them more than twice the time of other students to complete the degree because of their disability. While it was very challenging, they were determined to finish their legal training because they believe the law is a powerful tool for social justice. They were inspired by their grandmother to pursue a professional career in law.

“My grandmother was one of the first women in Asia and the world to be admitted into a law school back in the 1940s, but never got to finish because of outdated sexist beliefs and attitudes – I didn’t want to suffer the same fate because of outdated, ableist attitudes and beliefs!” they said. “

Barriers to opportunity

When asked what Giancarlo faced as their biggest barriers, internalised ableism and stigma about their invisible disability have been hurdles. They say this is especially the case in a culture that doesn’t think their disability is real.

Giancarlo shares that there is a lot of psychosocial disability in their family, and that they and their brother particularly need support for their respective psychosocial disability. However, Giancarlo says, the mental health system couldn’t cater to culturally and racially marginalised people like them. The mental health system was particularly inaccessible to their brother, who continues to be insufficiently supported by allied and medical professional.

When it comes to finding the right support, Giancarlo has needed they say it took over a decade to find the supports that they needed.

“The biggest barrier for culturally and racially marginalised people with psychosocial disability has been the lack of cultural understanding, awareness and safety in service provision, as there isn’t the diversity and number of professionals who can reflect the cultural backgrounds of modern Australia,” said Giancarlo. “Multicultural mental health remains an issue to this day, and significant investment is needed in community, personal and allied mental health.

“I overcame barriers to opportunity because my personality was such that I sought help actively and never gave up looking for support. My brother on the other hand had a different personality, and hardly sought help and the difference in our life course has been chalk and cheese,” they said. “This never should have been the case, but the lack of cultural understanding, awareness and safety in service provision paved the different paths my brother and I took.

“What I wish was in place is community education and awareness about invisible disability, especially psychosocial disability, in language and accessible to communities from culturally and racially marginalised backgrounds,” Giancarlo said. “There is a lot of work needed to destigmatise invisible disability in migrant and refugee communities.

Giancarlo points out that inaccessibility of services and supports is even worse if you’re LGBTIQA+ and CALD (Culturally and Linguistically Diverse). There is just not enough cultural understanding, awareness and safety in service provision, let alone the diversity and number of professionals who can support LGBTIQA+ and CALD people with disability.

Hope and vision for the future

Giancarlo would like to see serious investment by governments to grow the number and diversity of community, personal and allied health professionals to meet the needs of culturally and racially marginalised people. They believe there also needs to be investment in peer-led and consumer-led approaches, to promote innovation and best practice in service delivery.

“This needs to come from community,” they said. “And not be led by academic and research interests, which all too often treat culturally and racially marginalised people like myself as objects, and not active agents who can co-produce solutions.”

Giancarlo says that they are seeing a strong consumer and peer led movement to make multicultural mental health a reality, but government investment has a long way to go.

“My big vision is for my job as a disability advocate to be redundant! But that means every disabled person in Australia has the same and equal chances and outcomes as those without disability. With all mainstream systems being fully inclusive, and we all get the support that we need to thrive. But that will take a long time, but I can only hope it will happen sooner,” Giancarlo says.

You can find out more about the Australian IDPwD Ambassadors here.

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