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We look forward to welcoming you to the 2017 Belonging Matters' Conference, to be held at the St Kilda Town Hall, Melbourne.  Community is an important place. It’s where we learn, develop relationships, reach our potential and discover our moral compass. However, even though it’s automatically assumed for most people, we still exclude and marginalise people with a disability and others. 


This conference creates a welcoming space where people with disabilities, their families and friends together with professionals, educators, students and others can find a forum to bridge the gap! It’s an opportunity to provoke debate, challenge the status quo, stimulate discussion, and offer new ideas that encourage inclusive and connected communities.


You will listen to a broad spectrum of international, national and local speakers sharing their insights and stories of a life enriched with community and belonging. Speakers will cover topics such as building cohesive and welcoming communities, diversity and employment, harnessing one’s passions and strengths, inclusive education, and the NDIS. You will be able to meet and mingle with people with disabilities, families, advocates, organisations, professionals, educators and community members. Don't miss this wonderful opportunity to expand your thinking about community and belonging!

Deb Rouget CEO

Highlights Video from  2015 Conference

The Art of Belonging and Valued Roles Slideshow from the 2015 Conference

Highlights Video from  2013 Conference

Previous Conference
The last Belonging Matters Conferenece was held in August 2013. You can view the speakers below
Who was The Conference For:

This conference is for people with a disability, families, advocates, professionals, CEO’s, bureaucrats and others who are interested in authentic social inclusion, individualisation, empowerment and innovation. It will also be of great interest to those who wish to transform supports and services from segregated or congregate care.

Summary of Key Evaluation Comments:


Phenomenal; Mind extending; Mindset changing; Daring to imagine, courage to change & determination to act; Honesty, humanity, equality; Belonging, love and respect; Light bulb - the switch is on! Anchor, hold, strengthen, vision; Concrete examples of the benefit of community inclusion; Opened my mind to new ideas; Great speakers talking from lived experience; It was all tremendous; Uplifting, surprising; Shared stories; Empowering; Eyes are opened! My intuition is validated for what’s possible for my three kids - I have permission to go for it; Capturing passion for change; Ordinary lives; Warm friendly and engaging; Refreshing; Range and diversity of speakers; Moves the goal posts! Stories from people with a disability about moving into their own homes and being part of their community; Enlightening; Amazing

This conference will also bring together many pioneers with disabilities, families and allies who have forged ahead with great wisdom to live a life that is meaningful, fulfilling and abound in contribution and community. People who illuminate and show us what could be. At this conference people will share their diverse and wonderful stories about community, diversity, acceptance, neighbourhood, and belonging. They will challenge us to move forward and reject efforts that continue to exclude, segregate and separate people from their communities.

Tim Costello is one of Australia’s most sought after voices on issues of social justice, leadership and ethics. Since 2004 Tim has been CEO of World Vision, Australia’s largest international development agency. Trained in economics, law, education and theology, Tim has practised law, served as a Baptist minister, and has been active in church and community leadership, local government and national affairs.

Mary Kealy has just retired as CEO of Brothers of Charity, Clare, in the West of Ireland. During the past ten years she led a radical change in how support is provided to people. The agency’s focus changed from supporting people in segregated group settings to supporting each individual to pursue opportunities and supports enabling them to live a ‘real life in a real place' - embedded in community and meaningful relationships.

Graeme Innes is a high profile advocate for people with a disability. He has been Australia's Disability Discrimination Commissioner since 2005 in which he has led or contributed to the success of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, the National Disability Strategy, theDisability (Access to Premises – buildings) Standards 2010 and the Twenty Years, Twenty Stories project. He is a Member of the Order of Australia and was a finalist for Australian of the Year in 2003.

Alex Snedden is from Auckland. Since leaving school in 2007, Alex has developed an employment portfolio, strong friendships, a home of his own, a place in community, and independence from his family. He is a committed Catholic, a very loyal employee and in his spare time he enjoys Karate, going to the Gym, he is an avid wrestling fan and Rugby fan. In 2010 he won the Youth Attitude Award, a major achievement for any young man starting out in life.

Lisa lives in Brisbane with her husband and three children. Lisa has a social work background and since the birth of her son, Sean, 18 years ago, Lisa has been actively involved in a number of parent support and disability advocacy organisations, Lisa currently works for Community Resource Unit. She is passionate about building communities which more routinely welcome people with disability and has a keen interest in bioethical issues impacting on people with disability.

Dean Richards lives in Melbourne. Following an accident in 1987 which resulted in Quadriplegia, he has realised that services are not always flexible enough to meet his needs. This led to Dean working with a small group of people to develop a flexible, consumer driven night time service called Nightlife and directing his own supports through Direct Payments. Thus enabling him to remain living at home, continue working and contribute to his local community.

Brenda Schurmann describes the vision for her daughter with complex needs as an outrageous one. It was for her to live in the world that we take for granted; full of friends, possibilities and a home of her own. Brenda will describe how this mad hope has become a reality and continues to evolve beyond all expectations and how building informal networks has has enriched Kym’s life.

Martin Elks began his career as a psychologist for the Department of Mental Retardation in Victoria and then went to Syracuse University to do doctoral work in disability studies. Since graduating he has worked as a behavioural specialist and in the areas of self-determination, school inclusion and advocacy. Martin and his wife Darcy have 3 children. They have remained vigilant that their daughter Mary be included in mainstream education experience many valued roles in her community including work​.

Nerida Leighton works for a Place to belong in QLD. A Place to Belong aims to build inclusion for people who experience mental health challenges. By encouraging and developing the capacity of the community to welcome and include others, A Place to Belong facilitates the building of networks and friendship, so that people who have been marginalised can experience inclusion, acceptance, friendship and respect.

Joanne Nunn lives in Mandurah, WA. When her son, Daniel stated school there were no precdents for students with high support needs who wished to attend their neighbourhood school. Daniel was accepted as a student and continued for the next 13 years. He now lives in his own home with 2 mates, is an employee at a univertsity and a volunteer at the libray. A Microboard also assists the kind of life he’d like to have.

John Armstrong has been involved with people and families of people with a disability for over 40 years. He has worked as a trainer and consultant across many settings with individuals, families and agencies throughout Australia and New Zealand affording him a large scope of experience and learning. John has also been a Senior Social Role Valorisation Trainer and has been extensively involved with Citizen Advocacy as an advocate and board member.

June Arthy’s life was turned upside down when she left home at the age of 13. She lived in an institution for over 40 years and then became lost in the abusive private hostel system. With no one in her life and about to be locked away forever, an advocate rescued her and set her up in her own home. June will tell her inspiring story demonstrating how important it is to have a home of her own, good support and be part of the community. By bringing people into her life, June has become well known, loved, and highlights that it is never too late!

Jan Dyke has a broad understanding of the life experiences of people with disability, families and service systems. She has worked for 45 years in many paid roles, as well as being involved personally in a number of people's lives. Jan met June Arthy 28 years ago and reconnected with her when she was moving into a home of her own. Since then they have become close friends. Jan has been supportive of small, personalised services that try to make a real and sustainable difference. She helped to establish Kalpana, the first hosted agency in QLD so that June would have good support​.

Maria Nemec, Adrian and Noah live in Melbourne. Although from a very early age, Noah had a thirst to learn and his parents hoped for a mainstream education, it always seemed like obstacles were put in his way because of Noah’s complex disabilities. After Maria attended a family retreat hosted by Belonging Matters with Darcy Elks and with encouragement from many, Noah left special school and now attends his local primary school.

Jane Raymond’s daughter Emily is the eldest of two children and after leaving school she found few options that would enable her to build a career and find work. After joining with other families who had higher hopes for their sons and daughters than a world of programs, Emily decided to pursue her interest in child care further and completed her Certificate 3 in Children’s Services. She is now an employee and an included member of her work community. Emily is also involved with a local Meet Up Group who enjoy craft together!

Dee Holmes’ lives in Melbourne. Her story was filmed as part of the Twenty Years, Twenty Stories Project which was a celebration of the 20th anniversary of the Disability Discrimination Act. Dee’s film, Can You Believe It, captures her journey to live in her own home with a range of support and become a valued member of her community.


Bronwyn Moloney is the Development Worker for Kalpana The name Kalpana, comes from ancient Sanskrit, meaning imagination, dreams and ideas. This sums up their collective experience in trying to achieve better lives with and for the people with disability in a climate that has thrown up many barriers and challenges. Over the past 30 years Bronwyn has had a range of experiences and has found success in connecting people through using practical, creative and intentional strategies.​


Peter Symonds is the General Manager of Ability Tasmania Group Inc, a not for profit organisation that focuses on assisting people with an Intellectual Disability and Autism Spectrum Disorder find and maintain community based employment. Peter has an interest in valued employment for the people with significant support needs and who are normally streamed to sheltered workshops or day programs.​

Bridget Snedden and leads the Paradigm Initiative, a small agency based in Auckland that was established in 2011 to walk alongside and assist families in creating and sustaining good lives for their family member with a disability. She has also been actively involved in the disability sector for over 20 years in a variety of roles. The mother of three, her eldest son has an intellectual disability and with her husband has encouraged his individual autonomy, self-determination and dreams.


Social Gathering at the Enrik’s Restaurant, 25 Railway Rd Blackburn. Tuesday 13th of August from 6pm – 8pm. This is an ideal opportunity to relax and kindle relationships with fellow travellers and enjoy entertainment provided by Brendan Forde and Corinne Bowen Finger food and refreshments provided. See registraion form for details. For further infomration about Enrik’s visit

Feedback from Previous Conferences

  • “Real, rich and grounded!”
  • “Truly inspiring and emotional!”
  • “Changed my life!”
  • “I liken it to the “BIG BANG!”
  • “Hearing personal stories of how individuals and families have carved out distinctive, valued and      fulfilling lives for themselves – real life stories.”
  • “The range of all key speakers and their honest, modest approach toward their life experiences, work and personal life.” 
  • “Stories of how services have worked to remove barriers to inclusion.”
  • “Helped me see that keeping people with disabilities away from the community does not help anybody!”
  • “That peoples’ commitment, strength of heart, resilience, hope, imagination, dreaming and action continue to inspire me, my work and my life.”
  • “Listening to people with complex needs demonstrate how they have a quality life.”
  • “Lots of thought and reflection about the ‘how to do’.”
  • “Finally a relevant conference for two full days. I was never bored or distracted at any time.”


Stay tuned for more information!​​

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