Jacob Baldwin: gifted with ability
RENOWNED disability advocate Jacob Baldwin, 59, died in his Goonellabah home on Wednesday after a shortbattle with cancer.
In Jacob’s own words he was ‘gifted’ with cerebral palsy from birth, going on to live in the service of others.
Jacob was born in China during the revolution and was disabled at birth following a five-day labour in a military hospital during which a motor nerve was severed.
His family fled to Australia two years later to avoid persecution. His father abandoned him when he was four and he was raised by hisUkrainian mother, Veronica, and his grandparents.
He finished school and immediately became involved in advocacy as a foundation member of the Consumer Information Centre for the Disabled and a board member of the NSW Advisory Council for the Handicapped. While still a teenager he worked as a government advisor during the International Year of the Disabled .
He was accepted into the University of Sydney and was the first person with a classified disability in Australia to graduate with a diploma of rehabilitation counselling.
He was the first disabled person to live at Cumberland College. His classmates carried him up and down stairs to lectures.
He also studied arts at Macquarie University and journalism at a private college.
He was married for 13 years but after it ended he moved to the Northern Rivers in the early 1990s after falling in love with the region.
Disability was a word he never liked and he highlighted this on his four-year Ability Wheelchair Trek around Australia in 1992 raisingmoney for charity.
He was farewelled from Sydney Town Hall by the then mayor Frank Sartor, travelling about 80km a day in the wheelchair and dedicating the journey to demonstrating it was ability that counted, not disability.
Long time friend, Page MP Janelle Saffin, remembers the day she met the ‘very determined and very handsome young man with a shock of long dark hair’.
“His intellect was formidable and he put it to use forpeople with disabilities his whole life, a life too short. He still wanted to achieve so much more,” she said.
“Jacob’s legacy of public achievement is one of individualised service: A comprehensive insurance scheme currently before the Productivity Commission; access to buildings and all areas of life through proper building codes; and the right sort of care in the health system,” she said
“Jacob didn’t just rail against injustice, he got out and changed things.
“He had a dream for Australia to establish a mus-eum that reflected our history of ability/disability and I promised Jacob that these would continue and be completed.”
In 2000 he received an Australian Achiever Award. He is survived by his mother and stepfather of 42 years, Kevin Baldwin. Jacob’s funeral will be held at the Lismore Crematorium in Goonellabah at 11am on Tuesday.
SOME OF JACOB’S ACHIEVEMENTS
First to graduate as a rehabilitation counsellor with a classified disability in Australia.
First person with a classified disability to work in the field of community welfare in NSW.
Established first government funded consumer information resources centre for disability in Australia.
Foundation member of the NSW.Disability Council.
Major starring role in ABC Television Logie winning documentary series A Matter Of Chance.
First person classified as disabled to gain senior position in NSW Government.
Instigated Byron Bay Access Committee.
First person ever to drive around Australia in a powered wheelchair – it took him 4 years.
Co-founded Artreach, NSW disability arts organisation.
First to promote ability on a national scale in Australia.