DISABILITY advocate and author Junee Waites has been awarded a Medal of the Order of Australia in the Queen’s Birthday Honours List.
Ms Waites, of Millingandi, has been recognised for her tireless advocacy for people with autism and their families for almost 40 years.
After her son Dane was diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) she started a journey not only to make a better life for her own child, but along the way has improved the lives of countless others like Dane and their families.
Ms Waites, or Ms Waites OAM as she will now be known, said she was shocked and humbled by the award.
“It’s totally and completely unexpected!” she said.
“Over time this just became my way of living, to fight to create a better life for my son and for others and to create an inclusive world for them.
“This award isn’t about me or for me.
“It’s all the parents, teachers and professionals who work to give these children and adults a better life,” Ms Waites said.
After the initial shock of her son’s diagnosis, Ms Waites and her husband Rod became determined help him achieve his potential and ignored advice from medical authorities who told them to institutionalise Dane.
They pursued schooling, therapy and support programs in Melbourne, encouraging and supporting other parents that met along the way.
In 1992, the family moved to Bega so Dane could become involved with the local arm of The Disability Trust, Workability.
Ms Waites was the chairwoman of Workability from 1992 to 2006 when she retired from that position to become the organisation’s inaugural patron.
In 2001, she published Smiling at Shadows, which detailed the journey of her family since Dane’s birth.
In 2013, she was a Living Life My Way Ambassador, raising community awareness about person-centred disability reform in NSW.
As Dane grew she also championed the transition of disabled youth from high school to work and independent living.
Last month, Ms Waites proudly stood by Dane as he and his three new housemates helped Member for Bega Andrew Constance cut the ribbon on Red House in Tura Beach.
Red House has been a project driven by four sets of local parents, including Ms Waites, concerned about the future of their children.
Each resident has their own private area with access to the shared communal space in this purpose-built house.
“The opening was a happy day for these four young people,” she said.
“The transition to living independently at Red House for Dane has been slow, but he’s getting there.
“The house sets a benchmark for things to come, and Red House should be the norm for people with a disability, not just a show piece.”
Ms Waites said it will be a special week of celebrations as not only has she received an OAM, but Dane turns 40 on Tuesday.
“I think it calls for some good oysters!” she said.
“I have been sworn to secrecy about the award until the official announcement, so it will lovely to tell Dane so close to his birthday and I’m sure he will be thrilled.
“I hope my award is something that inspires and encourages parents.
“Sometimes parents of children with a disability say to me, I couldn’t do what you do.
“But they are doing it, every day, just differently.”
Ms Waites will officially receive her Order of Australia insignia at a ceremony with Governor General Sir Peter Cosgrove later in the year.