Taking to the big screens for disability advocacy

Cindy Warren, director of Umbrella Support and alongside her team underwent extensive media training in preparation for the new project. (Supplied)

By Ethan Benedicto

The goal has always been integration, advocacy and most of all a helping hand, for people with disabilities with Umbrella Support, and the same notion stands with their new Hellow Media program set to begin on Thursday 18 July.

A team of the support group’s participants will take to the streets of Berwick and surrounds with the goal of interviewing local organisations and community groups, much akin to reporters’ news packages for the daily night-time news.

Most importantly however, according to the group’s director, Cindy Warren, Hellow Media is all about working on their participants’ “skill building and confidence, all while having fun”, and that is “the core”, not just of the program, but Umbrella Support as a whole.

“All 12 of our participants are person[s] living with a disability and they are going to be the ones that are going to shine in this news program.

“It’s important for anyone that lived with a disability, to, one, be treated equally and two, to be allowed to participate in an inclusive environment,” Ms Warren said.

The 12 participants, with the aid of support workers, will be piecing together an entire news program which will be uploaded to the group’s upcoming YouTube channel at a dedicated schedule, complete with video cameras, lights, backdrops and so on.

Modelled after a traditional newsroom, the group will also have their own studio complete with more cameras and a teleprompter, following the process of script-writing, allocating video packages, interviews and more.

“The idea came from my love of presenting and thinking to myself, these guys would be absolutely amazing doing this,” Ms Warren said.

“I know that they’re going to do so well and to watch them build those skills and confidence is going to be amazing.”

Ms Warren has been working on disability services for over 19 years, and prior to starting Umbrella Support, was managing a team in the NDIS employment skills and preparation space.

For her, Umbrella emphasises acknowledging the different paces of progress, with a tailored approach focusing on encouragement and celebrating wins no matter how small.

However, the first time for everything will always cause nervousness; nevertheless, Ms Warren is confident in the participants’ abilities, saying that “they just need someone with them that understands their disability”.

“[Someone] that’s able to read the room and just say, ‘okay maybe we need to try this method instead’.

The step of being uneasy and unfamiliar is a critical one, that “just being uncomfortable is a tick of a goal”.

“Just to maybe leave the classroom and then head out on a location can be that someone meeting their goal.

“Gradually what happens is the excitement builds within the group and someone that’s less confident might [initially] say ‘someone else go interview someone’, but then think ‘okay maybe I might just go along next time’,” she said.

The program, while “different”, retains the organisation’s overall initiative of promoting advocacy and integration of people with disabilities in society, this time through the delivery of community news.

The program aims to focus on local initiatives, with plans to reach out to groups such as the Berwick Neighbourhood Centre, the Cranbourne Food Truck and other similar groups in the near future.

At the same time, there are plans to feature the participants themselves with what Ms Warren termed as their side hustles, from baking cookies to making hair products; light feature stories that allow them to ease into the process and once more, be confident with the camera and ultimately with themselves.

“I’m so excited about this, not only for Umbrella Support but more so for the participants who don’t realise yet how many skills they’re going to gain from this programme,” Ms Warren said.

Of course, it’s also about building stronger relationships with the support workers, “encouraging them to let them know that they’re in a safe environment with us”.

The team received up-to-date training from affiliated Channel 9 presenters, with Ms Warren herself undergoing media training from seasoned TV personality Shelly Horton to prepare for the project.

“It’s that feeling of excitement and accomplishment when they have actually done it that brings us so much joy because we watch them step up, and up and up.”

Currently, Umbrella Support runs a radio show every Thursday called Disability Matters, where they speak on the participants’ challenges, overcoming them and what it’s like living with a disability; moving forward, they hope to share similar messages through this new endeavour.