Our Board

David Abello – President

David Abello was born in Sydney’s inner-west and lives in Camperdown. He has a Bachelor of Arts in Social Sciences (Honours) (1999) and was awarded a Doctor of Philosophy by the University of Technology, Sydney in 2017.

Before his doctoral studies, he worked at the Social Policy Research Centre, University of New South Wales (1999 to 2011). His research related to: socio-economic disadvantage; community and family strength; the social security system; and unemployment, employment services and disability employment services. He made a significant contribution to methods for evaluating innovative mental health services and integrated mental health, accommodation and disability support initiatives.

David’s previous career was in the Commonwealth Department of Employment, Education and Training (1984 to 1995). He was an Employment Counsellor providing a visiting service to Commonwealth Employment Service offices in Western Sydney, the best job he says he ever had. He moved into a state disability co-ordination role in 1990, which involved support of specialist staff and disability employment strategies and liaison with the disability sector.

David has a lived experience of lifelong mental illness and physical impairments. Over the last eight years he has cared for someone with dementia. He has been a member of PWD and an active member of the disability movement for over thirty years. He has been involved in protest and direct action and giving governance and leadership to membership-based organisations. Some of them are:

  • Active Job Services, in Western Sydney, 1985 to 2006
  • the NSW Multicultural Disability Advocacy Association, 1997 to 2011
  • Access Plus Spanning Identities, 1998 to 2010
  • PWD NSW, 2001 to 2002, and
  • Metro Housing Co-op, in Newtown, since 2008.

David has also been involved in the mental health and MAD PRIDE movements where he is noted for his stand-up comedy. In earlier decades he had a role in introducing the concept of ‘psychiatric disability’ – the social and historical processes and structures that disable those with a lived experience of mental illness. With others he developed new types of training and employment services that placed and supported people in open employment. As an activist, David contributed to the diversity of the cross-disability movement.

He has been active in lesbian and gay movements since the early 1970s. He is a 78er, involved in the first Mardi Gras in 1978 and was recently made a Life Member of Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras. Along with Access Plus Spanning Identities members, he has been a queer activist in the disability movement and a disability activist within gay, lesbian and transgender communities.

David is concerned that over several decades we have participated in waves of reform that have left us, each time, with less. The political obsession with privatisation and market forces has turned disability and aged care services into poorly regulated and complex market places where the interests of service users are easily lost. We live in times, where government lacks stability and policy is based more on politics than on evidence. It is a critical time for the disability advocacy sector.

Samantha Connor – Board Director   

A smiling woman with red hair and glassesSamantha Connor (pronouns she/her) is a disabled woman living on Ballardong country in Western Australia. She has a strong track record as a disability and human rights advocate. Her past history includes former Vice President of PWDA, member of the Ministerial Advisory Council on Disability in WA and board member of Physical Disability Australia. Samantha is a current board member of Autism Self Advocacy Network AUNZ – she is autistic, has ADHD and muscular dystrophy and uses a wheelchair for mobility.

Samantha is a campaigner and has been actively involved in many campaigns, including the successful campaign for a disability Royal Commission. She has also been heavily involved in actively working for a better NDIS – as a founder and administrator of the online group NDIS Grassroots Discussion, she supports 48,500 people with disability and their families to navigate a scheme that is not working well.

Part of Samantha’s commitment as a leader in the disability sector is to mentor younger disabled people to assist them to find and develop their voice – she is a youth group leader and has mentored many younger people, including those who hold roles in prominent positions in government and business. Samantha works only in roles that will benefit disabled people and currently lectures part time at two universities in human rights, activism and disability discrimination in Human Resources.

She believes that disabled people have the right to be unapologetic in taking up space in the world and in the disability rights mantra ‘Nothing About Us Without Us’. You can talk to her at @criprights on Twitter. 

Kelly Cox – Board Director   

A woman wearing glasses and a multicoloured scarf sitting in a gardenKelly lives in the Northern Rivers of NSW with her husband and son as well as her dog, Bear and her cat, Felix.

Kelly works with other disabled people to affect change around disability and human rights issues. That has included better provision of service within the NDIS, lobbying for a Royal Commission and a wide range of other local, national and international issues. As a disabled woman Kelly has first-hand understanding and lived experience of issues affecting disabled people. She has been actively involved in representing the rights of disabled women in disability rights spaces and is a contributing member of the disability rights movement in Australia.

Kelly spent many years working for an Aboriginal Land Council and has a developed understanding of the barriers disabled Aboriginal people encounter while trying to access services and supports. She is passionate about working to uphold the rights of all disabled people to ensure they are able to live the life they want and holds specific interest in violence prevention and intersectional issues and the way these further marginalise and disadvantage people with disability.

Most recently Kelly travelled to Geneva as part of the Civil Society delegation for the periodic review of the Convention of the Rights of Persons with Disability. During this time she worked with other representatives to raise key issues affecting the disability community in Australia.

Kelly believes that we should make sure all disabled people have a voice, including people who come from exceptionally marginalised backgrounds.

Joana d’Orey Novo – Board Director   

Joana d’Orey Novo has been a member of PWDA since 2001. She is vision impaired and a cane user who was born in Angola and migrated to Australia at the age of 11.

Joana worked as an individual advocate at PWDA from 2001 to 2005 and has been employed at the Australian Human Rights Commission since then.

She feels very passionate about a wide range of issues affecting people with disability in Australia. These include:

  • Appropriate and dignified income support and accommodation for all people with disability
  • Regulation and guidance on assistance animals to ensure people with disability have access to the benefits of having an assistance animal without being excluded from the community
  • Full inclusion of people with disability in the community, including education, employment, transport and access to information and entertainment/media
  • Promoting networks of people with disability that provide peer support and mentoring and increase people’s capacity to participate in the community and advocate for their own rights