Meet the Candidates for President

Meet the candidates who are running for the position of President. Photos and bios of the candidates are below. If you have any questions, find out more about the elections and voting process or contact us.

David Abello

Man with glasses and a long white beardWhy would you make a good President?

I am seeking a second term as President of PWDA. I have been the President at a very difficult time, with CEOs who had given their notice, the recruitment of a new CEO, a restructuring of the organisation, and then COVID-19 and the adaptation to that, and then the resignation of a CEO. As well there was conflict along the way in the membership and Board.

I have a strong appreciation of the policies around the Board-CEO linkage and have maintained good and professional working relationships with staff.

I am willing to commit. Sometimes it’s a 20 hour week. Sometimes it’s a 50 hour week or more.

I remain committed to an inclusive and accessible Board and membership involvement.

What skills and experience would you add to the Board?

I have had experience in governance roles in membership organisations over several decades. These have been in disability advocacy, multicultural disability advocacy, queer disability advocacy, disability employment and community housing organisations. These have given me a broad experience of governance and membership-based organisations, as well as changing compliance regimes and different relationships with government.

I have a PhD, I am a social anthropologist. Most recently I was a social policy researcher at UNSW.

I have a lifelong lived experience of mental illness and psychiatric disability.

My activism over the decades has taken me into the intersections of disability, mental health, class, gender, and ethnicity.

What is your area of expertise?

I’m aware of, and understand PWDA’s Constitution and Governance policies. I have a strong commitment to the Code of Conduct. I have a long experience of managing business of Boards and their meetings.
I bring to the role a strong understanding of PWDAs finances, its financial processes and its accounts and financial reports.
I am aware of all PWDAs funded programs and the relationships with funders.
Developing PWDAs capacity to raise its own funds has been a focus in the last year.

Do you have prior experience being a Chair or President of a Board? If yes, what was the impact of your presidency on the organisation?

Over the years I have kept count. This PWDA AGM in November will be my 110th AGM in a governance role. Every Board or Management Committee has been different. Every set of relationships have been different. Individuals have been diverse. Support needs have differed. I bring this experience into my governance roles and activism.

Samantha Connor

Woman with short bright red hair and glasses, wearing a patterend dress. She smiles at the camera with her head tilted. Why would you make a good President?

I have previously held the position of Vice President of People with Disability Australia. Over the past two decades, I have held many Board positions and have been instrumental in making change for disabled people across Australia.

I am fair and impartial when it comes to working with teams of people and have proven leadership and governance skills, as well as a thorough knowledge of the Corporations Act and relevant legislation. I have a very good knowledge of the disability sector and am connected on a daily basis with thousands of disabled people, families and supporters.

I have offline networks and relationships with decision makers, politicians and stakeholders from all parties and am able to work productively with stakeholders on complicated policy issues.

I also have a proven track record in making organisational change, especially at a systemic level. As a former Board member for PWDA, I was instrumental in participating in a number of initiatives that created lasting change for both the organisation and for disabled people. That included the NDIS Citizen’s Jury, ensuring that the organisation had sustainable funding and had good relationships with stakeholders/other peak bodies.

My lived experience of disability includes being a carer for a number of children, being an NDIS participant, and having a number of lifelong disabilities (limb girdle muscular dystrophy, autism and ADHD). As a person who has a public profile, I am fortunate enough to have extensive relationships with journalists and media outlets – I have been a regular panellist on the Drum for some years now and my work as a public spokesperson on disability current affairs is well regarded and considered to be well informed.

I have been asked by a large group of members to run for the position, with the support of a number of past Presidents.

What skills and experience would you add to the Board?

I hold significant experience in a number of areas – for example, I worked as a manager in post secondary education for twelve years in the public service.

I have a good sense of integrity and will always put the rights of disabled people and my responsibilities before my personal interests, as well as acting ethically. I am also unafraid to ask questions, listen to all points of view and ensure fellow Directors have the right to communicate their point of view and be respected and heard. I have good business instincts and acumen as well as the ability to get to the crux of a complicated policy issue quickly, as well as a thorough understanding of current disability issues.

Part of my unpaid advocacy work involves administering a number of social media and face to face peer support groups, which gives me a unique and grassroots perspective of the issues that disabled people face. That includes diagnostic and disability policy (ie, NDIS) groups, with a collective reach of 110,000 members. I believe this gives me significant experience into issues which disabled people face every day.

I have a thorough knowledge of the Corporations Act and strong governance skills – I have completed the ASIC Company Directors course and have other qualifications in leadership and frontline development. I also hold qualifications in disability and aged care. I am a passionate advocate for young people and have volunteered as a youth leader for over 20 years.

I also have significant skills in risk management, grant writing, managing people and achieving change, as well as strategic expertise. I have worked in roles training and facilitating large groups of people, including recent roles for DSS, consulting across Australia on the National Disability Strategy.

What is your area of expertise?

My area of expertise is industry knowledge (disability policy), but I have a strong background in governance, risk management and management. I have significant experience in marketing and graphic design as well as a good understanding of media and communications. I also have strong networks which I can utilise to create change. As an advocate and lobbyist, I was instrumental in using my networks to achieve a Royal Commission for disabled people, as well as leading and joining others in achieving other important policy outcomes.

I also understand competitive funding environments, change management and development of strategic direction. I lecture at two universities, providing perspectives in disability and human rights, activism and discrimination and employment law.

I also have a good understanding of accessibility, including accessible language, and have a strong focus on the inclusion of all disabled voices, especially the most marginalised in our population. I undertook a course via my workplace as an Access Auditor some years ago and have a good working knowledge of physical and information access standards. I do not come from a privileged background and this makes me fortunate in that my networks include poverty, homelessness, Aboriginal and justice networks.

I have included some links to media about some of my past achievements as a violence prevention activist, a disability advocate and a strong voice for disabled Australians.

Do you have prior experience being a Chair or President of a Board? If yes, what was the impact of your presidency on the organisation?

I have had experience as a Board member and have held many Executive positions, but if I am elected, this will be my first President position. My previous positions include Vice President of the Board of People with Disability Australia, Board member of Physical Disability Australia, People with Disabilities WA, and current board member of the Autistic Self Advocacy Network. I have also held board roles that include leadership positions in the Ministerial Advisory Council on Disability in WA, youth movements (Director of Marketing, Scouts WA, Editor AJ2010/13) and editor of a newspaper.

I am the current Secretary of PWDA and hold a position on the Executive.

My leadership experience had impact on the organisations I was involved in in a number of positive ways, including achieving major organisational reforms, external policy reforms and change management.

I am fortunate to have the backing of two PWDA past Presidents and a significant number of members, who have compiled a statement of values which I have been asked to endorse, promote and amplify.

A number of candidates have also committed to supporting the Statement of Values, which include;

  • Inclusiveness
  • Participation
  • Quality
  • Fairness; and
  • Openness

You can read the full Statement of Values at as well as a short profile about each of the candidates who have committed to these principles.

If elected, I promise to put the rights of disabled people at the front and centre of everything I do, be an engaged and committed President and work constructively and harmoniously with the Board, staff, members and external stakeholders.