At 39, Andrew Grant found himself at a crossroad of sorts. A “pre-mid-life crisis”, as he terms it. After a neuromuscular condition left him confined to a wheelchair, he was no longer able to enjoy his active lifestyle and career in construction and hospitality.
“Being in a wheelchair and looking to take a new direction in life, I decided that I could choose to do anything I wanted,” he said. “I had an opportunity for a new beginning and a fresh start.”
Throughout his life Andrew had always been drawn to art and creativity.
“Give me a set of pastels and a subject and I was fulfilled.”
But coming from an agricultural and manufacturing family, painting was something reserved for the weekend. It was not a viable career path.
A few years ago Andrew decided to follow his dream.
“I began to look into various art schools in Sydney but found that many didn’t suit my needs and others just had way too many stairs to negotiate with a wheelchair,” Mr Grant said.
After an extensive search, Mr Grant found the St George Art School through which he attained a Diploma of Fine Art. This term he begins studying at the prestigious College of Fine Arts at UNSW, accelerated straight into second year.
Sydney Institute of TAFE provides a number of services for those with special needs, including mobility access, exam assistance and modified learning materials. It has stressed that none of its provisions are under threat from a state government reform program which will crack down on the funding eligibility of courses and put the public system into tighter competition from private operators.
But some others, including Greens MP Jamie Parker, are concerned that budget cuts and efficiency measures may have a broader impact on the VET system and its amenities. Mr Parker said TAFE provides essential services for people with disabilities.
“We all want to live in a caring community that provides access for everyone, not just those who can pay or those who are suited to formal university education,” he said.
“Both Labor and Liberal governments have gutted TAFE, and we are seeing institutes across the state shedding staff, closing courses, reducing face-to-face teaching hours and support services and increasing student fees. These cuts will hit disadvantaged students and those with disabilities the hardest.”
For Mr Grant, going to TAFE revealed an atmosphere which he describes as “unlike anything I have ever experienced before”.
“It was a hub for creatives, an environment where we were all united by a love for art,” Mr Grant said.
“Socially we came together as a group from a variety of different backgrounds and cultures to form bonds that have continued to strengthen.”
Michael Koziol contributed reporting