Meet the Mowbrays: The human face of the NDIS

Canberra's Mowbray family, from left, Emmalee, Paul, Luke, Noah, 18 months, Glenn, Trish, and Peter. Photo: Jamila Toderas for The Canberra Times

Canberra’s Mowbray family, from left, Emmalee, Paul, Luke, Noah, 18 months, Glenn, Trish, and Peter. Photo: Jamila Toderas for The Canberra Times

This article was published in The Canberra Times newspaper on 23 June 2014

Written by Reporter Natasha Boddy

Laughter and chatter echoes through the Mowbray family home upon entering the front door. These are the noises of a happy family. And this a family where having a voice is clearly cherished.

For Trish and Glenn Mowbray, communication with their four children is an important part of the secret to their happy family – where everyone gets a say in how they want to live their life. “The whole point of our family is that every person, as an individual, gets to grow. That includes me as the primary carer, that includes Glenn but also our four children and grandson in reaching their full potential,” Trish Mowbray says.

“All our boys work, they all have their own super fund and they all have their own private insurance.”

As the parents of children with special needs, Mr and Mrs Mowbray know just how important it is for people with disability have a say in their own lives.

After discovering they could not have children, the couple decided to offer their love and home to a child with a disability. First came Luke, who has Down syndrome, autism, severe hearing loss and a wicked sense of humour, followed by the family’s social director Peter, who also has Down syndrome and despite having open heart surgery as a baby, is now very active.

Then came Emmalee who had medical issues as a child and is now a proud mum to 18-month-old Noah and to complete the brood, Paul, who too has Down syndrome and also had open heart surgery as a baby and is a Wiggles fan.

Mr and Mrs Mowbray say their children have taught them more than they could have ever imagined.

“After a while, you don’t see the disability and all five of them, including (grandson) Noah, have a wicked sense of humour. We do a lot of laughing,” Mrs Mowbray said.

The couple, who have been married for 31 years, have worked hard to ensure their children live fulfilling lives and this is something they believe the National Disability Insurance Scheme has the potential to give thousands of other Canberrans living with disability.

The family is just one of nearly 5000 families in the ACT that will participate in the NDIS, which will be trialled in the ACT from next month.

“It gives people with disability control over what things they can do, what’s going to fulfil their lives the most and how they want to interact and contribute to society whereas the old way was you’re given an agency, the agency got the money and they determined what programs they could put in place and you just had to fit in with them,” Mr Mowbray said.

“The NDIS turns it on its head and says every individual is entitled to decide how they want to spend their time.”

HIs wife is also excited by the potential of the scheme.

“The NDIS has the potential to liberate people with disability and it has the potential to let them dream big,” she said.

Mrs Mowbray, who is her sons’ primary carer, said having support in the home was vital as it not only helped her sons improve their skills towards independence, but also gave her the ability to work.

Along with raising her children, Mrs Mowbray – who is the 2014 ACT Local Hero and was awarded an Order of Australia medal in last year’s Queen’s Birthday Honours List – has worked as a volunteer in community organisations, and more recently as a disability projects officer.

Although Mr and Mrs Mowbray have been planning for their children to remain in the family home with the support they need to be able to live as independently as possible, they hope the NDIS will encourage others to plan for the future too.

“One of the biggest fears and a growing fear we’ve had in Australia over the past decade is having ageing parents with a child with a disability and not knowing what to do,” Mr Mowbray said.

“The NDIS creates a sustainability I think. Now is the time to plan for the future.”

Carers ACT commercial services manager Jean Giese said the NDIS was about giving people with disability choice and control of their lives. She said the ACT trial meant that as it progressed, the scheme could be amended to better reflect the needs of people it was supporting.

“It’s about empowering people to be able to select supports that will enable them to be better connected in the community and that’s something a lot of people haven’t had before, particularly in the ACT,” she said.

“This enables people living in the community with disability or mental health to be able to say ‘this is what I want for my life’ and to be able design supports that will enable them to live a better life.”

Eligible people will be able to begin accessing the NDIS from next month according to a timetable agreed upon by the National Disabiltiy Insurance Agency and the ACT government.

The NDIA’s Canberra offices on Northbourne Avenue in Braddon and at Nature Conservation House at Emu Bank, Belconnen will open from July 1.

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