PPV members nominated for Human Rights Commissioner’s Best Achievement in Human Rights

PPV members Dr Margaret Cooper and Frances Henke have been nominated for the Australian Human Rights Commissioner’s Best Achievement in Human Rights.

Dr Margaret Cooper

Nominated by Frances Henke

For over fifty years, Margaret Maxine Cooper has played a leading role in advocating on behalf of people with disability. Recently, she set up Post Polio Victoria, providing research to and communication with the government to get the needs of polio survivors recognised. She is also an active member of the South Eastern Polio Support Group, supports migrant polio survivors, and has taken an upfront part in the launch of the State Government’s vaccination program to ensure others do not suffer as she has.

Margaret began her journey into advocacy at age 10 by getting a good education, despite the obstacles that confronted children with disabilities at the time. She fought hard against authorities who planned to turn her school (Yooralla) into a primary only institution, and undertook tertiary training as a Social Worker at the University of Melbourne.

Watching the mistreatment of other patients gave Margaret the courage to speak out and change things. She began moving in activist circles in the 1970s, participating in planning the International Year of the Disabled Person (IYDP), an event that made a huge difference to the lives of people with disabilities. Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, Margaret was identified as someone who could lead and be a strong role model. Margaret took on the role of Vice-President (Policy) with Disabled People’s International (DPI Australia).

Her experience as a social worker seeing domestic violence, and experience of gender equality, led to some interesting discoveries about the needs of women with disabilities, especially statistics showing that, while all people with disability suffered disadvantage, women wiht disabilities were particularly disadvantaged.

She attended the DPI Asia Pacific regional Assembly in 1984 and DPI World Assembly in 1985. Margaret was one of large group of women who refused to participate in the conference unless their issues were discussed at length. Her leadership placed women’s issues firmly on DPI Australia’s agenda.

Margaret was then involved in the early committees which led to the establishment of Women with Disabilities Victoria and Women with Disabilities Australia.

Frances Henke

Nomination endorsed by Mr. Peter Batey OAM and Mr. Michael Hast.

Fran has been a leader in polio groups for over 25 years as well as a celebrated writer and journalist. Confined to bed for many years, Fran developed a love of writing, and even before she left school she was looking after the school magazine, setting the groundwork for a 50 year career in journalism. A move to The Australian as theatre critic was accompanied by appointment to the Commonwealth Film Censorship Board where she served out her term before returning full-time to newspapers.

At this stage her medical problems started to increase and she discovered that the polio virus which had remained dormant for 45 years was again active. Research revealed that this phenomenon was worldwide but little recognised so she started to writhe about “post polio syndrome” as the condition has become known, the first piece appearing in The Independent Monthly. A flood of response showed that many others were suffering the same symptoms with little information available and little recognition by the medical profession. Gathering material from around the world she continued writing about the subject and over a period of 25 years she has become one of the leading communicators in the field.

In 2012, she compiled Iron Wills: Victorian Polio Survivors Stories, commended by the Royal Historical Society as a community history, then Polio Day Cookbook: fine food for the fatigued to help provide nutritional information for those too tired to cook properly. She has now written 20 books with two more on the way.

At 60 years of age she went back to college and completed a Diploma in Visual Arts with High Distinctions in nearly every subject. Her sculptures, paintings, and photographs and widely recognised and applauded.