Liz Telford OAM

Liz Telford, PPV’s inaugural president, was awarded an OAM in the 2020 Queens Birthday Honours list for services to people with polio and the community. PPV is delighted that Liz’ years of contribution and service have been recognised in this way. We interviewed her on the occassion of her award.

Liz, what got you involved with advocacy about polio?

It was a way for me learn about the condition, the services and issues while also contributing. When I developed symptoms in my late forties, it took at least 6 years for any health professional to recognise that my health issues were related to my polio history and that was only after I had contacted Maryann Liethof who was the Polio Information Officer (employed by Independence Australia formerly ParaQuad) and sought out information. A way for me to deal with the changes that were going on for me was to get involved so I joined the Polio Advisory Commit-tee, Maryann’s reference group.

You also went to a Retreat at Warm Springs?

At around the same time, I was lucky enough to attend a Polio Retreat and International Polio Conference at Warm Springs, Georgia, USA, along with Maryann, Shirley Glance (current President of PPV) and Fran Henke. John and Pam Tierney were also there. This retreat formed the model for the highly successful Polio Australia retreats that followed. We had a great time and some strong friendships developed. I learned a great deal from the presentations but it was being with so many other polio survivors from around the world that was the really powerful experience for me. I was inspired to continue to work for better services, information and more inclusivity.

Post Polio Victoria was formed as an advocacy group. Why?

We were very aware of the reduction of the polio health services funding in the 1990s with the move from Fairfield Hospital and we tried to prevent the loss of the information service, then auspiced by Independence Australia, which was changing its direction. After this (lost) battle, five of us, Jill Pickering, Martin Grillo, Geoff Dean, Ron Bell and I saw a need for an advocacy group as we knew that polio health had specific issues. I was Interim Chairperson then inaugural President and over the next few years we were involved in education and advocacy projects at a state and national level that showed that there was a place for a group like PPV.

Many people with polio were socialised into being compliant patients, as doctors and physiotherapists expected us, and even at times ordered us and our parents to accept the treatments without question. So PPV may have been a challenge to that thinking for some.

What influences your approach to advocacy and leadership?

My belief has always been that everyone should be able to participate equally in all aspects of life, without discrimination. I was raised this way and also trained as a social worker. There is a strong disability advocacy history in Australia which I have also learned from, and this has been my aim with PPV. Good organisational processes are important as I believe that this enables everyone to have a voice, not just the most confident.

Your award also was for work outside of polio advocacy. What was that?

This was in the areas of relationship and family counselling and community work. I was a social worker and therapist and served for a number of years as President, Secretary and Committee member of the Victorian Branch of the Australian Association of Relationship Counsellors. AARC served to develop and maintain high standards of practice and accountability in the profession.

Finally, Liz what does the OAM mean to you?

I am very honoured to receive it and I thank my nominator and referees. I also thank my husband Ron who has joined PPV, contributing in many ways and supporting our work. I think this award is a recognition of the important work that is being done by all of us in PPV and other polio organisations.