Tributes for Margaret Cooper OAM

Post Polio Victoria committee member and long-time disability rights activist Margaret Cooper passed away on the 27th of October 2018.

Margaret Cooper OAM

Margaret was both an activist and a scholar. We have compiled some works by Margaret on the Disability Rights Movement, polio and ageing along with articles about Margaret’s life and work. Plans are also being made to include Margaret’s archives and documentation of the disability rights movement in the University of Melbourne’s Geoff Bell archive.

Below we share tributes for Margaret from her friends and colleagues in the disability rights and feminist movements.

Geoff Dean, spoken at PPV’s AGM

Geoff Dean

I accompanied Margaret on one of her “pollie stirring” raids. As we left MP Russell Broadbent’s office I enquired if there was a cafe handy to get a coffee and sandwich.

At the doorway to the cafe was 150mm step, this was a barrier to Margaret’s wheel chair. We asked if we could have a table outside, but no, their food handling license didn’t allow anything so sensible. We had to make do with balancing our coffee cups on our laps. This was very difficult for Margaret who needed a longer straw. The waitress obligingly joined two small straws together to make one long straw but the creamer failed to flow up the now long straw. All this while we sat out on the footpath like lepers.

The politicians secretary who had directed us to the cafe happened to walk past. I pointed out the situation. He was very embarrassed and apologised. He had not given it a thought. People just don’t think. Architects, shop owners, local government, politicians just don’t think.

These embarrassing, frustrating situations would have happened to Margaret on an hourly basis and yet she just pressed on. Despite these regular frustrations she achieved an amazing amount of work for people with disabilities and in particular with polio. Her research and advocacy has benefited us all and will remain a wonderful legacy.

I think of Margaret on a regular basis, without her knowing, and will continue to. When ever I am particularly tired or I trip and fall heavily over some small thing or I am confronted with a flight of stairs, I think of how much Margaret achieved with her limited mobility and how she would have liked to be as able as me.

By coincidence I read this horoscope for the star sign Scorpio by Kelly Fox.

Forgive those who judge you because of your image, your appearance, your social status or anything else. They will learn. Be proud of your identity this week. Remember you are someone’s role model.

Peter Willcocks, Bayside Polio Group

Peter Willcocks, Bayside Polio Group

The Bayside Polio Group, a wide range of other groups and the thousands she has cheered though life have much to thank Margaret for. It is likely that Margaret will be mostly remembered for her systemic advocacy for a more inclusive and caring world.

We first chatted after a ParaQuad meeting.  I was dwelling upon the meaning of the meeting just past.

‘What’s your story?’ I felt Margaret’s zest for life and change. That was the way most of us met Margaret. In as few words a possible I bio’ed the good bits of my history and encapsulated my path of the late effects of polio. Her warmth and smile exuded a welcoming that is still with me to this day.

‘I feel for you.  You thought your polio was all over, all done and now you are going to face it all again. I was so lucky, polio has been with me all my life.’

Yet, when we think of Margaret, we do not think of polio or of disability; we think of those one on one quips that left us wiser and feeling good.

Years ago, Margaret was organising a cruise with her father. I asked her why she needed three carers.

She smiled knowingly.

‘One is going to fall in love and become heart broken.
Another is going to go out in sympathy and get drunk.
I am hoping that at least one will be sober enough to help get me to bed.’

Farewell Margaret and thank you.

Women with Disabilities Australia

Margaret was a founding member and first elected president of Women With Disabilities Australia (WWDA).  WWDA’s obituary for Margaret can be read here, they will also be organising a public memorial for Margaret early in 2019, we will update our events page with details as they are available.

Tricia Malowney OAM, DLI, MAICD

Tricia is the immediate past President of the Victorian Disability Services Board, is Deputy Chair of the Victorian Disability Advisory Council and chair of Women With Disabilities Victoria.

As a disability activist/advocate, I have benefitted greatly from the work of Dr Margaret Cooper.  Margaret understood so well the compounding nature of disadvantage and was able to articulate how the intersectionality of gender and disability can affect the lives and opportunities of a significant segment of the community. Her insistence that the voices of women with disabilities are heard and that the gender specific issues, such as our right to live free from violence and maintain our ownership of our reproductive rights are on the agenda, has changed the power dynamics.  I wish to acknowledge that her work informs my work, and I thank her for paving the way, so that I can continue to work effectively.

Professor Keith McVilly

Professor Keith R. McVilly PhD is a Registered Clinical Psychologist and the Foundation Professorial Fellow for Disability & Inclusion at the University of Melbourne

I was greatly saddened to hear the news of Margaret Cooper’s death, which came at at time when Margaret was working with us to develop a research collaboration to address the needs of those who have had polio. Margaret was a much respected advocate in our disability community, and was a great repository of history and wisdom. Her death will impact many.

Professor Rhonda Galbally AO

Professor Rhonda Galbally is a member of the Independent Advisory Council to the NDIS

Margaret Cooper was one of the great pioneers of disability rights. She worked tirelessly  for access and inclusion. Margaret was an inspiration to me and to many others and she will be greatly missed.