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Ade Djajamihardja – Disability Media Australia’s ‘Most Committed Board Member’

Ade Djajamihardja’s expansive broadcast media career began in 1987. Paved from humble beginnings working as a floor manager at ABC TV news, Ade went on to become assistant director on projects such as Countdown Revolution and had an instrumental hand in piloting SBC Singapore’s first ever English language comedy series.
From directing to producing, managing, and eventually teaching, Ade’s career has unfolded over a vast and colourful path across the globe. In 2006, Ade met Kate Stephens, his wife and co-founder of their labour of love, media production company A2K Media.

In 2011 Ade joined the voluntary board of DMA (Disability Media Australia).  As life’s strange twists would have it, just three days later he experienced a near fatal stroke, explaining that “The CEO of DMA always liked to joke that I was their most committed board member, having acquired a disability soon after joining.”

His massive brain hemorrhage stroke in 2011 required urgent and immediate life-saving brain surgery under an induced coma – from which he was not expected to survive.

After surgery, Ade spent almost seven months in hospital learning to breathe and eat independently and eventually sit upright.

“I had lost my ability to read and write and could barely move.  With limited vision, I have learnt to read again and I’m now learning to walk independently, and hopefully one day dance again!”

The ‘disability chapter’ of his life, as Ade calls it, acted as a memory trigger to other experiences of adversity. He attended school throughout the 70’s and 80’s, more often than not the only Asian in the classroom. Throughout the earlier stages of his career, because of age and ethnicity, he shares that he “often had to work twice as hard to be taken seriously. I feel as if I have been breaking barriers and pioneering new territory all my life.”

The greatest obstacle that Ade found he had to overcome in his attempts to re-enter the screen industry came in the form of physical access and lack of understanding of the rest-work balance and time requirements of someone with a disability. But that’s not where it ends, as he explains, “every person with a disability may have different requirements that need to be considered on a case-by-case basis. This is where education plays a key part in facilitating inclusion in the screen industry, and I am excited to be part of making this happen with The Disability Justice Lens.”

A2K Media’s online and accessible ‘Disability Justice Lens’ is disability equity and inclusion training is led by disabled screen professionals and aims to promote positive attitudes and actions in the local and international screen industry, both on screen and off, something that Ade has incorporated into his life’s mission.

According to the most recent census, 19% of Australians identify themselves as living with a disability – which in effect, is 1 in 5 of us. Since it is likely that we all know at least someone living with a disability, it stands to reason that they represent a significant part of the community and should be represented on screen accordingly.

But conversation about access and inclusion in the arts shouldn’t just be limited to the world of film and television. In 2021, A2K launched their accessible comedy show The Wheelhouse as part of Melbourne International Comedy Festival and was one of the most broadly accessible comedy shows at the festival that year, making a truly accessible experience for viewers, both physically and online.

It was the only show that was part of their curated online festival which also had Audio Description and Auslan interpretation, Ade explained that “it was important to us that we also offered a digital alternative, as well as the in-person live event, so that anyone that found attending a performance not accessible, could still enjoy the show online.” The show was also a Disability- led production with a fabulous inclusive cast of both Disabled and non-Disabled performers.

Ade has strong convictions and values for the way in which he engages with his work, shining through as he shares with us his ethos; “I am someone who boldly waves the flag for disability advocacy, pride, leadership and empowerment, and a proud board director of Diversity Arts Australia.

I think it is incredibly important for our society, businesses and organisations to collectively invest the appropriate amount of time and effort into discovering best practice that improves accessibility and inclusion for everyone. This amount of work may not be fun or sexy, but it remains vitally important.

In essence, it’s about taking as much of a holistic approach as possible that factors in the rich and broad tapestry of diversity that collectively makes up our society. I believe that with respect to my background as an Asian Australian from a Muslim family, and now as a stroke survivor living with a disability, that I can contribute a unique and rich perspective of both ‘inclusive diversity’ as well as ‘triumph over adversity’.”

Ade hopes that this view is shared amongst his community and believes that communication and collaboration are key fundamentals that will allow him to continue to contribute to the creation of quality and engaging Australian screen content, and in doing so, serving his core values.

Ade and his wife Kate continue to work on the Disability Justice Lens project, and their passion to contribute to better representation and understanding of real disabilities in the screen industry is the igniting force that will create real, impactful, and meaningful change.

In Ade’s humble opinion, “you must first set a proactive vision that sets a clear intention of wanting to be the change you want to see in the world, as after all we aren’t human doings, we are human beings. A bloke named Einstein agreed when he said, “setting an example is not the main means of influencing others, it is the only means”.

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