For service to people with disabilities as an advocate for improved services and through the publication of Link Magazine
Citation: Order of Australia
Jeff Heath, AM, was one of the most effective advocates for people with disabilities. He created Link Magazine to provide a long-term voice for people with disabilities. He was instrumental in forming community organisations, served on a number of boards and committees, was involved in the establishment of Disabled Persons International, was as a successful small businessman, a nationally recognised lobbyist, author and commentator on disability issues.
Childhood In 1962, when Jeff Heath was seven he was diagnosed with a Wilm’s tumour in his kidney. The kidney was removed but within months tumours developed in his legs, lungs and a 15cm tumour on his spine. He was hospitalised and not expected to live. He was treated with Cobalt radiation, the standard treatment at the time and survived but the tumour on his spine (T4/5) resulted in paralysis. Even though he was restricted to a wheelchair he didn’t let it get in his way. Jeff became a scout and in 1972 he was awarded the Queen Scout Award.
Sport & recreation He had a passion for sport and recreation for people with disabilities. In 1976 he represented Australia in archery at the Paralympic Games in Toronto, Canada. Jeff and his wife, Evonne went on to subsequent Games, covering them for Link magazine. In 1979 he completed an Associate Diploma (Recreation) at Salisbury CAE and went on to become Director at Maesbury Recreation Centre. There he developed leisure activities for the community and in particular programs for people with a disability.
In 1983 Jeff completed a Bachelor of Arts (Recreation) at the University of South Australia. From 1990 he was a board member at SPARC (Sport Arts & Recreation Council) and in 1999 became a national board member and media officer for Sailability.
Travel Jeff Heath was an avid traveller and travelled to nearly every part of the world. In the late 70’s, when people in a wheel chair rarely ventured far from home he hitchhiked around New Zealand, Westen Australia and Tasmania. He drove a motor home across the United States and featured in a TV documentary about his travels through Central America. He taught English in Japan and wrote a book on disability in the Pacific Islands.
Link Magazine In 1980 Jeff and his wife, Evonne began Link Magazine from their home, with the mission to “examine issues from a cross-disability perspective”. It has become Australia’s principal disability journal and a successful national magazine. Link has now gone online at www.linkonline.com.au. It was a labour of love for Jeff in which he was never afraid to raise difficult issues.
Employment During the 1980’s he worked as an equal opportunities officer for various SA government departments. From 1988 to 1993 he was Executive Director of the SA Branch of Disabled People’s International DPI(SA). He wrote reports and submissions on access, the criminal justice system, equipment, accommodation, employment, etc. He also drafted 3 state budget submissions on behalf of the broader disability sector. He ensured representation on more than 37 Boards and Committees and convened over 50 public meetings From 1994 on, until his untimely death he was Managing Editor of Link disability magazine and a Director of Ability Network Pty Ltd. He was a Convenor of ARLEX (Australia’s Rehabilitation Lifestyle and Equipment exhibitions), as well as a presenter and public speaker at various national and international conferences.
Australian Democrats He was an active member of the Australian Democrats. He was Chair person of the Boothby branch, a member of the State Council, the state promotions officer and editor of their journal. In November 2000, he was selected as the number two candidate on the Australian Democrat Senate ticket for the 2001 half-Senate elections. Unfortunately, the Democrats only won enough votes in the election for the number one candidate to win a seat.
Activist Jeff was a determined man and was relentless in his quest to have barriers, whether physical or philosophical torn down. An example is when he took on the Adelaide GPO to make it accessible for people in a wheelchair. It took 22 years and it wasn’t until he lodged a complaint in 1999, using the Disability Discrimination Act that he finally succeeded. Now it is easy, dignified and safe to enter the Adelaide GPO.
In 1981 Jeff discovered that the Hilton Hotel developers had been granted an exemption to the access regulations. He contacted Hilton Management who referred him to the owners. They referred him to the architects who referred him to the builders. Jeff was getting nowhere so he approached the local Builders Labourers Union who gave their support and imposed work bans on the Hilton site. As a result of the industrial action access at the Hilton was drastically improved for people with a disability. In 1981 Jeff was selected to lead Australia’s first disability rights march through Sydney.
Achievements Jeff was active in the establishment of the following: Link Magazine (1980) Radio for the Print Handicapped (1980) the South Australian branch of Disabled Persons International (1981) Disability Information and Resource Centre (1983) – an information and resource centre for people with a disability. Jeff was also an inaugural board member (1982-85) Sir Charles Bright Post Secondary Educational Scholarship (1986). Jeff was also a Trustee (1987-89) Hosting professional and social tours for nearly 200 Japanese, German and North American tourists over 10 years, including the 1992 national speaking tour of Judy Heumann, the Assistant Director of the US Department of Education’s Division of Rehabilitation Hosting of a residential leadership training course for 17 young people with various disabilities
Jeff won numerous awards during his lifetime including: · Queen’s Scout (1972) · Rotary Youth Leadership Award (1979) · Inaugural winner of the Queen’s Jubilee Award for Young Australians (1979) · Churchill Fellowship Award (1996) · Order of Australia (2003)
Health problems In 1999 Jeff had a heart attack and later in the year he was diagnosed with breast cancer. He had surgery, chemotherapy and radiation treatment. However, he did not let this get him down. He recovered and his health improved and he continued his work in the disability field. In 2003 he was diagnosed with mesothelioma, a malignant tumour on the lining of the chest cavity. His oncologist gave him two years to live. In a public statement Jeff stated: “I’ve always lived my life to the fullest. I can’t see how I could have done more over the last 40 years, so why would I feel cheated? I have a loving family. I’ve achieved things that most people would have considered impossible, and I still have at least 12 months to achieve some more goals.”
Jeff worked until the day before his death, establishing a website for people with disabilities.
Jeff Heath died on Sunday 7th March 2004. He was 49. Jeff Heath was a role model to all who knew him.