Northern Territory

TRUE STORIES: Vanessa Adzaip – I never gave up

Vanessa is an Auslan program coordinator and lecturer, supporting deaf children, young people, and their families to improve their communication skills. Vanessa also works with professionals who want to study Auslan.


Vanessa Adzaip


I am a Deaf person raised by hearing parents who never lost hope despite the challenges I faced. My family sent me to a special education school offering a Deaf unit.  I found myself very comfortable and happy with classmates who were like me, because I could communicate and understand them completely, so much better than at hearing school.


My performance in my secondary years inspired me to keep on dreaming for more success with the enlightenment, love and support of my dear parents and relatives. I enrolled at Holy Name University taking up a Bachelor of Secondary Education majoring in Special Education and Computer Science.  I was very anxious, knowing that I was the only deaf student enrolled in the university.

True Stories: Mavis White – Changing people’s lives


Mavis White

For over a quarter of a century I have worked in the human services sector in a full time capacity. I’ve worked in aged care, dementia care and disability services.

I have been in a middle management role in the disability services program at Somerville Community Services Inc. since 2002. Somerville operates three distinct programs across the Top End of the Northern Territory:

  • Disability Services – includes supported accommodation and a social participation program,
  • Family Services – delivering free counselling and family support services, community programs and supported accommodation.
  • Financial Services – services to individuals and groups to assist them to successfully navigate financial crisis.

During this time I have been fortunate to hone my leadership skills whilst maintaining a very hands on role with the people we support. The balance of management duties with direct care support is what I find most rewarding.

I am committed to and passionate about the work I undertake. I am passionate about improving the lives of people with disability and ensuring that people with a disability have opportunities to experience a myriad of life experiences. At Somerville we believe strongly that people’s lives and personalities are not defined by their disability. We take great pride in our endeavours to provide a person-centred service that supports people to think big, aim high, identify and work towards meeting their desires and aspirations.

I’ve been fortunate to be able to use a number of my hobbies and interests in my roles within the disability sector to ensure people’s needs, wants, desires and aspirations are being met. Hobbies and interests including: swimming, watching sports such as cricket, tennis and NRL, attending live shows particularly music and dance, playing cards, cooking, gardening, watching movies and reading.

I believe in the principles and practices of person centred active support. While I work with people with quite profound disabilities the team and I ensure that the people we support have opportunities to be actively involved in all activities of daily living to the best of their abilities. Over the years this has meant that people we have supported have developed sufficient skills to be able to gain employment, have reduced staff supervision and supports and ultimately lead more fulfilling lives.

I love the lifestyle of Darwin and the freedoms and possibilities of working on a five acre block brings. I have been able to do things a little differently and provide some unique life experiences not usually experienced in suburbia. We have established a menagerie of different ‘farm’ animals at our property. Through caring for their pets the people we support have learnt new skills. Skills such as: cleaning the chicken coup, collecting the eggs, spreading hay, feeding the pigs, chickens, turkeys etc. Skills also in caring, nurturing, being responsible for another (even if it is a little piglet). These skills are then being transferred to other people; behaviours of concern are reducing including self harm.

At Somerville we believe it is essential that we lead by example and work together to ensure we live in an accepting, tolerant and inclusive community. To this end I try and ensure that the people we support are involved in as many community events as possible that meet their needs and wants. Events such as participating in the Top End Gran Fondo (a bike ride / race) or Royal Darwin Show Art Exhibition. We have also attended live concerts, pub jam sessions, theatre, festivals, sporting events, you name it, and the people we support have been there with bells on!

I do what I do with the belief that we can and do change peoples’ lives.

Mavis White

Somerville Community Services

Northern Territory

True Stories: Paul Drewitt – Know WHY you do what you do

Paul DrewittI began my teaching career as a Primary School teacher but quickly became involved in special needs education to advocate for children with learning disabilities in order to access more of the curriculum. From the onset I took a keen interest in developing Education Adjustment Plans and leading teachers in processes to make modifications to their programs to meet the needs of students with intellectual impairments.

10 years ago I came to Henbury Special School as a teacher and quickly established a classroom routine, meeting outcomes to facilitate independent living skills. In particular, I have taken an interest in frontier augmentation techniques including introducing eye gaze technology to the NT.

To know WHY you do what you do is the key to remaining motivated and having an impact beyond the norm. I was very lucky early on to understand this, which keeps me pushing forward each day to develop new ways of meeting outcomes for students with disabilities.

I am now in a leadership role and realize that leadership is primarily about change and having the courage to push through and implement that change which directly benefits children with intellectual and/or physical disabilities.

Paul works as a Senior Teacher – Curriculum, Assessment & Reporting in Darwin, Northern Territory

Paul’s employer:

Henbury School is a purpose built Special School for students with disabilities in both the Middle Years and Senior Years of schooling.

Classrooms are complex, dynamic in nature and multi-level according to how students access the curriculum. Henbury’s Motto is ‘Preparing for Future Lifestyles’ and this overarching dedication guides each student’s annual Education Adjustment Plan or Transition Plan.

As well as its main campus the school also has students learning in outreach classrooms which are based at Casuarina Senior College, Darwin High School, Sanderson Middle School, Dripstone Middle School and Nightcliff Middle School.

Henbury School also strongly supports student learning via valuable community partnerships with the school house, the Op Shop, The Patch and a number of business enterprises and leisure venues around Darwin.