Global disability inclusion

Athlete, advocate and academic: an international legal force to be reckoned with

Paul HarpurOvercoming barriers to education and employment for people with physical and mental disabilities? Associate Professor Paul Harpur wrote the book on it.

Dr Harpur, a senior lecturer at the UQ Law School who is also legally blind, authored a book exposing the hurdles faced by people with disabilities such as blindness, dyslexia and quadriplegia to read printed content, inspired by his own experiences.

“As a high school student all the way through to my PhD, I found my limited access incredibly frustrating and disabling,” he says.

“E-books weren’t available, so I had to scan books myself or ask other people to read them for me. Usually, I could only access the books I needed weeks after everyone else and had to scramble to catch up.

“I beat the odds and completed my undergraduate and master’s degrees in law, before undertaking a Doctor of Philosophy. I was a good lawyer, but I felt a calling to make a difference in disability rights as a law academic.”

His strong international reputation as a leader in the global fight for legal disability rights led to collaborations with prestigious organisations and institutions, including the United Nations, Harvard Law School Project on Disability and the Australian Royal Commission into Violence, Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation of People with Disability.

His research spans the disciplines of business, law and psychology, where he uses his impressive international network to connect researchers with collaborators and partners locally and abroad, including from Canada, Ireland, the UK and the US.

In 2019, Dr Harpur was awarded a prestigious Fulbright Future Scholarship, which included a three-month project working between Harvard Law School and the Burton Blatt Institute at Syracuse University in the US.

“My [Fulbright] project collected data and built relationships between Australian and US advocates and researchers involved with the development and promotion of design that is accessible to everyone in society, whether they be able or disabled.” 

An architect who uses a wheelchair, for example, is unlikely to design a product without advocating for wheelchair access.”

Named Link Vision’s 2022 Blind Australian of the Year, Dr Harpur partnered with the organisation on a grant application and is undertaking research for the National Disability Insurance Quality and Control Commission and the UN’s International Labour Organisation.

Tenacity and talent saw the former professional athlete and two-time Paralympian receive a highly competitive, four-year Australian Research Council (ARC) Future Fellowship to investigate how the higher education sector can better support people with disabilities to transition from economic exclusion to work.

“We’ve looked closely at the challenges people with disabilities face when transitioning from university to the workforce,” he says.

“There’s a big gap where we are seeing more people with disabilities entering and graduating from university but not being able to find work.

“Universities educate the disability champions of tomorrow, employ the disability leaders of today and produce research and innovation that can transform societies.”

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