Being diagnosed with Autism in her late 40s was a relief for Michelle, with the nature photographer saying it enabled her to embrace her disability and stand up for herself.
“A lot of people don't like using labels, but for me it's given me a sense of who I am, and it's helped me fit into the world better,” Michelle said.
“And I can also verbally say that I have a disability and ask people to slow down when speaking and to repeat what they were saying. I can voice that now. Whereas before, I didn't really understand what was happening.”
Michelle said it was a good friend who “gently nudged” her to get a diagnosis and that a psychologist first brought up the topic of accessing the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS).
The 53-year-old lived in the Sunshine Coast region when she received assistance to apply for and implement her NDIS funding from local area coordinator partner, Carers Queensland.
“I'm just so grateful and humbled to have that (NDIS) funding. It’s changed my life forever,” Michelle said.
High school was where Michelle first discovered the world of photography, thanks to one of her teachers asking her to take photos for the school magazine.
“It kind of gave me the confidence that I didn't have at that time,” she said.
Her passion for photography developed over the years, but it was meeting celebrated Australian poet and activist Judith Wright, the founder of the Queensland Wildlife Preservation Society of Queensland, which had a lifelong impact on Michelle.
“Thanks to Judith I feel in love with nature. I think I've always had an affiliation with nature, but that really helped me realise what I wanted to be,” Michelle said.
“I often find, particularly if I'm doing close-up photography, I forget about everything else in the world. And I think because of my disability I'm really good at observing.
“As a photographer you observe things every day and oh, there's a little caterpillar on the ground under the leaves and things like that. It just brings me alive when I'm out in nature and finding things.
“Photography has given me a focus and a sense of direction.”
Now a resident in the Lockyer Valley region, Michelle said she didn’t know anyone when she first arrived in Laidley, so she searched for opportunities to meet others and network.
It just so happened around this time she received an email from Carers Queensland about its free Be Your Own Boss (BYOB) Microbusiness program, with Michelle thinking it could benefit her photography business, Australian Nature Photography.
The BYOB program aims to empower, educate and support people with disability, who are interested in self-employment, to create or grow their own microbusiness.
“People who had taken part last year were having a market day at a local shopping centre, so I went down there and had a chat with Carers Queensland staff, and they asked me if I'd like to do the program this year, and so I have,” Michelle said.
In addition to getting more knowledge about business ownership and management, Michelle said the BYOB program was a great way to network with others and be around like-minded people.
With decades of experience under her belt, Michelle was asked by BYOB facilitators to be a guest speaker at one of the workshops. She shared her journey and offered tips to future microbusiness owners on the best way to use images and photos to promote their products or services.
“We are all trying to better ourselves and set up financially sound businesses, that's what I'm aiming towards,” Michelle said.
“I also have a business mentor and advisor and we’ve been working hard the last few months working towards that journey.”
She recently took part in the Lockyer Spring Festival Art Trail and was one of 3 artists who exhibited in Hypatia’s House Artist Collective, a local bookstore.
Such was the success of this event; Michelle has decided to host her first solo exhibition where she’ll pair music with her photos to enhance visitors’ experiences. The exhibition, to be hosted by Hypatia’s, runs from November 30 to December 24, 9am-4pm weekdays and 9am-1pm on Saturdays.
A special Gala Opening and Meet the Artist event for Michelle’s exhibition will be held on Friday December 9 at 6pm at Hypatia’s, 151 Patrick St, Laidley.
Michelle will also be attending the BYOB Marketplace at Ipswich on November 19 at the Riverlink Shopping Centre in Ipswich where she’ll have some of her photos on for sale.
“I just need to get my name out there now I've done the hard yards tagging photos and developing skills. I want people looking at my artwork to feel as if they're sitting in nature, observing this unique moment in time,” she said.
“I want people to feel and see what I see. And that's something that my business mentor says to me, that in my work that's what I do, I bring this feeling to my work.
“It's a little bit unique, and I think it’s due to my disability that I can capture that a lot of things that other people probably miss.”
Michelle said she does struggle with her disability at times, but that having support from the NDIS and having support workers was helping her to become more confident and capable of doing certain tasks.
Her advice to other people with disability wanting to set up their own business is to find a support worker who has similar passions, search for free events online and to take part in free programs such as BYOB.
Michelle recently had success in asking for some mentoring assistance, in the way of marketing and networking, after she applied for through the Creative Business Champion program.
The program was launched in April 2021 and is a Queensland Government initiative aimed at helping artists and arts workers, supporting employment and career pathways.
“It's about pushing yourself outside your boundaries. And why not? I've met some really amazing people with disabilities,” Michelle said.
“I’d also like to say to people, just be true to yourself, be kind to yourself. I know I'm quite hard on myself and being a photographer, I do need to get to a level so I’m able to sell my work.
“Importantly, treat others the way that you want to be treated. And when you achieve goals, no matter how big or small, reward yourself. I like to buy myself flowers.”
Carers Queensland can support you to find out more about the NDIS, to apply for funding and to help you get started with the NDIS.
If you have a disability but are not eligible for the NDIS, Carers Queensland can help you identify and link to options for support in your community.
You can also contact Carers Queensland on 1300 999 636, email@example.com, or sign up to our LAC Connect app here.