We’re thrilled to announce Ruth O’Brien, Canberra singer-songwriter, as this year’s ambassador at the Canberra Disability Expo. Ruth has been a vibrant part of the Australian music industry for over ten years, with influences in jazz, soul, and pop at the forefront of her artistry. With lyricism as her top strength, Ruth enjoys using her music to express herself in a way that is unparalleled.
Ruth views living with a disability as a constant changing spectrum of identity. As a previous regular attendee of our expos, she looks forward to engaging with all the different service providers and technical assists that are available at the Canberra Disability Expo.
Music as a powerful form of storytelling
Ruth’s passion for singing peaked when she had the opportunity to do vocal studies as an elective in high school. Though initially quite hesitant to sing in front of others, the regular performing opportunities she had at school helped her to gain confidence in music and in herself.
‘Because I was quite shy (as a teenager), music gave me a sense of self confidence – it helped me flex my creative muscles and soon, I was hooked,’ Ruth said.
Ruth has been performing ever since, with self-expression as a driving and ongoing motivator.
‘I especially love songwriting. Using it as a creative outlet is a really interesting way for me to express all my different ideas and emotions,’ said Ruth.
Her songwriting isn’t pigeonholed, either – she enjoys telling all stories – from more personal ones, to belly laugh worthy ones.
“One of my favourites on my new EP is titled Allergic To You. It sounds like a love song at first, but once you realise I’m singing about my cat, you can’t help but laugh. The audience reactions whenever I perform that song prove they find it funny, too,” remarked Ruth.
Another one of Ruth’s favourites is We Saw Your Soul – a beautiful song written about a disability advocate, Sue Salthouse, who passed away in 2020.
“Those are my favourite kinds of songs. They’re my best songs.”
Ruth’s story: a balancing act
For Ruth, disability has always been a “spectrum of identity”, as she calls it.
“Some days I can feel more disabled than other days – it all comes down to the barriers I might face on that particular day,’ Ruth said.
Ruth identifies and relates to disability primarily using the social model of disability, whereby, it’s the interaction with environmental, social and attitudinal barriers that are disabling, not necessarily a person’s medical condition.
‘Society isn’t really built for people living with a disability. Those are the barriers – ultimately, that is what is the most disabling.’
If someone isn’t able to read a book due to blindness or low vision, for example, the issue there is that there isn’t an alternative version of the book (such as an audiobook or braille version) available. If there is no other form of access, and that’s where the real challenge comes in.
‘For me, that’s been important to realise in my own journey of living with a disability. It answered a lot of questions as to why things might sometimes be more difficult for me, and why it felt like a lot of my life was spent trying to play catch up,’ said Ruth.
Living with a disability encourages balancing living in an inherently ableist society with your own personal needs – it makes you more adaptable, creative and resourceful because you have to be.
“Asking for help when needed is important. Having the control over the kind of help I receive is, arguably, even more important – it ensures I’m in charge of my own decisions, and my own life.”
Closing the gaps, one expo at a time
Expos such as the Canberra Disability Expo work to help close the gaps within the disability community in terms of access to supports, inclusion, and social interaction. Ruth agrees.
“I think expos such as the Canberra Disability Expo are fantastic in the way they can offer people living with a disability a chance to interact one-to-one with employees at different providers and organisations. I find this particularly helpful as a person with a physical disability as it can be really useful to try different equipment and technology to see if it’s the right fit for you,” said Ruth.
By talking to different service providers and like-minded individuals, you can empower yourself to make decisions that help you reach the things you want in life.
“It helps build so much confidence in making the right choice – you don’t have to waste your time with service providers who aren’t the right fit. You’ll have a much better idea right from the get go,” Ruth said.
“It narrows down the choices. You’ll be able to make the right choice even quicker.”
The Canberra Disability Expo functions to help fill in the gaps for people living with a disability, their family members, and the wider disability community. Over 150 exhibitors will be present, showcasing assistive equipment, support services, long term care options, and more.
Catch Ruth at our Canberra Disability Expo, taking place on Friday the 1st and Saturday the 2nd of September 2023. We work to link service and product providers with the wider disability community, allowing you to control your future and make it your choice.