MARK BAGSHAW: 1956 - 2020
Mark Bagshaw was one of Australia’s leading disability reform advocates over many years. He chaired the Australian National Training Authority (ANTA) disability forum from 1995 until 2000 and led a passionate life full of indignation, curiosity, intelligence and a desire to shift hearts and minds.
His work on the national stage as an advocate for disability reform was extensive. In particular, his leadership and influence in the vocational education and training sector and the inclusion of people with disability was impressive.
He was born in Paddington Maternity Hospital, Sydney in 1956. His father was Jeff Bagshaw, an accountant and his mother was Elaine Bagshaw (nee Black), a seamstress.
Bagshaw went to school at Newington College, and when he was 16, while on holiday with his family, he sustained a spinal cord injury on a sand bar at Avoca Beach. After spending nine months in Royal North Shore Hospital, Bagshaw finally went home and straight back to school.
He graduated from the University of Sydney in philosophy and economics and, in 2003, was awarded an honorary doctorate from Griffith University.
He enjoyed a successful 28-year marketing and strategy consulting career with IBM. That he was able to achieve so much is testament to both his dynamism and his deeply held conviction that people with disability were a hidden resource for Australia, excluded from participation not because of disability, but because our education, training and employment systems were not readily accessible.
He set up and led The Able Movement to lead change in the beliefs and attitudes of Australians about disability and people living with disability.
He wrote: “People with disability are far more capable of participating at all levels of our society than most people believe — including many people with disability themselves.
"We don't accept that a 40 per cent difference in workforce and education participation is OK. We don't accept that a person with disability can't choose where she or he lives. And we don't accept that it's OK for the community to expect so little of people with disability.”
He was passionate about raising the bar to accept nothing less than people with disability achieving all that they could and wanted to achieve.
Bagshaw’s guiding light was that Australia should be able to offer all people with disability the chance to lead their best lives in learning, work and community on exactly the same basis as everyone else.
Like his friend, Aboriginal activist and respected community leader Noel Pearson, in a different context, Bagshaw feared that too often people with disability were subjected to the “soft bigotry of low expectations”. He spent a lifetime showing how that might be avoided. Not only was it possible, it was vital for society and the economy.
From 2001 to 2005, Bagshaw chaired the Australian Disability Training Advisory Council (ADTAC), which advised the Board of ANTA on implementation of the Bridging Pathways strategy. He was inducted into the Disability Employment Australia Hall of Fame in 2013.
He never stopped advocating for a better NDIS, recognising fully its revolutionary potential but aware too, as both an acute policy analyst and as a frequently disappointed and frustrated customer, of its shortcomings. His instinct was not to tear things down but to reach for a closer approximation of its best, original intent – a shift of power to people with disabilities that brought agency and dignity.
Bagshaw’s instincts for all people, not just those living with disability, were about all those things — dignity, choice and a sense of being in control of one’s own life.
Bagshaw spoke, wrote, argued with, encouraged and loved thousands of people in his life of advocacy, intelligent and disciplined analysis, principled vision and boundless commitment.
There were dark and difficult days after the terrible accident on the Central Coast beach felled a handsome, brilliant and (by his own account) slightly tearaway adolescent.
But there were also brilliant days too of love and devotion and friendship, of struggle and hard work and of outstanding success in business and in his advocacy which Bagshaw wore with modesty, generosity and pride.