Mark Tonga shares his Forward Scholarship journey - Forward Ability Support

Mark Tonga shares his Forward Scholarship journey

Mark was awarded the Forward Scholarship in 2020, 2021 and 2022, and is now in his third year of an MBA at the Australian Graduate School of Management (a postgraduate facility associated with UNSW).

Mark’s CV includes recent roles as ministerially appointed and reappointed, Chair of the Disability Council of NSW, and various competitively appointed advisory roles in Committee to local governments and to the NDIA. Mark has been able in his busy schedule to maintain his studies at a Distinction average.

We contacted Mark about his academic journey and the highlights of the Forward Scholarship Program.

What have been the benefits of the Forward Scholarship program?

The scholarship alleviates the financial burden of my studies. I owe my academic success in part to it.

What are some challenges faced by people living with a disability?

Attitudinal laziness of many who don’t know me well. The inability to look at what skills “we” have and what trainable skills are attainable. I was a 35-year-old graduate accountant with the world at my feet career wise. Then, after waking from my coma, and in a wheelchair, I noticed that many of those who had respected me professionally now had blinkers on. I was suddenly incompetent. Locked in an attitudinal prison.

What do you think is needed for people living with a disability to succeed in their education and work towards employment?

For “us”: The same as for anyone.

Work: Build up a cogent CV.

Study: Get the marks in a course that suits your ability.

Social: Maintain supportive contacts & get out of your comfort zone on a daily basis. Productive habits. Network, Network, Network with people who you respect.

For “them”: Those who observe and evaluate us – Get used to courteously correcting over-use of the ‘D’ word, so that it now becomes “VA” – people of varied ability – And we all, everyone you meet, are of varied ability. I can take 10,000 random bits of account data, turn them accurately into a set of accounts and projections that can save a client thousands in the time that many others are still scratching their heads – i.e., focus on “varied ability” not that misnomer “disability”!