PhD graduate aims to change conversation around disability welfare

PhD graduate aims to change conversation around disability welfare

Iranian student inspired to study to prove women can achieve their true potential

When Mona Nikidehaghani set out to start her PhD, she wanted to use her knowledge of numbers to delve into the world of disability services.

Against the backdrop of the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS), which is being rolled out across Australia, Mona felt compelled to explore how policies throughout the past century have impacted upon a community she describes as “often voiceless”.

“I wanted to bring some much needed awareness to people with a disability, and show the real impact that politicians and their policies have on the lives of people who lives with disabilities,” Mona said.

Today (Friday 15 December), Mona celebrated the culmination of her PhD from the Faculty of Business, nearly five years of research that has at times proved challenging and overwhelming.

But the sense of personal satisfaction at finally putting an end to her postgraduate studies is immense, particularly in light of her Iranian background.

“In Iran, women and minority groups do not necessarily get a chance to achieve their true potential, so I wanted to study and provide to myself that not only can I complete something as prestigious as a PhD, but that I could also help a community that often does not have a voice,” Mona said.

“I am the first in my family to graduate with a PhD, so I also wanted to inspire my family and others who come from similar backgrounds and show them that you can live your dreams.”

Mona came to Australia from Iran in 2012 to study her Masters before taking on a PhD.

She had completed an undergraduate degree and Masters of Business Administration in Iran, but felt her opportunities were limited to further her study or career.

“I really enjoyed studying business, and I was good at it, but there are not many opportunities for women in Iran,” Mona said.

“I couldn’t study science or medicine, but my father was a businessman and I enjoyed helping him with his business.”

Mona’s research, which covered accounting practices in 100 years of disability welfare programs in Australia, revealed that when it comes to providing for people living with disabilities, governments have often favoured financial aspects over medical needs.

Indeed, Mona said accounting has been used to shape the conversation around disability to justify a government’s own fiscal agenda.

“Accounting and disability have always been intertwined,” Mona said.

To that end, Mona is hoping that her PhD, as well as her ongoing work in the subject as a researcher, will influence policy for the better, particularly with the NDIS already impacting the lives of people who rely on disability services.

Now a researcher at Charles Sturt University, Mona is continuing her work on disabilities in Australia, focusing on the impact the NDIS is having, and will potentially have, on people’s lives.

She is also still working with Dr Corinne Cortese and Dr Freda Hui-Truscott from the UOW's Faculty of Business to investigate the effectiveness of the NDIS in the Illawarra.

“We hope to change the conversation around disability funding in Australia,” Mona said.