From a farm in rural Australia to the centre of Wollongong – how IT student Jack Wason found home away from home at UOW
Jack Wason grew up on a big farm in western New South Wales, a six-hour drive from Wollongong. When he was six, his peaceful, rural life was suddenly interrupted by an accident on a four-wheeler, which saw Jack break his collarbone. Even though the fall wasn’t life-threatening, it started a medical journey, which resulted in Jack receiving a diagnosis of Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy, a progressive muscle degeneration illness, at the age of nine.
“In a way, I didn’t realise how big of a deal it was. I remember doctors explaining that my muscles would start degenerating and that, eventually, I wouldn’t be able to walk and would be in a wheelchair—that part I understood. But not the complexities of living with this condition,” Jack explains.
Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy (DMD) is a genetic disorder characterised by progressive muscle degeneration and weakness, caused by a mutation in the gene that encodes dystrophin, a protein crucial for maintaining the structure and function of muscle fibres. DMD is a life-limiting disease that involves a multidisciplinary approach to address various aspects of the condition, with ongoing physical therapy, respiratory and cardiac care, as well as medication such as corticosteroids and assistive devices required for daily living.
Thankfully, Jack’s family has resilience in their DNA, and the parents raised both their kids (Jack has a sister), believing that one day, they’ll leave home to start their own, independent lives.
“My mum and dad are fantastic; they’ve just always believed in me. We often said that sometimes, bad things happen, and you just have to roll with it as best as you can,” Jack says.
And so Jack did roll with his life, as challenging as it is at times. Today, a 22-year-old fresh graduate of a Bachelor of Information Technology program at the University of Wollongong (UOW) lives independently in Wollongong while working part-time as an IT support officer. He credits his quality of life to the encouragement and support he received at UOW.
“I have loved computers and maths since I was a kid, so IT was my natural choice. I applied and got an early entry to UOW, and when I got in, I had a good couple of months to prepare for the big move. It was a bit scary, as I had never lived away from home,” Jack reminisces.
At UOW, he moved into Kooloobong Village, a self-catered student accommodation close to Wollongong campus, where in over a year, he found a firm footing away from home, growing into the role of a Resident Ambassador, dedicated to helping new students settle into university life.
Jack Wason at the Kooloobong Village residence where he spent three years studying IT.
It was also in his first year that Jack became a Movement Disorder Foundation Scholar. This UOW scholarship is designed specifically for students with a physical disability that impedes their ability to function due to mobility issues and includes a support of $7,000 per year for the duration of the studies.
“I received so much support when I was just starting, so I decided to give back. When we all returned to our accommodation after the COVID-19 hiatus, we lived like one big family. Student leaders checked in on everyone, and there were so many events to participate in that nobody was left feeling alone. I got to be a part of everything, and I wanted other new students to be able to experience uni the same way,” Jack says.
Jack’s academic journey has been equally remarkable, as he has excelled in his studies and is now set to graduate with flying colours. His recent final-year software project, SocketFit, created by a team of six colleagues, won the first award at the School of Computing and Information Technologies annual trade show, earning the students plenty of accolades and a prize of $1000. SocketFit is an Android app designed to enhance the prosthetic experience for people with below-knee amputations, providing personalised sensor placements and valuable insights to researchers, which help to develop more comfortable prosthetic designs. This work has been a testament to Jack’s dreams of using technology for the betterment of others.
UOW IT final-year students at the SCIT Trade Show with their project, SocketFit.
“IT is about how things work on the computer. But beyond that, it’s there to help people solve their problems. In the future, I’d like to become a solution analyst, an expert you come to with any challenges, who’d try to find a software solution for you or your business,” Jack says.
Graduating from university and leading an independent life, even if with the help of support workers whom Jack needs 24/7, is not often a reality for other people living with similar health conditions.
“I’ve networked with other people with Duchenne, and for many, their goals in life were to finish school and then stay home and play video games. And while that would be fun, I knew I wanted to set myself goals that required me to try to become independent.
“I think in Australia, we need to talk more openly about people with disabilities being able to do what they want with their lives. You can study, you can work. At least, you need to try,” Jack says.
In the broadest sense, Jack’s UOW experience wasn’t just about academics but about overcoming mental and physical boundaries and finding strength and resilience in an environment of inclusivity and support. As he admits today, his achievements highlight not only his personal wins but also the compassionate and inclusive culture fostered at the University.
“At UOW, I found more than just education; I found a second home, a community believing in my abilities and a future filled with possibilities. Everyone should get a chance for that,” Jack says.
Jack praises UOW for giving him a chance at an independent, fulfilling life.
On December 3, the global community observes the International Day of Persons with Disabilities (IDPD), with the theme this year being ‘United in action to rescue and achieve the SDGs for, with and by persons with disabilities’. UOW emphasises the indispensable role universities play as bastions of inclusivity, creating environments where people like Jack can transcend challenges associated with their health diagnoses while fostering a society that values diversity and empowers every person to contribute fully.