Dismantling barriers and chasing dreams with the Dylan Alcott Foundation

Meet UOW’s Dylan Alcott Foundation scholars

Navigating the demands of university can be tough for any student. But for those living with disability, overcoming the everyday obstacles to success requires a vastly different level of determination – a reality Australian Paralympic sporting legend Dylan Alcott AO understands all too well.

A transformative new partnership between UOW and the Dylan Alcott Foundation is focused on eliminating barriers to involvement in education and sport, empowering young people living with disability to realise their potential. Established in 2023 and awarded this year, the Dylan Alcott Foundation Scholarship provides two undergraduate students with up to $10,000 per year over three years to cover tuition fees, aided by a further $5,000 stipend from UOW.

The scholarship is part of the Foundation’s larger commitment to creating a more inclusive world – one life-changing opportunity at a time. For the two inaugural UOW recipients, it is a vital tool empowering them to overcome the barriers they face as they reach for bright futures.

A man is sitting in a wheelchair against a cream coloured backdrop. He is wearing a black jumper and black pants with his hands clasped in his lap.

Strength in adversity

On 25 February 2023, Hayden Brown’s life was forever altered in a split second. 

Training for the upcoming Australian Gymnastic Championships, the trampolining champion landed on his neck while attempting a triple backflip – a skill he’d landed many times in the past. After a difficult six-hour surgery, he woke in the ICU to devastating news: he had sustained a spinal cord injury and would never walk again.

“Suddenly, I went from driving a car and leading a very active lifestyle to being dependent on family and carers,” says Hayden.

“I spent the next nine months in hospital, undergoing extensive rehabilitation and learning to adjust and live as a quadriplegic.” 

Brown set to work rebuilding his upper body strength and regaining as much functionality as possible, undergoing two nerve transfer surgeries to recover some function in his hands. Despite the new challenges posed by his condition, he managed to complete his HSC remotely from his hospital bed and gain early entry to the Bachelor of Engineering.

“As a C6 complete quadriplegic, the impact isn’t limited to just being in a wheelchair. I can’t voluntarily move anything below the level of my injury or feel anything below my chest, and it takes two hours each morning for carers to help me get ready,” he explains.

“My fine motor skills are significantly affected; it’s difficult to type and I can no longer write. I also have problems with controlling blood pressure and bowel and bladder function, and experience neuropathic pain and leg spasms requiring medication affecting my ability to concentrate.”

Hayden aims to complete his degree and pursue an accessible career designing technology devices that make life easier for people living with disability. The scholarship, alongside covering his tuition fees, will subsidise his travel to university and the purchase of essential technology and other aids. 

It will also help keep his sporting dreams alive: he now plays Wheelchair Rugby and Wheelchair Table Tennis and will represent NSW at the Australian Table Tennis Championships in Perth in July.

“Being awarded the Dylan Alcott Scholarship is an honour; he is a good role model who demonstrated that even though life wasn’t easy, he could pursue his sport and be extremely successful. It will enable me to fund my studies and sporting expenses without adding to the significant financial impact of disability on my family.”

Courage to thrive

Though first-year Bachelor of Primary Education student Aleshia Taylor’s path to university has been far from smooth, it is paved with determination. 

Severely bullied from the age of five, at 13 Aleshia was admitted to hospital suffering non-epileptic seizures. Confounding doctors, her condition continued to worsen. She was eventually diagnosed with Functional Neurological Disorder (FND), a little-known condition characterised by malfunctioning of the nervous system believed to be triggered by the trauma she had endured.

A passionate dancer, Aleshia went from performing in her mid-year concert three days before her first episode to being unable to walk or feel her legs.

“I spent six months in Westmead Children’s Hospital, doing physio and therapy until I could walk again,” she recalls.

Since then, her life has been a daily battle with FND’ debilitating effects: chronic pain, severe memory fog, inability to regulate body temperature, and bone-crushing fatigue meaning she requires 12 hours of sleep every day to function. Despite this, Aleshia was unwavering in her resolution to complete Year 10, then Year 12, achieving Band 4 results across every subject. 

“I was sick for six weeks after the HSC exams – I couldn’t get out of bed. But I did it, I got the marks I worked hard for. Never let someone tell you that you can’t; if you want it and you work hard enough, you can get there.”

Studying teaching was a natural choice for Aleshia, who has always loved helping and encouraging others. She plans to transition to high school teaching and is particularly keen to specialise in PDHPE (Personal Development, Health and Physical Education). The scholarship is critical to balancing the demands of study with her health challenges.
“My medical bills place a lot of strain on my family. Having my university fees covered enables me to focus on study and my health; I couldn’t realistically manage work too,” she says.

“The scholarship allows me to fully engage in my subjects and get the most from them so I can apply what I’m learning as a teacher someday.”

Aleshia also hopes the scholarship will help shine a light on FND and its vast impact on daily life.

“Many people are unaware of FND or don’t consider it a disability, so it’s empowering to have that recognised through the scholarship and show others that if you don’t let it limit you, you can go further than you think you’re capable of. As hard as it is, as time-consuming and painful and dehumanising, there’s always a way around it to achieve your goals.”