Jos Franciscus is a self-confessed fixer – but not in the creepy Christopher Pyne-kinda way. Trained as an occupational therapist, she’s spent her career helping people – a trait that held her in good stead when she had a spinal injury of her own. Now, she’s using her unique experience as a patient and a professional to help other spinal cord patients get the best outcomes for themselves through her charity, Cord, which raises funds for technology for spinal patients by auctioning art.
We asked her more about the auction, the accident, and the thing she wishes you knew about spinal injuries.
You’re planning your fourth charity art auction! Do you have a background in events?
No, not at all! When I got out of hospital I was so inspired by technology and how it helps people with spinal cord injuries. The very month I got out was when iPads were released for the first time – it meant that for the first time I could type an email or go on Facebook. That was the starting point. I started to do this little fundraiser and it kind of snowballed.
“Little fundraiser”, psht – your auctions have raised over $120k!
I never set a goal of how much to raise each year – more than anything it’s about getting the word out about spinal cord injury, and supporting the artists. I feel really passionate about the arts scene locally. And also about giving people access to art – all the pieces donated this year are originals, and not everyone gets the chance to own an original piece of art.
What’s the process of collecting those donations been like? How has it been finding supporters for the event?
It’s ridiculous, everyone is so nice! Everyone’s like, “How can I help?” I was on Beaufort Street the other day handing out flyers with a friend, and she was like, “Everyone is just so nice on this street!” We’ve had great support form Soul Provider, and Gage Roads Brewing, and Whipper Snapper Distillery, and the artists – in that way it’s been a really easy process.
Jos goes on to mention that it was the same in Brisbane, where she held her previous auctions. She had her accident on Hamilton Island, and was in hospital in Brisbane rehabilitating for nine months. She says that the time away from home has made her see Perth in a different light.
I went away and came back and in that time Perth has become more like a community. There are festivals, the city is more involved, there are more projects around Perth – there never used to be. That’s changed, and it’s nice to see.
Do you think that’s why people have been so supportive of the auction?
Yep, and I guess it could also be that though spinal cord injuries don’t affect many people, it’s one of those injuries we could all imagine having ourselves. Just one little wrong turn – you could fall off a fence, or have a motorbike accident, or slip in the shower.
I think we all take things for granted. Now I’m in a wheelchair I’ve accepted there are some things I can’t do, some places I can’t go. That’s life!
You say that with a lot of acceptance – but I’d suggest you weren’t like that immediately after the accident. Could you tell me about that?
I was 29 when I had my accident. I was just living life. I was a very social person, very active – I was at the gym like, ten hours a week. When I had my accident everything came to a grinding half. That was the hugest bit for me when I had my accident – I felt like I lost my identity. That’s where I became inspired by the concept of disconnection.
The theme of this year’s Cord auction is dis/connect: half the artists will create works based on the theme of connection, and half on the theme of disconnection.
When you first have your accident it’s not just your brain to your body disconnecting. That’s an obvious one, but it’s everything in between. You take for granted all the little things you do in your everyday life. The way you walk, the way you do own hair, the way you cook – whatever it might be, they’re all just actions but they’re all little things that build up to become who you are. As much as coming to terms with the physical injury, it’s about coming to terms with who am I, what am I doing with my life now.
A lot of people said to me, bizarrely, that they’d give up the ghost if they were in my situation. That’s not a pep talk! When people say, “I wouldn’t be able to cope.” Well yeah, you would, actually! You eventually come to accept that you just have to move on and you just have to do it in your own way. You’re up against your own self-perception of disability, and the community’s.
You speak about how technology has broken down the idea of disability as a barrier, but where are we at with social attitudes like that?
There’s always a way to go with discrimination of any kind. Ultimately when you have a disability, you just wanted to be treated as a person. When I meet new people and the very first thing they ask is, “What happened to you?” I don’t mind asking; I’m happy to tell you, but you haven’t asked me anything else! Are you actually interested in getting to know me, or are you just being a bit nosey for your own curiosity? It’s human nature to be curious, and I can’t get angry, but I’d love for people to try and show some interest before they point out my disability and put me in a box. See a person for a person, not a disability. My disability is unquestionably a part of my identity, but it’s something I have, not something I am!