Maryanne Diamond AO

A lifetime of breaking down barriers

Maryanne Diamond AO

To describe Maryanne Diamond AO (nee Laidlaw) (Bsc Mathematical Statistics 1977, GradDip(Computing) 1978) as unstoppable would be an understatement. Born blind, she has defied conventional wisdom at every turn.

As a young girl, Maryanne was told she could only hope to become a telephone operator (a job she'd never even heard of!). And later in life, when she gravitated to maths and IT, she met resistance because of her gender. Fiercely independent, Maryanne swatted away all this nonsense and proceeded to do exactly as she pleased. And, with grit and determination, she has ever since leapt from achievement to achievement.

After working in IT for a couple of decades, Maryanne moved into not-for-profit and governmental roles lobbying for people with a disability. Now General Manager Stakeholder Engagement at the National Disability Insurance Agency, and their most senior person with a disability, Maryanne plays a pivotal role in the roll-out of a major social reform policy: the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS).

"Transforming from a state to a national scheme requires major cultural change and takes time," Maryanne explains. "With NDIS, people with a disability can now set their own goals to achieve what they want in their lives, instead of being told by someone else." She understands the need for this better than most.

On the advice of "experts", Maryanne spent her childhood boarding during the week at a school for the blind – not her first choice but where, she's quick to point out, she learned good blindness skills and made some lifelong friends. She went on to navigate the challenges of university, supported by a network of fellow students who took time to sit with her and go through their notes so that she could transcribe them into braille.

"I had to be careful to pick the right students for this task," Maryanne reveals. "They couldn't be too smart because then they wouldn't have taken many notes, but they had to be smart enough to have taken correct notes!" One helper was Neil, who would become her husband.

Maryanne and Neil have four children together, the eldest of whom is visually impaired. Not long after the arrival of their first three, the family headed off to the University of Wisconsin in the United States for Neil's six-month sabbatical. This required Maryanne to find her way around a new city in the dead of winter, negotiating snowy streets indistinguishable from snowy footpaths, with cars driving on the right. A newborn and two toddlers in tow! Clearly, this would have tested even a fully sighted person.

In more recent times, as the second Australian and second female President of the World Blind Union (WBU), Maryanne spearheaded its global campaign to establish the Marrakesh Treaty. Thanks to this international copyright agreement, 285 million blind and visually impaired people around the world can now read books in accessible formats, such as braille, audiobooks and large print.

In 2014, Maryanne was appointed an Officer of the Order of Australia for her distinguished service to people who are blind or have low vision, and her international leadership roles and advocacy for best practice employment opportunities. Two years later, she won the Louis Braille Medal, the WBU's most prestigious honour. And last year Maryanne was a finalist for the Victorian Australian of the Year Awards, alongside broadcaster and academic Waleed Aly.

Reflecting on her many successes, Maryanne cites her Monash experience as the foundation for her fulfilled life. Living at Mannix College, she thrived in the student community. And through her studies, she had a chance to work with people from diverse cultures and backgrounds, shaping her outlook. She also acquired transferable skills in her classes.

"Everything you learn and do can be translated into any career path," shares Maryanne. "Above all, I learned how to break problems down into parts and work towards a solution."

Maryanne doesn't believe anything she has achieved goes beyond the reach of the average person. "Be open to possibilities and opportunities. Just give things a go!" she advises. "Don't think about why you can't do something – think about how you might!"