Dylan Alcott OAM: Helping shape the future for Australians with a disability

Our 2022 Victoria Australian of the Year, Dylan Alcott OAM, is ready for the next chapter of his life – one beyond the tennis court. As part of our 2022 Australian of the Year series, Dylan talks about what retirement looks like for him, how he practises self-motivation and his most memorable tennis match.

Tennis legend, Dylan Alcott OAM, is excited about life after the 2022 Australian Open.

The first of the annual four Grand Slams events will be Dylan’s official farewell to a sport that has changed his life and carried him to the peak of his sporting career. But the world-class athlete says he’s not looking back because he has much to look forward to off court.

“I've been a full-time athlete since I started playing basketball at 14,” Dylan says. “Tennis has given me an incredible platform to live out my purpose but I can still continue doing that even after leaving the game.”

That purpose is changing society’s perceptions of people with a disability so they’re given equal opportunity for progress and success. As a fierce disability advocate, Dylan founded the Dylan Alcott Foundation to provide scholarships and grant funding to marginalised Australians with a disability. The Foundation has also conceptualised and delivered three iterations of AbilityFest, Australia’s first and only completely inclusive, fully accessible music festival.

He's also a Director of Get Skilled Access, a consulting firm that employs 50 consultants with disability and works with government and businesses at all levels assisting them to think and act more inclusively in all ways.

“It's time for me to focus my attention on this other stuff that I really love,” Dylan says. “Retirement has been at the back of my mind for a while and when I was lucky enough to win the Golden Slam last year, I knew for sure that the time had come.”

I’m really excited to be doing more work as a disability advocate, taking a proper holiday and starting a family.

Dylan will leave the tennis world with 23 quad wheelchair Grand Slam titles, four Paralympic gold medals and a Newcombe Medal, the title of 2016 Paralympian of the Year and recognition as the first male in history to win the Golden Slam. In November 2021, he added a different title to his stellar list – 2022 Victorian Australian of the Year.

“There are so many other people who deserve this award but I'm a proud Victorian so it’s an incredible honour,” Dylan says. “I’ll be using this platform to shine a light on how we can help people with a disability live the life they want by giving them the opportunities they deserve.”

Here, Dylan talks to us about what retirement looks like for him, how he practices self-motivation, and his most memorable tennis match.

Meet other extraordinary Australians

Read the inspiring stories of our other recipients and discover how they’re making a profound and positive contribution to their communities.

Was there a specific moment when you knew tennis would change your life?
“Probably the first time I picked up a racquet. I once hated my disability and I really didn't think my life would amount to anything. Then I started playing sport and I saw people in wheelchairs doing things that I hadn’t thought were possible.”

Aside from being a legend on the tennis court, you’re also a motivational speaker. How do you practise self-motivation in everyday life?
“Self-motivation is about finding what I love so I don't need much of a push to do it. And what I love isn't winning gold medals and Grand Slams. It's changing public perception of people with a disability so they can live the life they want, chase their goals and dreams in the same way I have been lucky enough to do.

“My passion for this purpose is what gets me out of bed in the morning. But I also have bad days when all I want to do is have a beer on the couch. And that's okay too. You don't have to try to change the world every day.”

Tennis and Paralympic sport helped me find my purpose and allowed me to see other people like me out there competing and achieving great things. That was pretty life-changing.

What would you say to a young person with a disability who’s struggling with self-acceptance?
“Be proud of the person you are. More importantly, be proud of your difference. Everybody wants to be different and we all have our differences from our car to our haircut or job. Yet we're embarrassed and ashamed to harness our real difference whether it's our disability, race or sexuality.

“I was told that my disability meant I’m broken. That I’m less capable so I shouldn’t travel or go to the post office or be in a relationship. And I believed that.

“My turning point was when I decided to be proud of my disability. I started talking about it openly and suddenly, everyone around me was more comfortable with it as well. My own perception of myself started to change, which was really important in helping me become the person that I am.

For every person who gives you a hard time about your disability, there are 10,000 legends worth hanging out with. And if we focus on these positives, life gets a lot better.

What gives you hope in the work that you do?
“There are many great advocates doing incredible work in this area so it’s definitely not me alone. Change is slow but it's happening. I just want to make it happen quicker.

“Diversity and inclusion is becoming an important part of many workplaces but there's still a long way to go. The unemployment rate among people with a disability is double that of able-bodied people. The participation rate has not changed in 27 years. And Australia ranks 25 out of 28 among the leading economic countries where people with a disability are living in poverty. But I'm not here to complain about it. I'm here to help.”

“Many people are ashamed of their disability because of unconscious bias, discrimination and lack of opportunity. My goal is to change these perceptions and break the stigma. If I can change the life of one person, even in the smallest way, then I've reached that goal.”

What are you proudest of?
“That I'm the same Dylan on the tennis court as I am at the pub or on stage. And I’m proud of this because it took a bit of work to get here. I used to try to be somebody else because I wanted to fit in and that ruined my life. So now I pride myself on being authentically me and fully proud of my disability.”

Favourite match and why.
“When I won my first Australian Open at Rod Laver Arena in 2015. There were 10,000 spectators and 500 of them were kids in wheelchairs. I had never seen that many smiling kids in wheelchairs in one spot before and I got really emotional.”

Australia Post is category sponsor of the Australian of the Year Award. We’re proud to partner with the National Australia Day Council and showcase the inspiring stories of remarkable everyday Australians.