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Artist in focus – Toni Arfaras

Artist Toni Arfaras shared her NDIS journey at AAV’s Annual General Meeting in April. Here is an extract of her story in her own words:

Toni Arfaras and a drawing of a lizard.

Toni Arfaras and her artwork On Guard at Red Rock.

“In September 2013, I was 46 years old, a primary school teacher, wife, mum of three children (aged 16, 19 and 21) and I volunteered on a variety of committees within my local community in the City of Casey. It was also at this time that I had a major stroke. Over the next three years, I had three mini strokes, and I was certified as never being able to work due to Total and Permanent Disability.

As someone who had always been interested in the Arts, I subscribed to the City of Casey’s arts newsletter. In one of these publications, there was an article about Arts Access Victoria [AAV] holding a week-long Autumn Gathering in April 2019. I didn’t think I was going to be a suitable participant. It was a week-long program and, due to the effects of my stroke, I knew I’d be lucky if I even made it through one day.

I emailed Myf Powell [AAV Creative Producer], who then rang me and assured me that attending just the one day would be fine. And if I had to leave early, that was no issue either. I didn’t last the whole day but, during the time that I was there, Jo van Heek [AAV NDIS Coordinator] ran a session about accessing art through the NDIA (National Disability Insurance Agency). A quick show of hands at the start of her session had quickly ascertained I was the only participant not in receipt of NDIS (National Disability Insurance Scheme).

Following this session, both Myf and Jo came up to me and asked if there was a reason why I wasn’t receiving NDIS. I told them that I hadn’t applied as due to never being hospitalised or sent to rehab. I didn’t have any medical reports, so didn’t feel I had any documentation to support my application. Jo offered lots of hope. She thought I had a good case for applying, and she was willing to meet up with me and assist where she could.

After going away for a short holiday, I rang the NDIA and started the process. Once I received the access report paperwork, I rang Jo and she talked me through some of the questions. In August and September, I received a number of phone calls from the NDIA to clarify information. I was amazed when I got the notification to advise I had been successful with my NDIS application.

I contacted Jo to let her know that her guidance had been helpful and that I had a meeting set up with the local coordinator. Jo offered to help again and, due to my inability to drive or catch public transport by myself, she offered to come to my house. I feel very fortunate that she did this. She provided assistance for writing my personal statement and goals, and asked questions that fleshed out other responses, as well as answering some questions my husband and I had. She also made suggestions as to what I should be seeking funding for. One thing she got me thinking about was what I wanted to do with my art and whether I wanted to pursue it.

She mentioned the possibility of applying for funding for an art mentor, so that I could work towards holding my own exhibition. At the time, this thought seemed quite overwhelming, so it wasn’t something I was keen to explore. But, after the responses I have been receiving to my drawings, this is now something I will be pursuing at future NDIS planning meetings.

At the moment, I am working on a number of different drawings with plans for a few other compositions circulating around in my head. Further to this, and unbeknown to me, in February, I was advised that I had been nominated for a Stroke Foundation award in the Creative category. This has since been followed by another email announcing I am a finalist, with the winner to be announced at the annual awards in May.

If it hadn’t been for Arts Access Victoria and the encouragement and support I received from both Myf and Jo with my drawing and my NDIS application, I don’t believe I would have been successful with my application. And neither would I now be looking to a future where my art is playing such a big role.


The importance of the Arts in the way that it heals, gives a voice, and empowers, both the community and one’s self, is immeasurable. So, to Jo, Myf and Arts Access Victoria, I say thank-you. Thank-you for encouraging and supporting me. Thank- you for the encouragement and support you give to others. And thank-you for providing opportunities where Deaf and Disabled people can explore and connect with the Arts.”

If you need any help or information about how you can access the arts through the NDIS, please contact Jo van Heek, AAV NDIS Coordinator.


Phone: 03 9699 8299


Image: Toni Arfaras and her artwork On Guard at Red Rock.

Artist in focus Arts Disability NDIS