Laura O’Reilly of Sydney was none too pleased in 2008 when she found out her little brother Shane was literally being warehoused. Shane, then 18, suffered from quadriplegic cerebral palsy and spent his days in a care facility where he was ostensibly receiving occupational therapy. Laura, then 22, came to visit him to bring him a change of clothes at the address she’d been given and was stunned to find a whitewashed warehouse with a group of clients inside, all idling in wheelchairs. Separately, off to the side, the staff was busy with lunch.

“I remember going up to [Shane] and saying, ‘Mate, what’s happening?’” Laura, now 38, recalls. “He said, ‘We’re just waiting. Then we’re gonna do art.’ I just remember thinking why would he be doing art? He didn’t have the dexterity to hold a paintbrush.”

That turned a wheel in Laura’s head—and in that of her other brother Jordan, now 35, as well. In 2011, Jordan and Laura launched Fighting Chance and Hireup, a pair of web-based networks that find housing, training, care teams, and more for people with disabilities and their families across Australia.

The need is acute. Nearly 1 in 6 people has a disability. That’s 4.5 million Australians, 34,000 of whom have cerebral palsy. The condition alone costs the nation of 26 million people $1.47 billion for treatment and care each year, a third of which is paid for by patients’ families. Through their platforms, the O’Reillys are making a meaningful dent in that, providing caregivers and financial support for more than 11,000 families—and they are looking to blow past the 25,000 marker as early as 2025. In 2021, Laura was awarded the Order of Australia Medal for outstanding service to the disability sector, and last June, Jordan received the honor too.

Nick Cubbin

“Laura and I said, ‘Let’s get involved,’” Jordan says. “Let’s create service and create the kind of life Shane and others deserve.”

They are doing that—and much more. Sadly, Shane himself did not live to see the contribution his big sister and brother are making. He died in 2011, at age 21, of severe sleep apnea related to his condition.

“It was extremely traumatic,” says Jordan, “but off the back of that we decided just to throw ourselves into this work. It is incredibly inspirational to see just how powerful Shane was in his own small and humble way.”

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