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  • Writer's picturePeta

Rocca Salcedo Is Wheelchair Dancing Through Life 👩‍🦽💃🏻✨

Rocca Salcedo came to Australia as an international student to study International Law, when her whole life changed forever.

Rocca was involved in an accident that resulted in a lifelong disability. She spent over a year in hospital, away from family in Columbia trying to navigate this new life as a disabled person in a new country and in a second language.

In anyone's language that is a lot to take on. But Rocca did it.

Now as a qualified lawyer advocating for people with disabilities, the ambassador for This Girl Can and runs her own Wheelchair dancing group Dance and Roll.

If you would like more information about This Girl Can Vic see the website

If you are interested in joining Dance and Roll, you can email Rocca at

If you would like more information on Disability Rights:

The Victorian Equal Opportunities Commission/ Human Rights Commission

The Australian Human Rights Commission

Connect with Peta:

Instagram: @petahooke



Episode Transcript:

Peta [00:00:03] Hello and welcome to the I Can't Stand podcast. The podcast answering your questions on what life is like when you have a disability. This week I have the amazing Rocka South Side of Heavy today and I can't wait for you to hear her perspective. If you have a suggestion for an upcoming guest on the podcast or would like to ask me a question, there are three ways you can do so. One via my Instagram, my handle is at Peta Hooke. Two, you can send me an email. My email address is for three. You can contact me via my website Okay. Without any further ado, let's get into it.

Rocca [00:01:03] My name is Rocca Salcedo. I'm originally from Colombia. I speak Spanish, which is my first language. I came to Australia to study a master in international law and unfortunately, I have a car accident, a pedestrian accent to be more specific. And I have a spinal cord injury, so I use a wheelchair.

Peta [00:01:29] It's always interesting. I'm always hesitant in regards to how I talk about people's disability because for me there's no trauma connected to my disability. So how do you view your disability?

Rocca [00:01:42] Well, at the beginning, of course, was a big impact for many reasons. The first one is that Australia was not my country at that point. I came just to study. I was in the hospital for almost one year between emergency and rehabilitation. Also, I was not aware as an international student of my rights or my legal rights or dealing with lawyers. When you are an international student can be quite overwhelming, especially when English is not your first language and you don't know the legal system. And also knowing that I won't be able to walk again and that most likely these will represent that I will need ongoing medical treatments and therefore I will not be able to go back into my country because I will not receive these medical assistance and treatments back there. So it was a life change in many ways, not only as not being able to use my legs, but also to decide if I need to stay in Australia or not. I'm glad I took the position that I will stay in Australia and Australia is my home now and I'm Australian citizen and I'm very proud Australian citizen.

Peta [00:03:10] That feels like a lot of loss to have to deal with all at once. I mean, you're in a in a country that's not your home country. You've started a new degree in a new university. First, uni, for many people, including myself, is quite daunting. You're making new friends and then this happens to you. How did you come to terms with your accident, or is it still an ongoing process for you?

Rocca [00:03:38] I think something that I have to be to give credit was my parents and my family in general. They support my parents and especially my dad has a very stoic and practical view about life. I realise I can't change my disability. I can't change what happened. So I need to move on and try my best in my new version of myself in some way. And my father says something that I that I think helps a lot. And he said, You just cannot move your legs. That doesn't stop you to continue doing the things that you like. You have your brain and you are intelligent person with many resources and a good environment that in these moment, on that moment Australia was providing me. So basically I realise I can't change my situation. I need to accept it and enjoy life and try to do my best and continue my life. One of my main goals was to go back to uni and complete my degrees. As you mentioned, it was not easy. And mainly I think I have a very long routine in the morning. And sometimes I was having classes at 9:00, which unfortunately, unfortunately means that I have to get up at 5:00 in the morning. And I was lucky that many of my support workers were helping me and supporting me. Call me at 5:00 in order to be in the classroom on nine. Of course, by the end of the day, at 5:00 when we finished classes, I was absolutely exhausted because at the start of the day, the day very early. But I did it and I'm very proud of that.

Peta [00:05:40] And not only that, you're studying quite a dense and important subject matter, obeying the law. So I can't imagine what it would have been like trying to manage that workload as well, coming home after such a big day and then having to complete assignments and the like.

Rocca [00:05:58] Yeah, it was challenging, but I think is the strain that all of us have inside. If you really want to do something and if you really want to achieve something, you can do it. And this was in some way my mantra. Yeah, it was challenging. It was moments of loneliness and difficult, bad. But I did it. And I think, is this a strain that all of us are having sort.

Peta [00:06:25] So obviously, you're you're quite a determined person. And that, I'm presuming, happened well before your accident. That is just the person that you are. I'm always interested to hear people with disabilities who come from a little background. Did your disability give you a better understanding on what discrimination is, or did you feel like you already had that life experience?

Rocca [00:06:51] My father was a lawyer, very passionate, and I always remember his stories. But I think since I was little, I have a very big sense of fairness or justice. I remember I was the one at the school trying to protect and defend the kids from that was suffering from bullying or I was always the one questioning the teachers if I thought something was wrong. So I think this is part of my personality. But certainly I have to have my that having this knowledge of all law and legislation help me a lot during my disability, because many times I race or I have submit complaints to, for example, the Equal Opportunity Commission or the Human Rights Commissions to advocate for my rights, but also in extensions to the rights of people with disabilities.

Peta [00:07:56] Away from work. You have many vocations. You're quite intimidating with the amount of vocations that you do have. Can you tell me that? How did Skid Row started and what's important to you?

Rocca [00:08:10] Well as a person from with a Latino background from Colombia, music is in our blood. Music is a very important part of my culture and dancing as well. I remember dancing when I was in the school all day, folkloric dances of Colombia, and I just was feeling that I was missing, that I feel that I was not able to express myself through dancing or that I didn't know how to do it because sometimes I was feeling awkward or I was more probably thinking what all the people were thinking. Even seeing someone dancing with a wheelchair to. In 2018, Melbourne was hosting the Internationale Dance Championship and I went with a friend and I was surprised that one of the categories was wheelchair dancing or paradigms. That day I have them the inspiration to say to myself, okay, I'm going to do it. I'm going to to dance. The next day I contacted the Victorian Dance Association and they didn't have any idea what was part of dance. They couldn't help me finding a dance studio that was inclusive or was able to teach people with disabilities how to dance and express themselves. So at that moment, I decided to create a dance group for people with physical disabilities. The group has grown so much that now we have we are one family doesn't rule is one family. We tour different sessions. We offer online sessions for those people with disabilities that are unable to attend in person. We are not just a dance group. We are a community. We are building connexions.

Peta [00:10:13] So just to reiterate, there are two sessions for dance and role, one which is in person, which is at the Durban Art Centre in Preston here in Melbourne, or for someone like me that might not be able to get at Preston. There are also online sessions. As someone who also loves to dance, I'd be very interested to know the audience members. Are they? Many will translate. You have people in electric wheelchairs as well.

Rocca [00:10:45] We have people as well in electric wheelchairs and also we have people in scooters. Will the group welcome people with physical disabilities? So it's not just for people they use, which is for men and women. So regardless of your gender or your ability, anyone is welcome. There's a role.

Peta [00:11:06] And what is it like for you to be dancing again? What's the feeling that you.

Rocca [00:11:10] I was it was amazing, Peter, because first of all, I feel free. I feel connected to my body. But also, I have to admit of being honest. I remember when I when when I had my accident and I was in hospital, I have to admit that I hate to see the wheelchair. I didn't want to see it. I feel all poor. I feel ugly. I felt going now that everybody's going to see me. I look at this girl in the wheelchair. So I felt for the first time that the wheelchair and I, we are connected. The wheelchair dance with me is an instrument for me, and we can both connect in an artistic way and can be beautiful.

Peta [00:12:03] Yeah, I can understand. I mean, obviously I was born with my disability, so it's a little bit different. But I can understand how you could feel that the wheelchair is something that makes you feel less than or makes you feel further away from your self that you were before. When I try and advise people online on how they could go at viewing their wheelchair in a different way. It is such a great. It gives us great ability to be the person that we want to be. My wheelchair only gets me around every day. It gives me that full independence. But for you, it also gives you the ability to feel connected with yourself, feel empowered and also feel sexy. I think is a really important thing. Now I know I'm a workaholic, but I was sitting down watching some television and I thought, Oh, my goodness, I think I think I saw you and I emailed you and I said. Am I going crazy or am I seeing you? And I think I was right. I saw you. You're in an advertisement for this girl. Can be. Can you tell me about this movement.

Rocca [00:13:18] So these girl can be is a campaign that want to invite women to be physically active and to enjoy different activities, but most important, to accept themselves. I've said they embody how to embrace our body and love our body and feel confident and overcome as well. The fears of our being judged, which is one of the main reasons, is stopping women from getting active. So these girls can has a week that is start the 12th of September to their 18 and has a lot of resources and tools inviting women to different activities around the city, around Melbourne. But also for those women that are unable to attend, there are many resources online. So I would like to invite your audience to be see their website, which is these girls can dotcom talk to you and you can see the activities that are in person and activities that are online. I want to stress as well or highlight that the majority of the activities are for free. Also this year, one of the main purposes of the campaign is to encourage women that have kids, mothers, because it has been proven that in this society, women with kids are the ones that are less able to put time on themselves and to do any physical activities due to all that time that they spend, of course, or at work or with the kids. So it is an invitation for women to think, yeah, we care about our others, but also is an opportunity to care about ourselves.

Peta [00:15:17] I can't imagine how amazing it would be to see yourself having that empowered form of representation as a woman in a wheelchair in this campaign. Was that really important to you?

Rocca [00:15:32] The story behind that is that I created a dance group and I applied to for some grants to make health. And B, he'll send me all the information about these girls can bake. To be honest, I didn't know about that campaign before I heard about the campaign. And when I check the website, I realise that I didn't feel represented by any of the ambassadors because I didn't see a woman with a disability. I didn't see any woman lead in a wheelchair. So I contacted the campaign and I told them, Look, if the idea is to represent women in this society, regardless of their age, regardless of the makeup or the abilities, I am a woman with a disability. I use a wheelchair and I don't see any woman that can relate to me. So I'm happy to say that they took on board, they took into account my feedback, and then they asked me and they invited me to to be part of the campaign and to be one of the ambassadors, which I'm really proud to be one of the ambassadors. And I hope that, again, many women with disabilities join the activities.

Peta [00:16:55] Thank you for doing that. That's really important work for advocating for people with disabilities and being that form of representation. Yeah. That's just amazing. I didn't know you did that off your own back. You are truly a force to be reckoned with.

Rocca [00:17:13] Thank you.

Peta [00:17:14] So, as you said, you're Colombian born. I would love to see if my perception of South America is incorrect as far as accessibility and travel within that part of the world. Is it difficult?

Rocca [00:17:30] Yes, it is difficult, but it's not impossible. We have very, very old CDs. And also the reality is that access on the streets are very challenging. We don't have much access. Many restaurants and public places don't have access. We live in a country in Australia full of regulations and legislations and sometimes you go here, for example, into a restaurant which has a small estate and the staff are not able legally to help you because they can not leave. On the contrary, you go to South America and they are more than happy to help. So if you or any of your listeners are planning to go to South America yet, go but go with an open mind in our mind that needs to adapt to the circumstances and and be resourceful and enjoy.

Peta [00:18:41] Thinking about people that don't have a disability for a second. What do you wish they better understood about what it's like to live with a disability?

Rocca [00:18:51] I think people have a lot of stigmas and misconceptions, amazing information about disabilities, so they can't picture that a person with a disability can fall in love or can have a normal life or can travel or can cope. I think is the stigma of the person with disability just probably staying at home, watching TV or not even having opinions or thinking. And this is not just wrong, but is conning themselves for the opportunity to meet amazing people that live with disabilities.

Peta [00:19:35] What do you love about having a disability?

Rocca [00:19:38] When I have my disability. I was very young. I was in my twenties. And when you are in your twenties, you think that you have the world in your heart. Do you think that you are powerful? God, nothing will happen to you. Everything will be perfect. Do you never think that you will have addiction when you have 20? And these changed my whole perception of life. Made me realise that life is very ephemeral. That is very volatile. That is not permanent. That we have to enjoy. Enjoy every single moment on every single opportunity. When you live with a disability. And you are. Facing some health issues. For example, whether you enjoy life at the moment when you feel great and energetic, unhealthy. Because the reality is that you don't know tomorrow or the next year your body will change or you will have the same health. This was the change of the perception of my life. Since I have this ability to enjoy every single moment and to take every opportunity because you don't know what will happen to more. And certainly something that I learnt is that we can't control our life. We, we think that we are powerful or that we have control of our destiny. We don't. Things happen and we don't know what will happen tomorrow. So let's leave and enjoy the moment.

Peta [00:21:24] Is there anything you don't like about having a disability?

Rocca [00:21:28] The stigmas of the society around these abilities. And the lack of access as well. But more important, I would love to have the dream that one day disability or the war disabled or disability is not a label, that we have a society where this is part of the natural thing of our society that is part of nature. So I hope that that you don't need to say. Oh, I have a disability. Do you have winter boxes in your resort? No. Is as we are part of our society, every single place should be accessible because we are part of that society and we pay our taxes as well. So we shall have the right to access any single place.

Peta [00:22:17] What do you hope for the future for people with disabilities?

Rocca [00:22:21] The people with disabilities learnt to in our condition and don't feel embarrassed. We need to love ourselves and accept who we are and develop our strains on our innate powers. And as a lawyer, I think the most important thing is I hope that people with disabilities learn how to advocate for themselves. I have seen many people that prefer to remain quiet because they feel embarrassed if they are or they think that they will perceive in a wrong way if they make a complaint. But no, it is our right. If you feel that. You need to make a complaint because you have been victim of abuse in any kind. There are many resources and you are the best boys to advocate for yourself. Many people don't know that they are a disability commission. That is an Equal Opportunity Commission on Human Rights Commission that will be more than happy to help people with disabilities that are victims of any kind of abuse. So I think I would like to see people with disability to talk for themselves, to stand for their rights.

Peta [00:23:44] And I've also engaged the Human Rights Commission before in my past, and I have to say it was a pretty easy and lovely experience. They are very supportive in my experience, so I really do champion what you just said. I really do think advocating for yourself is so powerful and important because without education, nothing will change.

Rocca [00:24:09] Yeah, but also that sometimes people don't know how to do it or where to knock the door. People are in hospitals when they are in rehab. Should have an information. Where to make complaints in case that something happened. And the majority of people don't know what to do or where to go. So I would like to take these these opportunity to tell people there are resources, there are people that are willing to help. And you need to talk for yourself.

Peta [00:24:45] Thank you so much for being here. You are such an inspiring person and really made me think, oh goodness, I really need to get out there and be more active and be more social.

Rocca [00:24:56] So I think I hope to see you in one of the activities of these girl carnies from the 12 to 18. And by the way, dance a role is providing three common tries for wheelchair dancing. So I hope to see you in one of the sessions online or in person. Peta. No excuse.

Peta [00:25:17] Sounds good to me. Thank you for listening to this week's episode. I hope you enjoyed it. If you did, can you please follow the podcast on whatever platform you're listening on? It really helps more people find the podcast and for the podcast to be recommended within podcasting apps. As I said at the top of the episode, if you have somebody else in mind that you think I should talk to all you'd like to ask me a question for a future episode of the podcast, please let me know. And until next week. Have a good one, guys. Bye.


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