INTERVIEW: Jos Franciscus from Cord Perth

photo 2 (2)Jos Franciscus and I set this interview up over email. That’s not unusual for me – it’s how I set up most of my interviews – and I suspect, after hearing about her busy week of media meetings and interviews, it was pretty standard for Jos, too. But here’s the unusual thing about all those emails we exchanged: Jos can’t move her fingers. She broke her neck in two places five years ago while on holiday on Hamilton Island, which left her paralysed from the torso down.

She laughs as she tells me that’s the kind of thing she’s found most flattering about all the work that’s gone into the art auction she’s organising through her spinal cord charity, Cord. “People say to me, ‘I didn’t realise you were a quadriplegic! I couldn’t tell from your emails, or your voice on the phone’,” she says. “That’s the beauty of technology. Disability does’t have to be a barrier.”

That’s at the heart of what Jos is doing with her auction – raising funds for the spinal unit at Fiona Stanley Hospital, but very deliberately funnelling them not into research, but into technology. Jos explains that decision came from a combination of her personal experience as a patient, and her expertise as an occupational therapist, which was her profession until the accident. “I really believe we’re not too far from a cure for spinal cord injury, but what are we doing to do in the meantime?” she says. “People need to access the community until there is a cure. And part of the cure is what we can do right now. What can we do about quality of life for people with disabilities? That’s why my funds go into technology and equipment, not research.”

Pippa McManus's donated piece for the Cord fundraiser

Pippa McManus’s donated piece for the Cord fundraiser

Jos remembers the first time she was given an iPad, describing the freedom the technology granted her. “Before that, my husband had to do all of these things like typing emails for me,” she says. “I felt quite powerless.”

That feeling, as well as the isolation Jos felt being away from home – she did her rehab in Brisbane after the accident – inspired the theme of this year’s auction: dis/connect. Jos says she’s recruited local and national artists to create original works for the event, with half painting on the theme of connection, and half on disconnection. Cord’s Instagram feed is littered with sneak peeks of artists’ works, and they’re seriously impressive – how did she manage to get so many talented people involved?

“It’s been ridiculous, everyone is so nice!” she says, with this grin on her face that makes you think you know why people are so willing to help out. “Everyone’s being incredible generous, and I’ve had no issue trying to find artists.”

Jos says that the auctions Cord ran in Brisbane in its previous guise of Art for Spine were similarly well-supported. She suggests it’s because Perth and Brisbane are fairly small, and quite friendly, but says also that it could be because though spinal cord injuries don’t affect too many people, it’s something everyone can imagine happening to themselves. “All it takes is one little wrong turn,” she says thoughtfully. “You could fall off a fence, or have a motorbike accident, or you could just slip in the shower and break your neck. Hey, I fell out of a golf buggy!”

Andy Quilty's donated piece for the Cord fundraiser

Andy Quilty’s donated piece for the Cord fundraiser

“You can always imagine it happening to you,” she continues. “Maybe that’s why people are so compassionate when it comes to spinal cord injuries, because they see what they do in everyday life and not being able to do that hits home.”

That’s something that affected her, she admits: though she was thrilled when her then-boyfriend (now husband!) proposed two months after the accident, a thought did cross her mind: what’s the point in getting married if I can’t walk down the aisle? But now, she says, she’s reframed her thinking.

“The things I’ve envisaged for my life will still happen, just in a different way,” Jos says. “It took me a long time to come to that acceptance. I was 29 when I had my accident. I was a very social person, very active – I’d spend 10 hours a week at the gym. I was a non-stop kind of person. That all came to a grinding halt. I felt like I lost my identity. More than coming to terms with the physical side of this – which isn’t a small thing! – was coming to terms with who I am, what I do with my life now. I’ve been frustrated at times, but you have two choices: to lay down and die, or to keep on going. And you do keep going – you only have one choice. You eventually come to accept that you just have to move on and do it in your own way.”

They got married sitting on a beautiful chaise lounge.

Anisah Nasir's donated piece for the Cord fundraiser

Anisah Nasir’s donated piece for the Cord fundraiser

Jos says a key driver in her recovery was finding herself in her relationship with her husband. Another crucial aspect? Helping other people get the best outcome from their situations, which is why she started the art auctions. Jos’s face lights up as she describes the musicians, food trucks, craft beer and good vibes that will fill Whipper Snapper Distillery for the auction next week (I’d later describe the event to a friend as a “hipster paradise”, before very seriously saying I’d be there and inviting them along, too). As much as it is a fundraiser for spinal injuries, the auction is a chance to celebrate local art and culture, which is fitting: Jos is firm on the fact that though her quadriplegia is unquestionably a part of her identity now, it’s not the only thing about her. “It’s a part of me, but it’s something I have, not something I am,” she says. “I’m in a wheelchair, but I’m a person in a wheelchair, not just a wheelchair”.

“I’m excited for the art, the food, the wine, and it’s also a thank you to all the people who have supported me financially and otherwise in the last five years,” she finishes. “It’s a bit of a party for all my mates!”

You know I’d do anything to be included in that bunch. I’ll be at the auction – if you’re keen to join, head here for tickets, and to the Facebook event for more information.

By Sophie Raynor

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Categories: Art, Charity, Events, Music

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  1. Jos Franciscus Interview | Sophie Raynor - June 6, 2015

    […] series. Today, it’s art-auction-planner and charity head Jos Franciscus from Cord Perth. Head here to read the interview, and read on for some background […]

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