I had to become my own role model…so I did

Dec 12, 2023 | Blog, Guest Blog

Guest Blog by NED Ambassador DJ Cooper Smith

Melbourne based DJ and producer, Cooper Smith is an 18-year-old with cerebral palsy (CP) who … as a DJ artist brings high energy and passion to his performances. He loves producing music with an emotional vibe and dreams of playing at international festivals showcasing his own music.”  Triple J Unearthed, 2023

We asked NED Ambassador DJ Cooper Smith to tell us a bit about his story as a DJ and his life in general. This is only part of the ‘amazingness’ that is Cooper!

“At 11 years old I felt strongly about being represented as a person with disability in mainstream advertising.  When I looked at magazines and TV, I never saw anyone with a disability like me who uses a walker and a wheelchair – so I felt like I wasn’t represented.

I also really wanted to try modelling, as a child who happens to have a disability. There wasn’t anyone with CP that I could look up to as a role model, so I had to become my own role model.

I love music and how it enables me to communicate and express myself and do things – like standing and dancing for two hours – which I didn’t think was possible. With my CP I find some movements and speech challenging, but my disability is just a small part of my identity.  The Dylan Alcott Foundation, gifted me new decks in 2021, and an invitation to play my first music festival, Ability Fest* 2023 on the main stage in Melbourne. The rest is history!

You can watch my interview at Ability Fest for more of my story and for some of my live set on the main stage, here.

I love being able to communicate through my music and entertain people across live community events, on radio, and in clubs.  Anyone can enjoy music and it doesn’t matter about their ability.

I have ‘dystonic CP’ which means that movements happen without my control, so it can make DJing tricky. But I like a challenge and I’ve learned how to adapt the equipment. The technology is changing and becoming way more accessible.

When I am not doing gigs or daily practice on my decks, my day-to-day life is busy.

I’m often invited to speak in schools about my life as a teenager with CP; although to be honest, once the initial questions are answered, mostly the kids are just interested in my life and music.

I’m a brand ambassador for the Cerebral Palsy Alliance and also work with the City of Melbourne as an accessibility consultant. I’ve also been fortunate to do some modelling for an Australian owned inclusive clothing range designed to include those with disability.

And I recently worked with detectives from Victorian Police to help them understand what it’s like to interview people with different communication styles and speaking patterns.

My motto is ‘Never give up!’ I’m passionate about persistence, showing up and doing what I say I’ll do. My advice to people with disability is: If you’re trying your best and are positive about your disability; not complaining about the situation and feeling sorry for yourself; then people are more likely to support you and want to be around you. People are also more likely to help someone with a disability if they have something in common.

I now have an agent, ‘Thick as Thieves’ to manage my bookings and I play great gigs and festivals in Melbourne and around Australia. In 2024, I am hoping to do a European and Australian tour.

In 2023, I was invited to be a NED Ambassador. I said, ‘yes’ straight away because the Neighbours Every Day campaign matches how I feel about inclusion and belonging. I’m so happy little kids now with CP, or who use a wheelchair, or who love music, can see someone like them, smashing their goals.

We all deserve to grow up and see ourselves reflected in all areas of life. My hope as a NED Ambassador is that I can raise awareness about that and help create belonging in Australia – and beyond!

DJ Cooper Smith’s debut track ‘Stay’ shot up to number 20 in ARIA charts for Club Music.  You can listen here Stay – (Extended Mix)

*Ability Fest is Australia’s first all-accessible music festival and is the country’s leading inclusive event in the middle of Melbourne’s CBD. The festival raises money for the Dylan Alcott Foundation, which helps young kids with disabilities to achieve their dreams.