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Maria Vakafua addresses the Junior Enterprise World Conference in Florence, Italy in September (UNDA/JEWC23/Aimo)

A University of Notre Dame student has used her positive experience of access and inclusion at the university to inspire a global organisation to make itself more accessible to people with disabilities and learning impairments. 

Maria Vakafua, who is partially blind, started at Notre Dame’s Sydney campus in 2017, nervous about how her disability would affect her goal of completing a Bachelor of Laws and Bachelor of Commerce. 

Six years on, Ms Vakafua detailed her positive experience during a speech to more than 300 people from around the world at the Junior Enterprise World Conference in Italy. 

Ms Vakafua and fellow Notre Dame students Charles Hurst, Jake Schloeffel and Jose Corpus are the founding members of Australia’s first Junior Enterprise project. 

Junior Enterprises are student-led, non-profit organisations. There are almost 2000 Junior Enterprises in 54 countries. 

Ms Vakafua joined the Junior Enterprise project in March and was given the job of focusing on finance and the establishment of an access and inclusion framework for the project. 

She based the framework on Notre Dame’s learning access plan model, which provides students with a disability with individualised plans to help them achieve their goals and participate equitably at university. 

The innovation of the Notre Dame students caught the eye of Junior Enterprise Global and earned them an invitation to the conference in Florence in September. 

Ms Vakafua was invited to speak at the closing ceremony and her speech inspired Junior Enterprise Global to advertise for a diversity and inclusion manager for the first time. 

She is also in talks with the UN’s Young Leader for Sustainable Development Goals program about organising a hybrid event on access and inclusion at Notre Dame in Sydney next year. 


Junior Enterprise Project (UNDA)