Glen McDonnell has overcome immense adversity in his life and hopes to make a difference in the lives of others with disabilities.
Glen (pictured), a Psychology Honours student at Charles Darwin University, is in the middle of his Honours research in which he is examining body-image, self-esteem, quality of life and generalised contentment, in physically and non-physically disabled people.
And he knows better than most about physical challenges. At age 15, Glen suffered a motorcycle accident which left him a paraplegic and, because of the severity of his injuries, he had to withdraw from school and adjust to a drastically different life.
“The first couple of years after the accident were particularly hard and tested me as much mentally as it did physically,” he said.
“It’s hard for people to imagine just how much things can change in the blink of an eye.”
Following two years of rehabilitation, Glen returned to his family in Darwin and worked in the IT industry for a short time.
“As a result of my disability, a lot of avenues were closed to me and computers became my main focus of interest,” he said.
He quickly realised, however, that the IT industry was not for him and began to foster an interest in behavioural psychology.
Due to the accident interrupting his secondary education, Glen enrolled in CDU’s Tertiary Enabling Program to gain the entry requirements into the Bachelor of Behavioural Science degree.
His Honours thesis aims to add to the pool of research on body-image by examining how a physical disability affects individuals’ perceptions of themselves and how their self-esteem and quality of life is impacted.
“Being in a wheelchair has given me a whole new outlook and I could observe first hand how people reacted to me and others like me.”
He points to the lack of research on body-image perception among people with physical disabilities, and hopes his research will add to what little research exists.
“One of the most interesting things that I have uncovered in the literature so far is the assumption that the more severe a physical disability is the more impact it will have on an individual’s perception of themselves. But more current research suggests that even minor imperfections such as a small scar or birthmark can cause just as much concern to an individual’s body-image and self-esteem as a major physical disability.”
When asked about what continued to drive him, he said: “It simply is curiosity and a keen interest in learning more about the way humans behave.”
Glen paid tribute to CDU’s Psychology staff, especially Dr Mary Morris, for assisting him throughout the years and for “keeping it real”.