'Ordinary' Australians honoured

Gemma Najem

For 25 years, Canberra's Pam Beckhouse has found joy by looking at a humdrum day through the eyes of a child with disabilities.

Now, the retired special needs teacher's assistant has been recognised for giving children with disabilities the foundational skills they need to lead an independent and fulfilling life.

The 79-year-old is one of hundreds of so-called "ordinary people" awarded a Medal of the Order of Australia on Monday for their services to the community.

When Ms Beckhouse began her work at Black Mountain School in northern Canberra in the 70s, there was little public awareness about how to treat children with disabilities, especially in public spaces.

It became her mission to give them "daily life skills" to help them navigate an often ignorant community.

"It was about interacting with the students and encouraging them to do what they could for themselves," she told AAP.

"Things like keeping yourself clean, household chores, raking the garden, interacting with the public.

"Our kids had to be better than everybody else because they were so noticeable."

One of the highlights for the children was a school trip into town, with one girl regularly planting a kiss on the bus driver as a 'thanks' for taking them, she said.

Fellow award recipient Kate Rose Barnett has served another vulnerable community.

When the consultant and academic gives speeches about older Australians she refuses to patronise them.

"I'm an advocate for positive ageing and models of aged care that speak to how people want to live," she told AAP.

"I hate the way we ghetto-ise older people. When there's a patronising tone."

The 68-year-old South Australian has worked with multiple organisations dedicated to addressing the needs of Australia's ageing population.

"When they talk about the tsunami of the ageing population like we'll be swamped and drown by it - look at all the business opportunities. That's a very different take," she said.

Research shows having a purpose in life means people live longer and healthier, she said.

"We take that away from most older people. It's about not writing people off entirely and saying, 'You've got grey hair. Bye bye.'."