Belinda's vision for a more accessible and inclusive world

Published 7:00am 14 August 2023

Belinda's vision for a more accessible and inclusive world
Words by Ashleigh Howarth

Travelling the globe as an athlete with a disability in her younger years, Belinda Harris has seen firsthand how inaccessible many hotels and tourist attractions are.

After touring the world playing her chosen sport of Boccia, Belinda, who lives with cerebral palsy, has chosen to devote her life to improving accessibility and inclusivity for the one in six Australians who live with a disability.

“After experiencing firsthand the many barriers that exist, I came to the realisation that I had the ability to do something about it,” Belinda says.

After graduating from the University of the Sunshine Coast in 2019 with a Bachelor of Business and a double major in tourism, leisure, event management and marketing, Belinda’s career has continued to go from strength to strength.

“I achieved a GPA of 6.58, won the Chancellor’s Medal for my academic excellence and community contribution, and gave the graduate address at the graduation ceremony,” Belinda says.

“My education is something I am extremely proud of. Having a speech impairment and a physical disability, I always get people who assume that I have an intellectual disability.

“University was so important to break this assumption and it gave me credibility to attack the career I have now.”

After graduating, the Kallangur resident was selected to be an alumni representative to help develop the university’s new Disability Action Plan.

Today, she works in the role of AccessAbility Support Officer at the university and is also on track to achieve her major career goal of starting a consulting business in accessible tourism and events.

“I want to own a consulting business to help make tourism operators and their businesses more accessible and inclusive,” Belinda says.

“It’s really hard to find good places to stay, and people with a disability and their families should be able to get excited about their holiday without having to worry about accessibility.

“Hopefully in years to come operators who offer rock climbing, go karting, scuba diving and even jetskiing will have considered how they can make these activities more inclusive and accessible for people. “

Earlier this year Belinda was also chosen as a panellist at the third annual Accessible and Inclusive Tourism Conference in the Asia-Pacific Region on the Gold Coast.

“It was awesome, the conversations we were having,” Belinda says.

“Sure, we have a long way to go, but it did give me hope for the future.”

Belinda's vision for a more accessible and inclusive world

Turning her focus to the 2032 Olympic and Paralympic Games

With Brisbane set to host the Olympic and Paralympic Games in nine years, Belinda is working with Carers Queensland on a campaign to increase participation and representation of people with a disability in sport and recreation on and off the field.

As part of this project, Carers Queensland has established a Beyond the Sidelines reference group, made up of nine people with disability from across the state who will meet bi-monthly.

Belinda has been chosen to be one of the people who will be instrumental in helping the organisation to identify best practices in sport and recreation for people with disabilities and remove the barriers to it.

She hopes these changes will be implemented in Moreton Bay ahead of the Games.

“As 2032 approaches, I believe Moreton Bay needs to include more grassroots inclusive sporting opportunities,” Belinda says.

“I want to ensure people with a disability have the same rights, choices opportunities in sport and recreation as everyone else in my community.

“It’s also about offering more opportunities so people with disability can consider having a career in sport if they want to.”

Having had a successful sporting career herself, Belinda hopes there will be more opportunities for others.

“Boccia was all that I could find in my suburb for my abilities, so I joined the Redcliffe Boccia Club and played seriously for awhile,” Belinda says.

“Then one day my coach said why not try for the State Championships.”

Belinda’s skill in the sport grew and in addition to playing nationally, she competed in the 2010 Boccia World Championships in Portugal and the 2011 Boccia World Cup in Ireland.

Support from NDIS

As a National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) participant, Belinda has a wide range of NDIS-funded therapies she says help her to live her best life, including physiotherapy, occupational therapy, psychology and podiatry.

Her NDIS-funded support workers help her get ready in the morning without having to depend on her parents. It has also allowed her to be more socially active.

“I receive support which enables me to maintain my employment and to live an active and healthy lifestyle,” Belinda says.

“As a person with disability, it’s quite exhausting being independent, especially when you’re juggling so many things.

“So having supports to help me get ready for my day can often save me hours of time.”

Belinda says while her disability is an important part of her identity, it doesn’t completely define her.

“I’m super proud to be a disabled person, and it has definitely shaped my life experiences, but it doesn’t completely define me. I am a daughter, sister, crazy aunt, friend, niece and a cousin,” Belinda says.

Find out more

Carers Queensland can support you to find out more about the NDIS, to apply for funding and to help you get started with the NDIS.

If you have a disability and are not eligible for the NDIS, Carers Queensland can help you identify and link you to options for support in your community.

For more information, phone Carers Queensland on 1300 999 636 or email cq@[email protected]

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