Travelling the globe as an athlete with disability in her 20s ignited a spark in Belinda that motivated her to devote her life to improving accessibility and inclusivity for the 1 in 6 Australians who live with disability.
“When I was travelling for sport, I saw how difficult it was for people with disability to travel, and how inaccessible many hotels and tourist attractions were,” Belinda, 36, said.
“After experiencing firsthand the many barriers that exist, I came to the realisation that I had the ability to do something about it.”
Belinda, who lives with cerebral palsy, got into playing Boccia after she finished high school.
Related to bowls and pétanque, Boccia is a paralympic precision ball sport that’s played indoors and tests competitors’ degree of muscle control and accuracy.
“Boccia was all that I could find in my suburb for my abilities, so I joined the Redcliffe Boccia Club and played seriously for a while. Then one day my coach said why not try the state championships,” Belinda said.
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.
After 6 years of competing, all the while juggling a part-time job at Anglicare, Belinda retired from Boccia in 2012. She then embarked on an ambitious plan to create a more inclusive and accessible society.
She threw herself into higher education, and in 2019 graduated from the University of the Sunshine Coast with a Bachelor of Business with a double major in tourism, leisure and event management and marketing.
“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 said.
A year later Belinda was selected to be the Alumni Representative with lived experience of disability on a working group to help develop the university’s new Disability Action Plan.
Not long after, the Moreton Bay local gained the role of Project Officer to develop and implement the new plan.
In 2021, the university offered Belinda the role of AccessAbility Support Officer, a position she holds to this day.
“My education is something I am extremely proud of,” Belinda said. “Having a speech impairment and a physical disability, I always get people 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.”
What makes Belinda’s academic achievements more remarkable is the fact she continued to work 20 hours a week while studying.
Belinda, currently an honorary researcher in accessibility in adventure tourism, is now on track to achieve her major career goal – 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 for people with disability,” she said.
“It’s really hard to find good places to stay, and people with 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 jet skiing, will have considered how they can make these activities inclusive and accessible for people.”
Earlier this year, during Queensland’s Year of Accessible Tourism, Belinda was chosen as a panellist at the third annual Accessible & Inclusive Tourism Conference in the Asia-Pacific on the Gold Coast.
The conference brought together tourism industry leaders to discuss ways better to serve the increasingly accessible and inclusive tourism sector.
“It was awesome, the conversations we were having. Sure we have a long way to go, but it did give me hope for the future,” Belinda said.
Belinda is also helping Carers Queensland on its Inclusive Sports and Recreation project as a member of the organisation’s Beyond the Sidelines Reference Group.
As one of Australia’s largest NDIS partners in the community, Carers Queensland has a key role to play in driving inclusive change in communities.
Its Sport and Rec project aims to increase the representation and participation of people with disability in sport and recreation, both on and off the playing field, in the lead up to the Brisbane 2032 Olympic and Paralympic Games.
Belinda is one of 8 people with disability who will be instrumental in helping the organisation to identify best practices in sport and recreation for people with disability and remove the barriers to it.
“As 2032 approaches, I believe the Moreton Bay region needs to include more grassroots inclusive sporting opportunities,” she said.
“I want to ensure people with disability have the same rights, choices, and 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.”
But it’s not all work and no play for Belinda, she’s a self-confessed ‘crazy’ aunt and a regular mosh pit dancer at festivals. She’s also a National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) participant.
Belinda has a wide range of NDIS-funded therapies that she says help her to live her best life, including physiotherapy, occupational therapy, psychology and podiatry.
“I receive supports to enable me to maintain my employment and to live an active and healthy lifestyle,” she said.
“I’ve also managed to get some car modifications and a new electric wheelchair approved, so I’ve been happy with it so far.”
Belinda says NDIS-funded support workers help her get ready for work in the morning without having to depend on her parents. It’s also allowed her to be more socially active.
“I was able to attend my bucket list item of attending the 4-day Caloundra Music Festival, with a support worker, and also attend the Fire Fight Concert down in Sydney,” she said.
“I have been able to attend networking events and conferences that help me with my career progression, as well as start Toastmasters to work on my public speaking and leadership skills.”
Belinda said NDIS supports also allow her a break from always being so independent.
“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,” she said.
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, a sister, a crazy aunt, a friend, a niece and a cousin,” she said.
As for Boccia, Belinda sees the sport as a metaphor for how she’s got to where she is today.
“I had to set a target, come up with a strategy to reach that target and take my shot,” Belinda said.
“There may have been a curve balls thrown in my way, but if I did not give up, I would always reach my target.”
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 but are not eligible for the NDIS, Carers Queensland can help you identify and link to options for support in your community.
You can also contact Carers Queensland on 1300 999 636, email@example.com, or sign up to our LAC Connect app here.