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Episode 3: Accessible Brisbane

Meet people with disability from across the state in Choice and Control, a podcast from Carers Queensland.

Bella Bisne and her best friend Bri (seated) dance with All Abilities Australia.

Bella Busine is one half of the dynamic duo behind Accessible Brisbane.  Together with her best friend Briana, Bella is on a mission to make Brisbane a more inclusive and accessible place for people with disability.

We caught up with Bella about their adventures, including indoor skydiving and all-abilities dance, a hotel with “the step of death”, and much more.

Follow Bella and Bri’s adventures through Accessible Brisbane on Facebook.  You can also check out All Abilities Australia to find out more about their inclusive dance program.

If you have a story about a Queenslander with disability you think we should know about, please contact us via the Carers Queensland enquiries line on 1300 999 636, or via email at cq.enquiries@ndis.gov.au.

Download the transcript

00:06 Douglas Connor:  Hello, and welcome to Choice and Control, a podcast celebrating the contribution that people with disability make to our communities. In this series we are talking all things disability, social inclusion, and the National Disability Insurance Scheme.

Throughout this series, you will also be hearing some great practical advice for making the most of your plan from local people accessing the Scheme. This podcast is brought to you by Carers Queensland, NDIS Local Area Coordination Partner in the Community.  I’m your host Douglas Connor, thank you for tuning in.

Our guest today is Bella Busine, and we’re talking all things accessibility and social inclusion, as well as a little bit about accessible indoor skydiving and adaptive dance. We’re also talking about the range of exciting projects that Bella and her best friend Briana have currently got going on, all of which are aimed at making Brisbane a more accepting, inclusive and accessible place to live. Hi Bella, welcome to Choice and Control.

01:03 Bella Busine: Thank you for having me.

01:06 Douglas: Yeah, thank you so much for taking the time to have a chat with me today. Your best friend Brianna is nonverbal, but you’re able to communicate really well together. Can you explain to me how that communication style works?

01:17 Bella: Yeah, for sure. So Bri is nonverbal, but she’s understanding everything I say, so I just talk to her the way I’m talking to you right now, and she’s able to understand that.  She responds using a range of communication methods, a bit more specifically, she uses her head and her eyes. So different cues of her head, her eyes mean different things, and as you get to know her better, you understand what they are.  So a general example is when she looks up with her eyes, she’s saying yes, or when she looks down to the side, she’s saying no.

She also uses a PODD. Now a pod stands for a Pragmatic Organised Dynamic Display. Some people have a PODD book, but Bri uses a PODD app.  So when we’re using it, I read down the words of the columns in the book or the app, and she’ll tell me yes or no.  So then, she can get her meaning across really effectively. So she could say what she wants , or share her opinions on some things.  For example, on a Sunday morning, she’ll often use her PODD to come up with ideas of where we should go or what we should do for that day, and she can really get her meaning across very well.

02:42 Douglas: Awesome. And the pair of you have run a Facebook page called Briana and Bella Accessible Brisbane for some time now, and you review the city’s amenities, accommodation and activities in terms of their accessibility.  It’s clear to say the passion that you guys have for building more accessible communities. Where did that passion come from and how did your project get started?

3:02 Bella: I think that it originally came from frustration. It came from a frustration of a lack of awareness and information around accessibility.  If we wanted to go somewhere, there was very little information online often about the places where we were going, in terms of accessibility.  Or even if we could find a number to call, to call someone, we still would not always get the right information. So someone might speak to us on the other end, but they don’t necessarily understand what an accessible location contains.

A really good example of this was once we were going to one of the local pools, one of the Brisbane City Council pools. We called ahead because we’d read on the website that it was wheelchair accessible, but we didn’t know whether that meant there was a hoist, or a ramp, or what that really meant.  And we got told by the person on the other end that it was accessible and that there wasn’t a hoist, but there was a ramp and that all sounded really good. And we turned up, but the disabled toilets, you couldn’t actually open the door the whole way and Bri couldn’t actually fit in. And so therefore it’s not an accessible location.

A ramp doesn’t equal accessibility.

So frustration really came from it. Another thing that inspired us to start it was seeing friends of ours who have similar disabilities to Bri, and seeing them maybe not accessing all that was there in Brisbane because they just didn’t know about it. So they would stick to things that they knew were accessible, which I fully understand.  But this was just a way to be able to show more things that are out there and be able to help others live their life fully, which means a lot to us.

5:01 Doug:  Yeah. It’s a really amazing awareness tool. And you post a lot of videos and posts up on the Facebook page, and one particular post I saw online was a video of you and Brianna going indoor skydiving together. And the footage was absolutely awesome. Can you describe that experience for me?

5:18 Bella: Yeah, absolutely.  Indoor skydiving was one of the coolest things that we’ve ever been able to do together.  So we met Mike from iFLY at the Source Kids expo in 2018, and they were advertising how their indoor skydiving was, you know, ‘accessible’ or ‘disability friendly’ or some words like that.

I said to Bri as we were walking around, look, we really need to find out what that means.  Because we’ve come to things like this before, where they advertise as being ‘accessible’ or ‘inclusive’, but they are probably not thinking of needs that are as complex as Bri’s.  They’re maybe thinking of people with ASD, or people with a little bit higher level of mobility.  And that’s great that they’re being inclusive of other needs, but they weren’t really always targeting her needs.  And I didn’t really think that indoor skydiving was going to be one of those ones.

So we went and spoke to Mike and I said Bri’s interested, because she was, will she be able to do it? He said ‘absolutely’, and I still really didn’t believe him. He invited us to come down and try it, and he was a hundred percent correct. We were both able to do it.

We both loved it. I thought it was an amazing adrenaline rush. Bri actually found her whole body felt really relaxed afterwards. Absolutely we were able to do it and she just loved it. It was one of the most inclusive experiences we’ve ever had.

7:02 Douglas: Yeah, it’s really amazing.  When I was watching the video and I saw the title of indoor skydiving, and I saw the staff describing the sport as one of the most accessible in the world, that just seemed like a really unlikely sort of statement.  But you really did find that it was super accessible for Bri’s needs and your own?

7:21 Bella:  Absolutely. I completely agree with you indoor skydiving, it sounds like an extreme sport and in some ways it is, and it’s definitely not one that you would pair with someone who does have complex needs, or disabilities or things like that. It just sounds like it would be a litigious disaster.  But it wasn’t, and they were so accessible and inclusive.

You know, when we talk about accessibility, we might talk about a building. So first of all, we could actually get into the building. So that’s always a really good start. And then the attitude around Mike and the rest of the iFLY team was amazing. They wanted to get to know Bri as much as they could in the short time that they had so that she would be comfortable when she was flying.  They want to be able to include people and that makes a huge difference.  They just genuinely want everyone to be able to do it.

So one of the things that we found was, so when you go indoor skydiving, it’s in the video, you have to wear these coverall kind of things, and they’re not easy to put on. And the team helped Bri, as she was comfortable, to get them on. But they’re also open to, if you need to take them to duck back home or to one of the changing places in the Gold Coast, they’re happy for you to do that. They want you to be able to fly. And that was honestly just a bizarre experience, but one of the best ones as well.

8:57 Douglas: Yeah. That flexibility makes a huge difference, doesn’t it?  Have there been any other experiences on this journey the last couple of years of reviewing the experiences and locations, which really stood out for you?

9:10 Bella: iFLY was definitely a standout one.  We’ve had some other great experiences.  So we flew on an airplane for the first time together last year, in 2019, we flew down to Sydney.  We had a wonderful experience at both Brisbane Domestic Airport and Sydney Domestic Airport and Qantas were so fantastic. So that was an incredibly helpful and amazing experience.

Bri specifically has really enjoyed and had a great experience when we went to the Triffid.  So we’ve been to the Triffid a couple of times for live music, including the charity event Brisband.  Bri’s also really enjoyed going out to Eagle Street Pier in the evenings. They’ve been ones that she’s loved going to and reviewing.

Eagle Street can be challenging, you need to know your way around for accessibility. But the thing that can make the biggest difference on our journeys and experiences, is the people that we come across. For me, the standout experiences are when we meet someone, and we talk to someone, and we make a social connection, so I find that to be a huge standout.

10:18 Douglas:  And when you’re reviewing these locations, is there a set of requirements that you guys follow?

10:26 Bella:  The idea we have is that sort of follow accessibility, so physical accessibility, can we get there?  The sort of idea that we like to think about is we do it as an analogy to a party: can we get to the party?  That’s accessibility.  Inclusion is getting the invitation to the party.

So we try to think of that when we go to places: can we actually make it into the building? We stayed somewhere in Sydney, which was advertised as being wheelchair accessible, but to actually get into the building – and this is on our Instagram and our Facebook – there was this massive step. We called it the Step of Death. So our brother and our sister-in-law had to help to get Bri into it. So not accessible, so already you can’t consider that place to be accessible.

So we examine can we get into the building.  Once we get into the building, can we get around?  A lot of cafes are really challenging.  At the moment with COVID, it’s actually a lot easier, but cafes can be hugely challenging to get in and out of the tables.  Or getting around clothes shops can be incredibly challenging. So can we move around in the building?

And then lastly, are we welcome? Do people want us? Are they kind, are they talking to us? Or if it’s an activity, are they finding ways or working alongside us so that we can both be included in it?

11:58: Douglas:  And in your travels then around Brisbane and Southeast Queensland and the travels that you’ve taken interstate, how accessible have you generally found the communities that you’ve visited?

12:11: Bella: In general, Brisbane can be pretty good.  One of the more difficult parts of Brisbane is actually Brisbane City. We find Brisbane City and Queen Street Mall to be quite difficult.  A lot of the places can have one or two steps to get into the shops and that in itself is suddenly not accessible. So one of the shops that springs to mind is Lush, in the city, that’s one of the bath and cosmetics shops.  It’s Bri’s favorite shop, but in the city, she can’t actually get into it because of the two steps out the front. So Brisbane City itself can be quite challenging.  Some of the places have back alley elevators and things like that, which once you know is helpful, but it’s not the same as just being able to go into a shop.

So Brisbane City itself can be quite challenging.  As a general rule of thumb, the older the place is, the more challenging it is. That’s not always the case, but it’s just a general rule of thumb that we go by.

Gold Coast we love, we do love the Gold Coast, partly because it’s flat. So naturally in Brisbane you’ve got to contend with terrain, like, there are hills.  We love the Gold Coast because it’s flat.

Sydney and other places that we’ve travelled, again it just depends on the area, and it’s also based on the organization that you’re visiting or the activity that you’re going to.  The physical accessibility, but also the social mindset of where you are.

13:42 Douglas: And you and Briana are also big supporters of the Changing Places movement. Can you tell our audience what that is and why that’s so important?

13:51 Bella: Changing Places is just critically important to our society. So what a changing place is, it’s a fully accessible bathroom. So when people think about accessible amenities, they may think of a slightly larger bathroom with a grab bar, but these amenities are not actually accessible for everyone in our population. There are a lot of people who need more support when they’re using a bathroom or they may wear incontinence aids.  There are lot of children and adults who, once they can’t use infant changing areas, are really stuck when they go out to the community.

So the changing place has a hoist. It has an adult-size change table as a minimum, some have more.  Some have showers, some have a few more things.  It also has a toilet and sink with space under to wheel in.

These are critically important because without changing places, our entire life becomes dictated around when we need to get home to get to the bathroom. And I just want like you to take a second, if you’ve never had to plan your entire day around having to get to a bathroom, to imagine how exhausting that is and how taxing that is.  Or planning events at places where you know there is a changing place.  There’s getting more, there are more popping up in Brisbane, but there are still not enough. There still aren’t enough.

We’ve been to most of them. And when we get to go places which have a changing place, it’s life changing, it changes everything. It changes our mental space because suddenly we’re just like everyone else.   We can say to our mates when we’re out, ‘I just have to go to the bathroom, be right back’, not like ‘we’ve got to go home now.’

It’s a complete game changer. Can you imagine if there were only like 10 public bathrooms in Brisbane?  Society couldn’t function.  But this is a reality for people who have higher level of needs or who wear incontinence aids and need an adult sized change table.  This is their reality, and our reality as well.  We’re huge supporters of it because it’s a life changing thing. Changing places are life changing.

16:14 Douglas:  Yeah, it’s really, really vital work. One of the other big passions for you and Brianna is dancing. Can you tell us a little bit about your latest project, All Abilities Australia?

16:26: All Abilities Australia was born out of passion for dance. I have been a dancer for basically my whole life, and two of my very good friends, Catherine Proctor and George McKella have also been dancers for their whole lives, but the three of us also have a connection with someone in the disability community in some way, shape or form. We have a passion for everyone being able to access dance.  Everyone can dance and we want to be able to help people to do that.

So Bri started dancing five years ago. She’s made huge strides with her performance skills and her confidence, and she is a valued member of our team. She is one of our student teachers as well.  We just want everyone to know that they can dance.

Our dance programs run very much like a typical recreational dance classroom, but we take the time to know our dancers individually and we want to teach everyone in the way they can learn.  We want to be able to help people to reach their individual goals, however we can help them with that. We now run programs all around Brisbane, on the Northside, Westside, and Southside, and some out at Ipswich as well.  If anyone’s interested, you can find us at allabilitiesaustralia.com, or find us on Facebook or Instagram.

18:00 Douglas: I was following online and when the social distancing laws came into place due to COVID-19, as an organisation you were really able to quickly adapt to the situation and take your classes online and to offer Auslan video classes as well. It was really awesome to see.

18:21: Bella:  Yeah, I think when COVID-19 and social distancing hit, everyone had a brand new education into innovative ways to reach their audience or their participants, or how to work.  It’s been interesting for everyone. And for us, we were no different in that. We had to try to find a way to be able to reach people. I think our goal throughout all of this has been to keep our community connected and to keep them motivated because for a lot of people, mentally, this time has been quite difficult.

We’ve offered all of our classes for free.  We’ve done Facebook live classes which have just been open to everyone. We’ve done some Zoom classes as well to keep people moving, and to keep them connected, because exercise is great for your mental health and connection’s also really important. So that was our goal, and we’re really excited that we are soon going to be able to return to the classroom and, with social distancing in place, be able to dance together.  It’s been important to keep this up during this time and I’m so glad that we’ve been able to stay connected with our community and keep on dancing.

19:32 Douglas:  That’s awesome.  Your work really all comes back to creating a more inclusive and accessible world. Why do you think at its core inclusive communities are so important?

19:42: Bella: At its core inclusive communities are important because everyone is equal. Everyone is a member of this community and society, and has the right to be a participant in it. They have the right to live a life fully, and everyone has the responsibility to welcome everyone, to welcome diversity. We’ve seen horrendous things happening over in the States, as a result of people not being inclusive and not being accepting.

We need to make headway in inclusion. Everyone has a right to be here and has a right to live fully, but everyone also has the right to feel welcome. It’s like I said before, even if you can get to the party, you still need an invitation to it. And so we need to invite everyone.

20:32: Douglas:   And one last question Bella, what’s next for Briana and Bella? Any big plans on the horizon?

20:39 Bella:  It sounds cliché, but the sky is definitely the limit for us. We always have plans. We’ve been doing a lot of planning during this time of social distancing, a lot of dreaming. We want to keep being tourists in our own town and finding more accessible locations and letting everyone know about them.

We have more plans to travel interstate. We keep tossing up where we should go. It’s difficult: we want to go everywhere, basically.

Last year we were able to sit on a social inclusion panel at Carers Queensland and Bri absolutely loved that, so we’d love to do more things like that in the future.  We’re just open for everything and excited.

21:17 Douglas:  Well, certainly here at Carers Queensland, we’ll be offering some more of those forums and panels as soon as we can get back up and operating after COVID-19 loosens its grip a little bit on the community.  That’s awesome that you guys had a good time.

That’s all for today. Thank you so much for taking the time to have a chat with me.

21:35 Bella:  Thank you very much.

21:41 Douglas:  To learn little more about Bella and Briana and the work that they’ve been doing in the community head along to facebook.com/AccessibleBrisbane.  While you’re there, make sure to check out the video we mentioned earlier of Briana and Bella trying out indoor skydiving, it really, really is worth the watch.  If you’re interested in learning a little bit more about some of the accessible locations near you, and some of those locations that might be a little less accessible, you can also check out their video reviews on the page as well.

Thank you once again, for tuning into Choice and Control, the Carers Queensland podcast.  For more information about Carers Queensland, the National Disability Insurance Scheme, or the Local Area Coordination Program, please connect with us online at carersqld.com.au.  Or you can catch up with us on Facebook at facebook.com/CarersQueenslandNDIS. We hope this podcast can become a place for people with disability to share their experiences and their stories, so if you have a story that you think we should know about please contact us via the Carers Queensland enquiries line at 1300 999 636 or via email cq.enquiries@ndis.gov.au.

Until next time, thanks for listening.

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Want to know more?

Read more about our NDIS Local Area Coordination Partners in the Community Program.

If you have any questions, please call 1300 999 636, email cq.enquiries@ndis.gov.au, or visit our Contact Us page.