Akira with her dog Jagger
Valli Slater has one wish, that everyone be given the opportunity to enjoy the thrill and pure joy of swimming in the ocean.
She wants every person to be able to access the sea with dignity and her drive is to see that people with disabilities are included in this gift we take for granted.
The idea of a beach mat which runs over the sand to the sea and a water-friendly wheelchair is already being used by surf clubs in Queensland.
The idea has been proposed at several Rainbow Beach Chamber of Commerce meetings, however after much consultation, the idea has not been progressed due to practical issues.
Valli however, has applied for a grant for a 60-metre recycled plastic mat to lie over the sand and two all terrain wheelchairs to allow access for everyone, one adult and one child.
In Valli’s application the mat and wheelchair will be available for hire, based on volunteer availability, so initially every Saturday or Sunday, and as they get more interest they can expand it.
“The mat can go anywhere the flags are and the erosion issue is not a problem as the mat can be moved depending on the conditions of the day.
“This is not just for the disabled, it is for anyone; the elderly, mums with prams, people with walkers, any person with a chronic illness and special school excursions
“How demoralising for a man with no legs to have to be carried to the water and have no access and have to ask someone, not knowing what the response is going to be.
“One of the last things people want to do before they die is to just sit on the beach at the water’s edge and see and smell the sea.
“Imagine if we could have people with disability coming to the beach every weekend.”
Valli has an eight-year-old daughter, Akira, who has high needs and mobility issues that present like cerebral palsy and requires a wheelchair and 24-hour care.
Akira already has her own wheelchair plus an all-terrain chair which Valli paid $9000 for out of her super, as it is not something NDIS helps with.
“Kids have such complex needs and the NIDIS focus is on just basic quality of life, they don’t see this as a necessity.
“The only reason I’ve been able to fight for Akira is because I can understand it (the system). Not everyone has this ability and I just feel for all these families who are unsupported.
“To try to access opportunities is so hard and most parents are just so busy trying to keep their kids alive and trying to survive, so all the hoops you have to jump through at NDIS, people don’t have the energy
“They need community members to advocate for them. You have elderly parents who are still caring for their children/adults. It’s not hard if we all work together.”
While NDIS does offer some support for individuals there is no support for communities and Valli wants to make Rainbow Beach disability friendly.
“Let’s focus on the solutions, not the roadblocks. I think Rainbow Beach needs to become more inclusive.
“We are falling behind by not having access for people with mobility issues and it is embarrassing, but I am hoping to work with the new council to find further solutions.
“There is just so much opportunity that we are not utilising. We are slipping backwards here.
“People with disabilities choose to keep their families home as it’s easier and we aren’t seeing people with disabilities around so that means it’s a big issue.
“I moved to Rainbow Beach because if Akira had a miracle and could learn to walk, I wanted to see her walk on the beach.
“Who doesn’t want to see children who have life-limiting conditions who may not see 18, enjoy the beach.”