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May 16, 2022

Full inclusion a long way off: Tweed Paralympian

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The guest speaker at this year’s Tweed Access and Inclusion Awards says she has seen little evidence that Australians had become more accepting or inclusive of people with disability.

Paralympic gold medallist Tracy Barrell, of Tweed Heads, has spent a lifetime teaching people about acceptance and inclusion.

Back in 1992 Ms Barrell, who was born without legs and with one arm, was dual gold medallist in swimming at the Paralympics in Barcelona.

Since then she has become an advocate for people with a disability and has broken many barriers though her determination to be active in mainstream community.

But Ms Barrell feels progress in Australian society has been very slow.

‘That makes initiatives like the Access Awards all the more important, to change attitudes towards people with disability and the roles they can play in community,’ she said.

Attitude and treatment

‘Accessibility is not all about physical ability, it really comes down to attitude and how people treat anyone with disability. In my 42 years, I’ve experienced all sorts of attitudes and it’s been a real rollercoaster life.’

Ms Barrell attended a mainstream school and was very active in family activities such as horse riding and swimming. She joined the local Venturer group and participated in the camping, abseiling, caving and canoeing.

She went on to receive an Order of Australia medal for her contribution to swimming and later forged a career as a project manager, guest speaker and an advocate for people with disability, particularly for Aboriginal communities.

However, she has still personally experienced how difficult it can be for people with disability to get employment.

‘It’s still really hard for them to get a job or to be accepted as a valuable member of the community,’ she said.

‘That’s why it’s really important for these awards to recognise people going above and beyond to ensure everyone can be included.’

Life of adaptation

Ms Barrell, a member of the Bungdurra mob from Gundungurra country at Goulburn, has now started indigenous cultural tours tailored for people with disability.

It is the latest innovation in a life of adaptation, which began when she was 12 months old and she taught herself to use a wheelchair to move around. The skateboard is still her transportation of choice and has become one of her signatures.

However, arguably her source of greatest satisfaction is raising two sons as a single parent.

‘I take pride knowing I am raising two well-adjusted children who have a great ability to accept anyone and everyone,’ she said. ‘Every day I motivate them to be the best they can be, as they see me getting on with life with a smile on my face and my can-do attitude.’

Tweed mayor Katie Milne, said, ‘Tracey’s life is such an inspiration to us all. To have achieved all the things she has is just incredible.’

‘I want to know how she has done it and I encourage everyone to come along to hear her speak. I’m sure it will be empowering and enriching, and completely change our perceptions of disability,’ Ms Milne said.

Ms Barrell will speak at the Tweed Access and Inclusion Awards presentation dinner at Twin Towns on Wednesday November 30.

One week remains for nominations, which close on Friday 30 September. Visit the awards webpage or phone (02) 6670 2400.


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