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Mark Bagshaw
Life’s a Beach
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Social change activist and Director of The Able Movement, Martin Stewart-Weeks, is on fire! In his second blog in a couple of weeks he talks about an exciting project The Able Movement is preparing to lead in conjunction with Surf Life Saving NSW, Taste Creative and Bus Stop Films. The Shoreline Project will showcase people with disability accessing the beautiful beaches along the NSW coastline.

There’s something extra iconic about Australia’s iconic beach culture around the Christmas and new year holidays.  It would be hard to find an Australian anywhere some of whose most precious memories aren’t somehow mixed up with time at the beach.  It’s where we relax, recharge, sometime reflect. Surfing, swimming, walking, striking out across the bay for a swim or paddling out for another wave, maybe just splashing with the kids in rock pools looking for crabs.  At certain times of the year, Australia is the beach. Many of us are either already there or planning to be there at some time over the next couple of months.

One of the next projects for The Able Movement will focus on the way people with disabilities experience the beach.  Called the Shoreline project, we’ve teamed up with Surf Life Saving NSW, Taste Creative and Bus Stop Films to put together a series of short films that tell the story of how a number of different people living with a range of disabilities touch and feel Australia’s beach culture. This should be an icon, after all, for all of us.  So how do all of us, including people with disabilities, get to “access all areas” of this most Australian of life’s experiences?

The project forms another part of The Able Movement’s rising obsession with storytelling at the heart of a concerted effort to use a social movement approach to shifting culture and assumptions about people with disabilities.

That ambition is at the heart of our contribution to the big game – and the long game – of changing our “hearts and minds” about what we think people with disabilities are capable of and how we, all of us, can welcome them more practically and energetically to engage in life and learning.

We’re not the only ones, of course, trying to use the stories of real people with disabilities to open up the perceptions and mindset of the wider community.  But we’re keen to play our part in the long, deep effort that Australia has to make now to turn this brilliant moment of potential growth in our approach to disability – think NDIS especially – into a lasting shift in the game.

That’s what social movements, in the end, are all about.  Think of some of the big changes we’ve witnessed in the last few decades around women’s right, marriage equality, Aboriginal rights and recognition here in Australia, the environmental and sustainability debate, the civil rights struggle especially in the US sparked in the 1960s and still continuing.  These are all great examples of the power of wide, networked movements of people and organisations whose shared ambition for culture shift in the pursuit of the big goals of equality, opportunity and fairness collides with bedrock attitudes and culture that impede progress and often stop change dead in its tracks.

With disability reform, led in the past couple of years by the NDIS changes, we’re at the same point. Some very big changes are being wrangled to change the way we fund and support at least some people with disabilities.  These are changes which are welcome, necessary and long overdue.

But the liberating potential of the NDIS, and our capacity to offer at least something similar in terms of real shifts in power and choice for all people with disabilities, will be held back, perhaps even lost altogether, if we don’t at the same time change the way people – all of us – think and feel and act when it comes to people with disabilities.

And that, in the end, comes down to a question of belief. 

What do we think people with disabilities can do or should be expected to do?  How do we think people with disabilities set about giving their lives the same sense of purpose and hope which the rest of us get to do, pretty much as a matter of course (even if we occasionally don’t always live up to our own aspirations…but that’s another story)?

What do we have to do as ordinary people, as employers, as owners of shops and restaurants and other businesses, as people who run transport systems, as people who run schools and TAFES and universities, as people who put on sporting and cultural entertainment – all of us – to make it easier for people with disability to have the same chance to engage in life, work and learning as the rest of us?

Back to the beach.

As we all spend at least some part of the summer break getting back in touch with our shared life at the beach – kind of getting in touch with our inner icon – we need to think of ways to make that experience as wide, open and accessible as the icon itself.

For Australians in summer, life’s a beach, for sure. But that has to be true for all of us. Without exception.

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