Dr Bridie Kean knows what it’s like to compete on the world stage. When all eyes are on the Coast for the 2032 Paralympic Games, she wants us to be a world leader in accessibility
by SEANNA CRONIN
The 2032 Olympic and Paralympic Games may be a decade away, but work is already under way to ensure the event’s legacy lasts long after the closing ceremony.
University of the Sunshine Coast lecturer Dr Bridie Kean says the Coast’s role as a major delivery partner with host city Brisbane is a unique opportunity to transform our region into one of the most accessible destinations in the world.
The para-athlete, who took home bronze and silver medals as part of the Australian women’s wheelchair basketball team at the 2008 and 2012 Games, is the chair for council’s Sunshine Coast Legacy Plan Community Reference Group.
“It’s a really exciting project to be a part of and group to chair. It will represent many voices from the Coast and inform council of some key areas where they can direct their resources to make sure we’re making the most of this opportunity,” she tells the Sunny Coast Times.
“Ten years sounds like a lot but in reality it will go by really fast.”
Bridie’s vision for the legacy of the 2032 Games is for the Coast to be a completely barrier-free place to live, work, study and holiday.
“I went to London the year before the (2012) Summer Paralympics and the Tube is a really difficult public transport system to make accessible but they did it. If we look at what London was able to achieve, as a growing region we’re building a lot of infrastructure and we have a unique opportunity,” she says.
“When we create anything new, we need to be making sure it’s accessible for as many people as possible from the outset. I don’t see accessibility as putting a ramp out the back of the building. People with a disability should be able to access a building from the front like everyone else.”
As the Paralympic athlete representative for the 2032 bid process, Bridie saw a different side to what goes into preparing for the world’s largest sporting event.
“When I was an athlete I deliberately narrowed my focus going into the Games,” she says. “It’s this amazing world event – particularly what the Paralympic movement means for people with a disability – and you’re in the village in this incredible atmosphere like nothing else where you meet athletes from around the globe but you then sort of ignore all of that to focus on the job you’re there to do. All the training and preparation was for what we were aiming to perform on court, so it was very different to attend the Paralympic Games in Rio in 2016. It was amazing to just go and be a part of the festival that it is.”
Bridie has been living with a disability for most of her life. Her feet were amputated at the age of two due to meningococcal septicaemia. At the age of 15 she was encouraged to take up wheelchair basketball by Paralympian-turned-politician Liesl Tesch and she went on to earn a sports scholarship with the University of Illinois in the US.
Bridie made her debut with the Australian women’s wheelchair basketball team, the Gliders, in 2007 – just a year before the 2008 Games in Beijing.
“What sports can do for a young kid with a disability, I know from personal experience, is just life-changing,” she says. “Knowing what the Games could mean for people with a disability across Queensland, it’s not just those who will go to the Games and represent Australia. My hope is the games ignites a passion in sport in Queenslanders who may not be active or see what opportunities there are to be active. It will open doors for that to happen at a social level.
“When I watched the Australian Open (tennis tournament in January) I wanted to just get out and have a hit – that’s what sport and Paralympic sport should do for people with a disability. It’s not just a pathway for those who will reach that high-performance level. It’s so important to have para-sport options for everybody.”
Coast residents don’t have to wait for the Games to see and get involved in para-sports. Bridie is also the president of the Suncoast Spinners Club, a wheelchair basketball and rugby club that is open to all abilities through its reverse inclusion program.
“Spinners is an organisation for all people to play,” she says. “It’s just a really fun game. Our membership is made up of people with and without physical disabilities who all use a wheelchair to play.”
Bridie says there are other ways residents can support para-athletes and the wider disability community.
“In terms of accessibility, it’s just being a supporter of a more inclusive region,” she says. “If you’re involved in a project and it can be accessible from the outset, it’s a building block to an accessible community. We’re doing amazing things on the Coast and it’s all these little pieces of the puzzle that go into creating the most accessible region.”
To find out more about the Suncoast Spinners, visit suncoastspinners.com.au.