When I became an ABC Regional Storyteller Scholarship recipient, based in Geraldton in Western Australia, I knew that my disability would obviously have some impact on the role.
But the accessibility issues I faced were a stark reminder of how much still needs to happen to remove barriers so people with disability can travel and move around regional Australia.
The Regional Storyteller Scholarship is an ABC partnership with International Day of People with Disability to support emerging content makers with disability for three months creating content for ABC radio, TV and digital platforms.
I had an opportunity to tell stories about ordinary people with disability living their "extra" ordinary lives in regional Australia.
I was keen to dispel the idea they're an "inspiration" for simply living an everyday life.
I believe it's important for people with disability to see themselves represented in all forms of media they consume as it expands their possibilities and potential in life.
It's equally important for the wider community to hear about all people who are part of their communities and see them for so much more than just "the person with disability".
Historically, people with a disability have often not been included in the discussion about what happens for them, and we know the best way to make the world more inclusive is to have people with disability in the conversations.
The challenges of going bush
Accessibility — or lack of it — is always an issue in my life but travelling in regional Australia as part of my storyteller role has reminded me that the most-significant impact of having to live and work in an environment that's not designed to include you is that you are far less able to be independent than you would otherwise be.
From having to use the "male" toilet — as it's the accessible one — in the office, to not being able to access the security code panels or open doors easily, to struggling to use kitchen appliances in the office kitchen — requiring fridges and cupboards to be rearranged — to the old chestnut that many people with disabilities face every single day: accessing transport and accommodation.
Travelling when you have a disability often requires loads of pre-planning and, often, additional cost.
This is the part of our lives not often understood or known by others.
When booking a flight from one regional centre to another, there were no facilities to accommodate lifting me and my wheelchair onto the light aircraft on the flight options available, there were plenty of seats but no access to them, so flying was not an option.
This meant driving 815 km and factoring in not only additional costs but additional time to get the job done.
In two of the three regional towns I visited, there was no accessible accommodation available at the time I was planning to visit.
One regional centre had accessible options in a neighbouring town, located half an hour away, and to add more frustration, the only option available for our dates was $265 per night.
So not an option after all.
I spent a lot of my time researching just where the accessible toilets were in each town or, if none was available, locating where the closest accessible toilets were, and building my day around meeting those needs.
Adapting and accommodating people with disabilities in workplaces and community spaces is not hard.
It just requires a bit of flexibility and willingness to shift, not only physical barriers, but also our thinking, to enable someone to be included in ways that are often not considered until someone is in that space.
How some country ingenuity helped break down barriers
The camaraderie, hospitality and creativity to problem-solve so often found in the country kicked in and it never ceased to amaze me how generous of spirit people, particularly country people, are.
One of the wonderful people who was sharing their story with us, offered us a room in their home.
As a wheelchair user, they knew that access to bathrooms and toilets are a must and that their home was perfect for my needs.
They greeted us with warmth and so much hospitality that it was a humbling experience.
During that stay, we all pitched in and found a way to haul my butt around their farm and into the four-wheeler to head out into the paddocks.
Another person built a makeshift ramp to their front door out of old bricks and wood to make sure I could get inside to shoot the story and not have to sit out on the driveway in the rain.
And another wonderful person was more than willing to help get me up a couple of steps to be able to get to the bathroom in their farmhouse on their bush property.
I have an attachment that goes on my wheelchair to make it motorised and able to go off road, but I forgot a part that meant I was not going to be able to use it.
Desperate to see if I could fix it, we called into a hardware supplier in a small country town on the way to an interview.
The staff — hello Damo — were more than willing to trial all sorts of things to get me a temporary fix.
It worked and I was back able to head out into the muddy paddocks and get among the story.
It's this willingness to find solutions, to be creative and to share our humanity that warmed my heart and reminded me of how simple it actually is for everyone to be included.
The most significant impact of having to live and work in an environment that's not designed for accessibility is that you actually are way more disabled than you need to be.
We have come so far around access and inclusion and, in regional centres, we need to be pushing for that to continue, for everyone to be able to travel around independently and feel like they belong in their own communities.
I have loved this experience, helping to showcase ordinary people with disability living their "extra" ordinary lives in regional Australia.
While having a disability brings challenges, I truly believe that teamwork, lateral thinking, determination and a sense of humour can make all the difference to building a better future to ensure every one of us feels that we belong.