Liesl goes for gold for people with disability in Parliament House
Image: Liesl Tesch wearing Australian team colors and holding a gold medal at the London 2012 Paralympic Games.
When Liesl Tesch – a wheelchair user and Paralympic gold medallist – was voted the Member for Gosford, she expected NSW Parliament House would be a welcoming, inclusive space.
Instead, she was confronted by accessibility challenges, an outmoded building and some very plush yet unwelcome floor coverings.
“It had very nice new carpet which looks very posh but is really not ideal to push a wheelchair on.
“It was incomprehensible to me that our own Parliament House wasn’t a welcoming, modern and inclusive built environment.
“If that’s what it looks like to me who is experienced in advocating, what does it look for people who don’t have such a loud voice? It has been very frustrating and has involved numerous meetings, seemingly unnecessary letter writing and even several International Day of People with Disability social media exposés.
“One of my frustrations and challenges has been trying to make Parliament House (in NSW) much more accessible and to make my life as a Parliamentarian with a disability equivalent and equal for my able-bodied colleagues,” said Liesl, who became an incomplete paraplegic after a mountain bike accident at the age of 19.
“It has taken five years to finally have ramps built in our Parliamentary building. Prior to this I used to access the back of the building using a pathway through the local hospital. There wasn’t a ramp into the Speakers Garden. Now I am proud to say, we have a ramp!” said Liesl.
JobAccess has been able to help, through the Employment Assistance Fund. The Federal Government’s disability support hub provided Liesl with adjustments so she could actively engage with her community and participate in Parliament sessions.
“JobAccess were fantastic. Their follow-up was always great,” she said.
JobAccess provided an attachment for her wheelchair to help her navigate uneven ground and challenges around parliament and access steeper hills and rough day-to-day territory in her electorate.
Despite the challenges, Liesl is one determined woman.
She has participated in seven Paralympics, winning Australia’s first Paralympic gold medal in a two-person keelboat. She competed in her national wheelchair basketball team at five Paralympics, winning three medals, and was the first woman to play the sport professionally. She took up sailing in 2010, winning gold medals at the 2012 London and 2016 Rio Paralympics.
Liesl is driven by using her experiences to help others who don’t have the same opportunities.
“I realise I am a loud voice for people with disabilities. Coming from being an athlete you have this inner determination to chase things that other people think they can’t.
“I have a visible disability which helps me to hold my colleagues to account about inclusivity.
“I have been in Parliament for five years and there is still a bunch of things to do. Captions (for hearing impaired), the built environment, employing, supporting and understanding people with disability within the Parliament.
“And most importantly, creating a supporting and inclusive environment for people with disabilities beyond the parliament is the ultimate outcome for all of us.
“The Parliament should be leading the way.”
So, what is her advice to others facing adversity and challenges?
“Having supportive people around you to assist you to be the best person you can is super important - so you can live your life to the maximum of your capacity.”
What support is available?
There is a wide range of support available from JobAccess for people with disability, employers, and service providers.