Well so much has happened in the past couple of weeks. Meeting with the Duke of York, and learning about how one pitches their business ideas for investors. Looking at how the other side lives, is always interesting. So much was learnt from the experience. Having the opportunity to forward my vision for a more inclusive society to over 400,000 people worldwide, via live feed was amazing. Then getting the chance to do it on three separate occasions, at different universities and Government House. As well as to speak with a live audience of professionals and corporate leaders that included His Royal Highness and various ministers. Truly incredible. What I gained, was the knowledge you can say a lot in 30 seconds or 3 minutes. You have the power to impart information that is not only relevant to problems for people living with disabilities but are able to make an impact that starts other governments talking about change.
Having the Duke of York, come up to my mother and I at Bond University after my first pitch, and tell us, I had sold him on my advocacy and passion was incredible. I felt so empowered. I learnt that people are willing to listen, you just need to learn how to tell your story and ask for help. Not complaining, but look for the right solutions, and find the way to express them without aggression. Finding out that we had made it to the next round was even better. However, it also meant we needed to write another 3minute pitch that had a different focus.
The problems associated with attending the next phase meant we needed to arrange flights and accommodation interstate with wheelchair access at the last moment. This is not easy for Sydney, and we had to ask for help from Wollongong University. To get transport from the airport to Wollongong, as we couldn’t find any wheelchair accessible airport transfer service at short notice. The university also arranged for us to go to the following connection at Sydney, as again there were no wheelchair accessible transfers from Wollongong except via public transport (train and buses). Not easy with suitcases, equipment, and wheelchair. At Wollongong University, we were introduced to our elevator, a former federal minister who would be our mentor and help guide us through the boot camp and through the next level of selection. At this round, we needed to be able to demonstrate our business. Unfortunately, our products were patent pending, and at the Cocktail Function after the event, His Royal Highness announced that we were unable to go through to the top 12. However, we were given another opportunity, to do a shorter 30-second pitch for investors at Government House in Sydney in two days. Time to write another pitch.
Imagine our surprise when we reached Sydney, to find out that our 3star wheelchair accessible Hotel accommodation at Darling Harbour wasn’t accessible. The ramp outside the Hotel had a step at one end. Then I couldn’t even get my wheelchair through the doorway into our booked room. Mum was devastated, as she had spent around 7 hours on the phone over the weekend prior, trying to find a wheelchair accessible hotel room. They were all booked out everywhere. We came back downstairs and asked for help. Mum thought that we would end up sleeping in the street for the night. But the manager came to our aid and arranged for us to go to another hotel which was a 4 ½ star hotel, which had a slightly bigger room, and we could get through the doorway. However, the bathroom wasn’t accessible. The staff at this new hotel placed a garden chair into the shower, and I couldn’t shut the bathroom door to go to the toilet. The wheelchair would tip backwards trying to transfer as the tiles sloped downwards onto the carpet and it was dangerous and difficult transferring onto the garden chair as the door opened across the shower alcove. There was no real space for the wheelchair in the bathroom. But at least it was a roof over our heads. We had already written our final pitch, we just needed to find a printing service, to print up some brochures and the pitch on cards for me to read. We would still be able to go to Government House and present the following day.
So that evening we decided to go down to the harbour and take in the views (great time for a bit of last minute shopping, a girl can never have enough shoes). The view was spectacular at night, we ate some street food, and had the most incredible yoghurt ice cream for dessert. Went back to our room to rest for the following day. Government House is beautiful. It might be at the other end of Sydney, and we needed to get a taxi to take us there, but it was felt like a dream. Going through the gates up to the entrance. Where the red carpet rolled down the stairs into the alcove. The staff had arranged for a ramp to be in place for my arrival. Which made it easier for us to get inside. OMG, the architecture was a gothic revival, and it was designed as a castle which was surrounded by amazing gardens and backed onto the bay. We arrived slightly earlier so that we could set up and have a look around. The housekeeper showed us around whilst we waited for His Royal Highness, the other entrepreneurs and guests to arrive.
The Duke of York stayed out in the Red Room with the entrepreneurs whilst the pitches were being done. Talking with everybody and we were all enjoying ourselves. He has a good sense of humour. We really made him laugh when we told him that one of our product designs was sexy. At the end of the day, we made some incredible contacts. Great connections, and have grown in our abilities to understand what business looks for, regarding supporting change. I now have even more connections to make and a lot to learn still. But most importantly I know that my vision for improving access relates to all people. As people with disabilities should be able to travel and stay in alternative accommodation and not worry about where they will sleep or how they will toilet or shower. Hotels need to improve their facilities, but also the standards and building codes need to change to reflect this. As this is the only way that change can happen.