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2018 Victorian Disability Award Winner

Geelong business woman, Christine Smith was awarded the Excellence In Creating Inclusive Communities Award at the 2018 Victorian Disability Awards

in Melbourne, last week. Triumphing over the big players including Maribyrnong City Council and Disabled Wintersport Australia – this prestigious state award - recognised both her business and advocacy work encouraging regional businesses to be more welcoming of people of all abilities.

But for Christine, this award is about much more than promotion or recognition for her business – this has given her an additionl platform and fire in the belly to continue to advocate for people with disabilities – something she has been doing for the past five years.

Christine's journey as an advocate for accessible tourism started in 2013, when surgery on a brain tumour left her with an acquired disability including permanent hearing loss and facial paralysis. Whilst tragic, this experience gave Christine a greater understanding of what people with disability face on a day-to-day basis and became the impetus for her advocacy for inclusive tourism.

''As a society we must get better at ensuring our products reflect the principals of inclusive design, so that people of all abilities are supported.'' Says Ms Smith.

Christine's current challenge is to educate and raise awareness of the need to regulate the tourism industry to abide by strict accessibility standards, providing people with disability confidence that an advertised product meets their needs and expectations. After all, there are 4 million Australians with a disability who account for 8.2 million overnight trips annually.

Christine's passionate advocacy is shaping an entire region's approach to inclusiveness. Roger Grant, CEO of regional tourism board, Tourism Greater Geelong and The Bellarine says ''Christine has ensured that accessible tourism is a priority across the full scope of our Board's work. Further, we have been able to establish a close partnership with Australian Federation of Disability Organisations to implement a multi-year program to develop Geelong and The Bellarine as a leading accessible tourism destination in Australia. This initiative will have a budget in excess of $1million over a three-year period – as a result of Christine's intervention and lobbying.''

''Geelong and The Bellarine is in her debt for championing this sector, often overlooked or misunderstood. Christine's understanding, insight and leadership has a major impact on the quality of lives for many people''. Mr Grant says. However, Christine's work goes just beyond the accessible tourism experience, she also freely works with and encourages organisations to see the benefits of employing people with a disability.

This Victorian Disability Award is yet another accolade on her journey to changing accessible tourism. Earlier this month, Ms Smith was recognised by the Geelong business community, winning her 3rd consecutive Geelong Business Excellence Award and achieving a finalist position in the Business of the Year category.

This trailblazing local business woman has a strong vision, tenacity and a will to bring that vision to life. ''Our vision is to create an environment that is inclusive of all people, to inspire leaders to think about accessibility of their own businesses (and regions), and to encourage everyone to embrace sustrainable change. We're thinking globally and acting locally – one region at a time!'' she says.

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