Nine-year-old Rainey Countryman was all smiles when she tried out the new hydraulic wheelchair lift in the Life Education Central Queensland van for the first time in September.
Rainey and her classmates from Mount Archer Primary School visited the Healthy Harold van at Rockhampton’s Beach Day Out, a huge day of fun events held to celebrate Disability Action Week.
It was a special moment for Rainey, her mum Amber and Life Education educator Liz Hills.
Rainey was born with spina bifida – a birth defect that results in damage to the spine, spinal cord and surrounding nerves. When Life Education visited her school last year, she had to crawl up the steps of the van using her arms so that she could join in the learning session with the rest of her class.
So, educator Liz filmed Rainey to illustrate the access issues faced by children with disabilities, and the video was sent as part of grant applications.
Rainey’s story won hearts, and the Central Queensland Life Education Committee received $36,000 in grants from the State Government’s Gambling Community Benefit Fund and The Courier-Mail Children’s Fund for van improvements including a hydraulic wheelchair lift.
Rainey, who loves Healthy Harold and the Life Education program, says she’s excited about the upgrade.
“It will make it really easy and I’m glad that we have the lift now because I won’t have to crawl up the stairs anymore,” Rainey said.
“I love seeing Harold and it’s really fun being in the Life Education van and I love doing the program in there. I love it when the lights go off and you can look up and see the stars. It’s really nice, and that is when we watch videos on the big screen.”
Rainey’s mother Amber, a tireless advocate for disability awareness and inclusion, says she couldn’t be prouder of Rainey for providing the impetus for the wheelchair lift funding and making a difference to children with disabilities.
“I don’t think people understand when you’re kept away from experiences constantly what it does to you and your family. There are lots of activities that we just can’t take part in spontaneously – each outing has to be carefully planned,” Ms Countryman said.
“For Life Education to facilitate this just means one less issue that parents have to deal with. To enable Rainey to have those experiences that people take for granted; for us to not have to face a battle every time we leave the house; it just makes life that little bit easier.”
Seeing Rainey access the van safely and with dignity was also an emotional moment for educator Liz Hills.
“Respect for self and others is central to the Life Education program, along with children’s physical and emotional health and wellbeing,” Liz says.
“Making our van wheelchair accessible for children like Rainey is fundamentally about respecting people’s dignity and making sure they are safe.”
The Central Queensland van is one of 14 Life Education vans state-wide that are now wheelchair accessible.