People like to throw around the word ‘trailblazer’ a lot, but when it comes to Mel Harrison, there is perhaps no word more apt. A paraplegic since the age of 14, as the result of multiple back surgeries throughout her childhood, Harrison has gone down in the history books as the first person with a disability to compete in Australia’s iconic Shitbox Rally.
Using Total Ability wired satellite accelerator hand controls, complete with a complex system of levers (basically your hands and thumbs control the accelerator/brake), Mel was one of 250 cars in the rally. They travelled through the outback over sealed and unsealed roads on a 3,500 km journey from Mackay to Darwin, all in pursuit of raising funds for the Cancer Council. The rules are simple; no four wheel drives allowed and the car has to be worth no more than $1500.It’s a team event, not a race and for Mel and her co-driver/ support worker Jacob, the camaraderie of the rally was what got them over the line. As someone who trains people in disability advocacy, running her own business, Sitting Low, Reaching High, Mel relished the opportunity to push nearly 500 people’s expectations of disability to a new place. She says, “I’ve lived a life where I’ve had to constantly fight for inclusion and now, I want to eliminate that fight.” “If I’ve got the resilience, I should use it.”
It’s that desire to make things more inclusive for others that sees Mel not only take on these intense physical challenges but appear for the 6th consecutive year in her role as MC of the Melbourne ‘My Choice, My Future’ Disability Expo. The expo exists as a one stop-shop to link people with over 100 support providers & services that Mel hopes will arm them with knowledge, give them a chance to network and access that all important support.
The Melbourne Disability Expo runs over the 25th & 26th of November, at the Melbourne Convention & Exhibition Centre.