You may know her as the girl with the bright blue scooter, but Sophie Kubowicz is a relative newcomer to Port Macquarie, with a bright, bubbly attitude and some big dreams.
With International Day of People with a Disability on the calendar for December 3, Sophie candidly shares with us the ups and downs of having special abilities, with an optimism and sense of humour that is truly inspiring …
Hi Sophie. Please share a bit of information about your background and abilities …
I’m 20 years old. I’ve been in Port Macquarie for nearly two years (at Christmas), and I moved here from my hometown of Dunedoo (NSW Central West, 98 km east of Dubbo).
My ability is called ‘Desbuquois Syndrome’, which basically involves short stature and too many other things to mention! At the time of my birth, there was only one other Desbuquois case in Australia (Newcastle) and 23 worldwide. How are you enjoying living in Port Macquarie so far?
I absolutely love living in Port Macquarie. Living here has been a dream of mine for a long time and it still feels surreal being here. People here are awesome! They’re friendly, accepting and helpful, which is lovely. I also love how Port Macquarie still has a country town feel. The shopping is fantastic too, especially the fashion, which has always been a challenge for me − but not here. I have been able to find clothes to fit me without needing alterations. Shoes are more problematic, but I make do with what I can find.
What have you found to be the best thing about moving from the bush to the beach?
One of the best things about moving from the bush to the beach is the perfect climate. It is so much better for my health; I guess it is for everyone’s! The beaches are fantastic too, but having more social opportunities tops the list for me.
There are other types of things to do that you don’t have in the bush. Being able to buggy in and around town is a bonus. I was also hoping that there would be more opportunity for me to find work, but I haven’t been successful with that as yet. Employers in Dunedoo knew my capabilities, so it was easier there.
What are you studying at the moment?
I’m studying a Business Administration Certificate IV with OTEN, which is an online course. Being a Data Entry Operator is my goal. I recently completed work experience with Port Macquarie-Hastings Council, which taught me a lot. I’m able to work while I am studying; the course is flexible. I just hope that someone would give me a go. A few of our readers might know you better as the girl seen scooting around town on a blue scooter!
Tell us a bit about your wheels and how you got them …
I do seem to be well known as the girl seen scooting around town on a blue scooter! I call it my buggy, rather than a scooter; it’s a cooler name. People often comment how fast I get along on my buggy, but I see bicycles whiz past me much faster! I am a very safe and polite driver. Mine’s a Breeze 3 from ‘Elite Scooters’ in Penrith. The man who organised it for me, Yoram Kugel, has a contact here in Port now. I had to wait 3 long months for my buggy to be shipped from Israel, but I am proud to say that it was the only Sky Blue Breeze in Australia! It’s a beautiful colour.
I bought my buggy with the help of my mum putting a deposit on it, and I raised the rest of the funds myself by doing some DJ gigs at my former hometown.
Saving up your money through DJ gigs is pretty impressive. What do you love about this kind of work – and do you have any plans to do more of it locally?
I was impressed myself at how quickly I could save the money to be able to buy my buggy. I love DJ-ing, because it’s very fun and very social! Plus, music is my life! Yes, I do have plans to do more of it locally. I have shied away from it with respect to the DJs who are already in Port, but my presentation is much different, so it won’t affect what they are doing. I built up a following very quickly last time with my style, and think I will here also. I am on the lookout for some equipment, then I will shake this town! Watch out for DJ Soph! Ha ha! But of course, my day job would be top priority.
Your buggy is obviously very important to you. Was it hard to learn to drive?
Yes, my buggy is more than important to me − it’s my life (apart from my iPhone!) It was a little hard to learn to drive at first because of its size, but it didn’t take me long, because I’ve always been good on anything with wheels! Riding around Port Macquarie is a lot different to the sleepy streets in Dunedoo.
I also found that most streets here aren’t buggy friendly. There aren’t enough footpaths outside of the main business area, and most of the paths in the residential area end suddenly, with no access to the roads. The only accessible beach is Main Beach, except that crossing the road at the William and Stewart Streets intersection is a challenge.
A pedestrian crossing would help. The Gordon Street crossing near 3 of the biggest businesses in town (Coles, Dan Murphy’s and Finnian’s Irish Tavern) is nerve wracking, not only for me, but also for motorists and all who use it. I know the Council is on a tight budget, but I think it’s truly important not just for mobility scooters, but for everyone − tourists included.
Working out where I can and can’t go safely in Port is also a bit of a challenge, but I have most of it worked out now. Still, many routes mean I need to go miles out of my way to get from point A to point B. I don’t think too much about it though, because I do cherish the independence my buggy gives me.
Given it’s the International Day of People with a Disability on December 3, what are your thoughts on how the majority of community members could make life easier not only for those with disabilities, but also their carers?
That’s a tough question, because I don’t belong to any support groups or such, so can’t speak on anyone else’s behalf … but people in Port are extremely caring towards me and my mum. If anything, sometimes they are too caring and tend to treat me like a 5 year old − probably because of my size. While I can understand their line of thought, it’s fairly aggravating. We do get a lot of nice smiles and positive vibes from the community at large.
It’s good that after 20 years, more people are becoming aware of the International Day of People with a Disability, and FOCUS is helping with that. I am hoping that it does make others think and do even a little more about those who do have to try harder to fit in with a ‘normal’ life. I find the hardest part of being me is not being treated equally, especially in the employment sector. The nicest part of being me is that I bring out the best in people.
Interview by Jo Atkins, with thanks to Jennie Mason (Sophie’s mother) and Noni Kubowicz (Sophie’s sister).