Ausnew Home Care | Abrolhos Islands upgrades make paradise more accessible for people living with disability

Abrolhos Islands upgrades make paradise more accessible for people living with disability

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Chris Kerr is no stranger to adventure but her dream of snorkelling at the Abrolhos Islands seemed out of reach, despite the archipelago being just 60 kilometres off the coast of her hometown in Western Australia.  

However, some innovative disability aids recently made that dream possible, and she now hopes others with disabilities or mobility issues will be able to explore this remote paradise too. 

A yellow machine pulling a woman through the water.
Chris Kerr uses a water scooter to snorkel at the Abrolhos Islands.(Supplied: DBCA)

Reaching the archipelago off the coast of Geraldton can be difficult, with access mainly by private boat, light charter plane or licensed tour operator.

When Ms Kerr and her husband Zane D'Mello first travelled to the islands a few years ago, they were stunned by their natural beauty.

Ms Kerr said one thing became clear to them after the trip.

"We believed that it could be so much more accessible to people with disabilities to experience how amazing it is out there," she said.

So after that visit, Ms Kerr was determined to find a way to return to the islands and explore their spectacular underwater world.   

Adventure seekers

Ms Kerr started using a wheelchair after a horseriding accident when she was 15 and has since explored the world.

A montage of a couple on world travels
Geraldton couple Chris Kerr and Zane D'Mello have travelled far and wide.(Supplied)

She loves discovering new places but accessing anywhere off the beaten track can be challenging. 

"We've done lots of travel where Zane had to lift me, piggyback me," Ms Kerr said.

"I've had to crawl across floors and through doorways."

But she says as they get older, they are turning to tools that can aid their travel.

Creating an inclusive experience

One of the first challenges wheelchair-users face when trying to get to the Abrolhos Islands is boarding a charter plane.

Unable to find a passenger chairlift on the market, Ms Kerr and Mr D'Mello decided to make their own.

Woman strapped into mechanical chair at door of small plane.
Chris Kerr uses the new light plane chairlift.(Supplied: DBCA)

Mr D'Mello sketched a design up on the back of a napkin and approached a farmer with a knack for innovative tinkering.

The couple work for charity Access to Leisure and Sports (ATLAS), which became the vehicle for the project.  

Through ATLAS, they were able to advocate for improved accessibility at the islands.

The WA government was funding infrastructure upgrades at the same time, so new boardwalks, toilets, and shelters on East Wallabi Island were all constructed with accessibility in mind.  

A montage of images of island living
Chris Kerr experiencing the Abrolhos Islands.(Supplied: DBCA)

A trial run

Ms Kerr trialled the new chairlift in December to see how much easier it made getting into a small charter plane.

"What it means is dignity, for one," she said.

Woman wearing snorkel in the water under very blue sky.
Chris Kerr has witnessed the underwater world of the Abrolhos Islands for the first time.(Supplied: DBCA)

"So for people with disabilities, or people who are older and have some limited mobility issues … it opens up a whole new world of opportunity that they can still experience [because] they can get into a light aircraft."

For the first time, Ms Kerr went snorkelling around the islands using a water scooter.

"It was something I've always dreamed of doing and here it was happening," she said.

Woman wearing hat at the beach smiling in front of turquoise water
Wheelchair user and Access to Leisure and Sports Operations manager Chris Kerr at the islands.(Supplied: DBCA)

"It was beautiful. I've never seen anything like it.

"It was just like a whole new world had opened up."

Ms Kerr said the chairlift, water scooter and other facilities were all available for the public to hire through ATLAS.

"Knowing that other people now can follow and have that same experience … It's very humbling that you can kind of make those changes and see it come to fruition."


Source: ABC

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