Ausnew Home Care | Disability beach access improvement welcomed

Disability beach access improvement welcomed in regional Queensland, but still a long way to go

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When Mila suffered a stroke 12 months ago, she thought she would never touch the sand and water again.  

The central Queensland grandmother loves the ocean as "it's very important" and she feels "power from the water", but her recent mobility issues made reaching the water's edge almost impossible. 

Late last year disability access at Emu Park Main Beach was significantly improved, ramp access was extended with matting attached to it, and a beach wheelchair became available to hire.

It changed everything.

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Mila stoked about accessible central Queensland beach(ABC Capricornia: Erin Semmler)

Mila, 72, recently used the wheelchair for a beach visit — her first since the stroke — and said she was very thankful for the opportunity.

"[The chair is] very easy-moving, very comfortable" she said.

"We go to [nearby] Yeppoon but we can't go to the water.

Her daughter Olga said Mila had gained confidence and a "huge smile all over her face" because she had access to more of the community.

"My mum really loves the ocean and loves being outside; she feels more energetic and really happy.

"It's so important to her to be able to join in and have access to places that other people can access."

A woman pushing another woman in a wheelchair at the beach
Olga says watching her mum touch the sand and taste the salty air was a priceless moment.(ABC Capricornia: Erin Semmler)

Shane Hryhorec, chairperson of Accessible Beaches, was heavily involved in the planning of Emu Park's facilities.

"I live with disability, [and] I find it very challenging when you go around Australia to regional areas, and they've got beautiful beaches, but when you find that they're not accessible and inclusive, it's does become pretty frustrating," he said.

"It's great that regional councils and communities are stepping up to make their beaches accessible.

"Also, it's a really great drawcard for tourism."

A man in a wheelchair hugging his dog on the sand at the beach
Shane Hryhorec enjoys a beach visit with his dog Whitney. (Supplied: Shane Hryhorec)

More improvement needed

The beach project was a collaboration between Livingstone Shire Council, the Iwasaki Foundation and the Emu Park Surf Lifesaving Club.

The council announced it would be auditing all its beaches to see what access improvements could be made elsewhere.

The audit would also provide details on construction costs and is due back with council before the next financial year's budget.

Though the improvements and audit are a step in the right direction, many think there is still a long way to go.

Accessible beach drone shot
Accessible Beaches assist councils and organisations in creating inclusive beach environments.(Supplied: Accessible Beaches)

Sasha Job, a Bundaberg-based physiotherapy lecturer at CQUniversity, has been heavily involved in disability beach access discussions in regional Queensland.

She said it was great to see long-term plans in place, building on existing one-off inclusive events.

"[But] we did a bit of a pilot survey about a year ago, and it showed that access in our regions in Queensland is very poor, and it comes down a lot to not just the beach itself, but getting to the beach," Ms Job said.

Ms Job said the challenges included public transport availability and accessibility to the beach, as well as required support and physical assistance once there.

She welcomed the upcoming audit.

"We did a similar audit in the Bundaberg region in 2020, which locally here that has allowed us to plan for some accessible initiatives that will launch soon," she said. 

Ms Job said it was important for government bodies and organisations to ask people with disability what they needed, before purchasing it.

A long mat stretches towards the water on the sand, Mila in the beach chair being pushed, ocean behind.
Mila says being able to access the beach is "a big deal". (ABC Capricornia: Erin Semmler)
Source: ABC

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