When Josh Bryce was working on a whale watching boat many years ago, he had an experience with a disabled passenger that ignited a sense of injustice.
- A Sunshine Coast man has spent more than 18 months creating a wheelchair accessible boat
- Disability access advocates say the NDIS is giving people more incentives to invest in the space
- A major review is currently underway of the Transport Standards to see if it is reducing discrimination
It has driven the Sunshine Coast concreter to create his own accessible boat to ensure people of all abilities can get onto the water.
"We had a day where we had a young girl in a wheelchair that we managed to get on the boat," Mr Bryce said.
"But we couldn't get her up on the deck to come and view the whales, so I asked my captain and her parents and I carried her up.
"She sat on my lap out there for about an hour and watched the whales and she was just overcome with joy. It was unreal."
After more than 18 months of construction, Mr Bryce's specially designed catamaran-style vessel — named Good Vibes — is officially on the water.
"So we have boarding ramps on either side of the boat, port and starboard side, so people can come onboard," he said.
"We have a little ramp, which works on pretty much every jetty on the river systems on the Sunshine Coast.
"It has a front drawbridge that lowers down so we can pull up on the beach if need be."
The fully qualified coxswain grade one skipper said his biggest joy was seeing his passengers' reactions.
"I've had people on the boat that haven't been out in the river or experienced boating on the river," Mr Bryce said.
"I get a real kick out of it and seeing people with smiles on their faces."
'Wheelies' want to have fun
Hazel Prosser was the first person to experience a trip on the Good Vibes.
Ms Prosser has a rare, degenerative genetic disorder and uses a wheelchair for mobility.
"I think it's fabulous because there are no wheelchair accessible boats on the Sunshine Coast," she said.
"So this gives all of us wheelies a chance to get out on the water, have fun."
Ms Prosser said the boat trips bring back memories of her childhood.
"I grew up on fishing boats and so it's a bit unfair when they say, 'Sorry, we can't take you out'," she said.
"So you can't just say, 'I'd like to go whale watching, go out fishing'. It's just not possible but this boat makes it possible."
NDIS an incentive
Disability access consultant Bryce Tolliday said the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) was giving people more incentive to invest in the sector.
"Now with the NDIS there's a lot of motivation to provide these sorts of services for people with disabilities and it's a good thing," he said.
"I'd imagine that over the coming years, more and more people will show some interest in providing those types of services."
Mr Tolliday said he was aware of some disability access issues being experienced on domestic vessels.
"One of the whale watching companies from the Gold Coast approached us to have a look at their boats," he said.
"They would have trouble loading and offloading people onto the boats because of the massive tidal changes here in Queensland."
Mr Tolliday said anyone wanting to provide disability access on domestic vessels should first "engage an access consultant to have a look at what they're offering".
"And come up with suggestions about how to improve it, to make sure that the experiences of people with disabilities is equal to what everybody experiences," he said.
Transport review underway
Mr Tolliday said domestic vessels were not required to operate under the same regulations as the Disability Standards for Accessible Public Transport (Transport Standards).
"Fishing charters, whale watching boats, all those sorts of things are not regarded as public transport," he said.
"It's not currently covered by the transport provisions of disability discrimination law."
A major review is currently underway of Transport Standards to explore whether it is reducing discrimination for people with disability on public transport services.
The Australian Maritime Safety Authority told the ABC it is supplying input to the review specific to domestic vessels.
Public consultation on the review closed last month.