Did you know that more than 85 per cent of Aussies are living within 50 kilometres of the coast?
The beach is undoubtedly a quintessential part of our lifestyle, but sadly there are so many people with disability, as well as others with limited mobility, who miss out on experiencing the beach, due to lack of access.
The team at Accessible Beaches are doing an amazing job of removing these barriers and introducing accessible environments that enable access to the sand, sea and waterways for all Australians.
Accessible Beaches was established in 2016 by beach-lover Shane Hryhorec who is now a wheelchair user after an accident in 2007, that left him an incomplete quadriplegic.
Shane soon discovered that the thin wheels of his wheelchair were too easily bogged down in the sand, so he searched for a solution that would once again allow him to go to a place he loved so much, the beach.
So what makes a beach accessible?
An accessible beach is one that has special access features including beach matting to the waters edge, specialised wheelchairs, accessible change room and shower facilities, shade, way-finding signage and multiple accessible car parks close to access points.
Bern Walker joined the Accessible Beaches team in March 2022 as their Beach Access Project Officer, and first paid employee.
Bern says the goal of Accessible Beaches is to have all patrolled beaches in Australia, accessible to everyone.
“By not having an area that is accessible and inclusive, in any part of society what that symbolises to people with disability and mobility challenges, is that they’re not valued as other people in society. So, by making beaches accessible, it provides people with a value – that they are included as part of society.”
A recent report found that ‘blue spaces’, which are bodies of water and areas near bodies of water, significantly impact mental health.
“Those who spend more time near blue spaces are happier, have lower levels of stress, and feel more connected to the world around them. Not only that but spending time at blue spaces also increases opportunities to socialise and build community”, Bern explained.
Liz Ellis, who has high physical support needs, says she loves having beaches that are accessible to her as she simply missed out on enjoying all facets of the beach when she was a child.
“I have a memory of being down the beach… and I used to sit up on the boardwalk and wait for everyone [my family] to come back. Now people have ramps to get on the beach with matting – so you’re not just sitting up on the boardwalk looking like a sitting duck.”
What’s next for the team at Accessible Beaches?
Bern says there are currently close to 100 accessible beaches across Australia, with the goal to make all of the 368 patrolled beaches around the country, accessible.
”Our goals are big, our dreams are big, but we think it can be achieved.” Bern says.
Liz says she can’t wait to see more beaches made accessible as it enables people with disability to enjoy the beach, just the same as everyone else.
“As someone once said to me very recently, ‘the beach is your happy place’, and I think it deserves to be everyone’s happy place.”
We couldn’t agree more Liz! We look forward to watching the awesome team at Accessible Beaches continue to work towards making all patrolled beaches in Australia accessible for all Australians.
Accessible Beaches became a registered charity in 2020, so you can make a donation to help them achieve their goal of making more of our beaches and waterways accessible for all. You can click here to donate.