Beach accessibility across Australia comes under the spotlight

Woman with arms raised celebrates her achievement and success in the sunshine even with her disabilities in a wheelchair.

As Australia swelters under record temperatures, Wollongong City Council has introduced a plan to ensure all residents can enjoy a Summer experience that most take for granted.

The draft Beach and Foreshore Access Strategy 2019-2028, announced this week, outlines the council’s plan for how it will provide practical access to beaches for people with mobility issues.

While the Council is still seeking support from the state and federal government to fund the project, the release of the strategy signaled a recognition of the significant need for greater community access to beaches on the South Coast, and elsewhere across Australia.

In the words of Wollongong Lord Mayor Gordon Bradbery, “There is quite a sizeable proportion of people with a disability in our community who want to access the beach, ocean and foreshore amenity. There is a need for improved access for those people and we have to look at ways to meet that need.”

But what makes a beach truly accessible?

In developing the strategy, Wollongong consulted with the South Coast Disabled Surfers Association, wheelchair users, members of the deaf and blind community and carers of people with a disability.

The consultation identified that it’s not just matting, ramps and accessible parking and bathrooms that are needed to provide a quality beach experience for everyone. To ensure true accessibility, other facilities need to be incorporated into plans, including access options for people with visual impairment, beach chairs, appropriate shade, adult change tables and visual alarms such as flashing lights to provide warnings to swimmers who are hearing impaired about sharks and swimming between the flags.

Storage options are also important, as is specialized equipment (such as mobi-chairs) to easily transition from pathway to sand to water, and disability awareness training for surf clubs and lifeguards.

So, who’s leading the charge for beach accessibility in Australia?

Beach-lover Shane Hryhorec discovered how limited his options were to enjoy the sea and sand when an accident in 2007 left him with a broken neck and requiring a wheelchair. He established The Accessible Beaches Campaign, a project with the ambitious vision to make most patrolled beaches in Australia Wheelchair accessible by 2020.

Despite boasting some of Australia’s most popular tourist and surf spots, there are few, if any beaches in Sydney that are truly accessible. In fact, it’s Victoria that can claim Australia’s only two beaches with 24×7 installations of matting and Queensland that can boast the greatest number of accessible pathways.

Shane is not the only one campaigning about the right for everyone to enjoy a dip in the ocean. In late 2018, Sydney resident Kate Swan gathered a 25,000-strong petition to roll out a permanent 60 metre mat at iconic Bondi Beach. Right now, you can book a beach wheelchair by contacting Waverley council, however matting is rolled out just twice a week.

Head for the seaside…

Australia’s beaches span thousands of kilometers and although there’s still a long way to go to improve access for all Australians and visitors, there are some stretches of sand that have great facilities in place.

Whether you’re a resident of one of our cities or from a regional area, if you’re looking to head to the beach this Summer, check out The Accessible Beaches website for a complete directory of the best places to go, including a list of specific facilities available at certain spots.

Here’s just a selection of some of the accessible seaside locations:

Victoria

Williamstown Beach and Altona Beach both feature 24×7 Accessible Beach Matting, beach wheelchairs and accessible bathrooms, showers and parking.

MT Martha Beach on the Mornington Peninsula will also feature 24×7 Accessible Beach Matting (until Easter 2019) as well as mobi-chairs on weekends.

St Kilda Beach and Port Melbourne in the city also feature beach matting and mobi-chairs.

Queensland

Burleigh Heads Beach on the Gold Coast features accessible beach matting, bathrooms, parking and beach wheelchairs.

Alexandra Headland on the Sunshine Coast features accessible beach matting and accessible bathrooms.

Hervey Bay features accessible beach matting and a floating beach wheelchair and Port Douglas features accessible beach matting.

New South Wales

Ballina Lighthouse in Northern NSW, Avoca on the Central Coast, Fingal Beach and Toowoon Bay feature accessible beach matting. Newcastle (Cooks Hill SLSC) features beach wheelchairs.

South Australia

Seacliff Beach and Normanville Beach on the Fleurieu Peninsula feature mobi-chairs as well as a slatted access platform.

Semaphore Beach and Largs Bay both feature matting on trial through dunes to soft-sand.

Western Australia

Rockingham Beach has accessible matting and beach trekker wheelchairs.

Geraldtown, Madora Bay and Avalon beaches all feature accessible beach matting, as do Keith Holmes Reserve and Town Beach, Mandurah.

Feeling inspired to head for some fun in the sun? Find a support worker on Mable who will help you get there.