South Australia - Beach access wheelchairs finally roll out after gathering dust for two years over insurance hurdle
A day at the beach is taken for granted by most Australians, and until now it's only been a dream for a group of people living at Whyalla, on Spencer Gulf, in South Australia.
The community bought three all-access wheelchairs almost two years ago, but insurance issues left the chairs locked away in a shed.
The chairs and some beach matting were purchased through community donations, fundraising, and a $37,000 State Government grant.
But the project was grounded when the volunteers, Whyalla Access Group, were unable to take out insurance.
Whyalla City Council has come to the rescue and will cover the public liability insurance.
"We're pretty excited we'll have one of the first accessible beach programs in the regional areas," council youth development officer Gail Rostig said.
Rick Neagle, who started Count Me In Foundation, which aims to increase inclusion globally, said insurance for beach access products was hard to navigate, even internationally.
"It's a dog's breakfast basically because who takes liability?" Mr Neagle said.
"Is it the council, the manufacturer of the product, is it the beach, who owns the beach, is that the council, who owns the ocean?
The foundation works with the United Nations World Tourism Organisation to supply beach access products around the world and education about designing buildings and public areas to include everyone.
He congratulated Whyalla on navigating a solution.
The Whyalla beach wheelchairs will help provide users with a life experience that everyone else takes for granted.
First time on beach for 20 years
Whyalla Access Group member Rachel Barlow said some residents had not been able to access the beach for more than 20 years.
"It just means they'll be part of the whole beach lifestyle rather than watching on from the car park," Ms Barlow said.
She said trials with the chairs had been a delight to watch.
"It's just beautiful to see them out there and just the joy on their faces finally being able to get there and touch the sand and touch the water — it's amazing," Ms Barlow said.
The beach matting had benefits for the wider community too.
"When you're in a wheelchair your family activities get so limited in what you can do compared to other families, so this means there's so much more they'll be able to do on the beach," Ms Barlow said.
"[It will be] a lot easier not just for people in wheelchairs but mums with prams, the elderly on walking frames, people with a little bit of instability in their gait — it makes getting down the foreshore a lot easier for them," Ms Rostig said.
She said the council was also working to install a changeroom and all-access toilet system at the foreshore next year.
Ms Rostig said she had heard of reports of wheelchair users having to get changed on the floor of public toilets because there were no change tables.
"We're an ageing population too. It's not just about people in wheelchairs — it's people on walking frames, it's people with walking sticks, it's mums with prams, so we're thinking about how we make life a bit more inclusive for those people," Ms Rostig said.
Australia lagging behind
Mr Neagle said designing facilities to include everyone would only add 2 per cent to the total cost of a build.
"Basically it adopts a whole set of principles that make it accessible for anyone in the community to access buildings and public spaces.
"That's anyone from any cultural group, from any disability group, the aged care sector, families.
"It's something that's poorly legislated here in Australia.
"I don't think we look after our vulnerable citizens in Australia that well, and it's certainly seen in many aspects."