The City of Charles Sturt prides itself on its 12 kilometres of natural coastline and pristine beaches. Beach going is an Australian way of life, and is something that most of us take for granted; it is a space where we build bonds with family, friends, and nature, while recharging our minds and our bodies.
However, for a large number of people in our community, particularly those who experience mobility impairment; access and inclusion at the beach can pose significant difficulties. They require assistance in their day to day lives due to disability or frail age and would find the beach to be inaccessible. At best they would be separated from their groups due to being bound to hard surfaces.
The City of Charles wanted to address inaccessibility and to be a leader in this field. Beach matting is a relatively new innovation that aims to address the inequities in access and inclusion at Australia’s beaches. Essentially, beach matting consists of a long, sturdy ‘mat’ which can be rolled out over the top of soft sand, to enable wheeled mobility aids (and those who have difficulty walking) to traverse over the soft sand to reach the water’s edge.
We decided to trial a beach mat that has never been in South Australia before and also a few different types of wheelchairs that could go into the ocean. That way we could be up to date with the best products for our community through direct feedback from those trialled that day.
We organised a beach access event day with Push Mobility and Accessible Beaches for Saturday 4 February 2017. It developed into the largest national beach event of its kind- to date. The event was super successful and enjoyed by all who attended. We made national media coverage that day. Within three days there were well over 350,000 hits on social media, nationally and globally with thousands of comments praising the event and urging council to make the access mat permanent.
Flowing on from the success of this event, council has a budget bid in for 2017/18 to purchase a permanent beach mat would lead to Henley Beach becoming the 12th permanently accessible beach in Australia. We are proud to have facilitated an event that has allowed members of our community to enter the water after years or in some instances decades of isolation and exclusion.
The City of Charles Sturt would like to thank Push Mobility, Henley Surf Lifesaving Club, Accessible Beaches, Dignity for Disability, John Nieddu Photography, Push Adventures and all volunteers and attendees for making this event such a success.
Watch the video or see the photos from the day: