One of South Australia’s most popular beaches is now accessible for people with disability, just in time for Summer.
The South Australian ‘Inclusive Beaches’ initiative, adopted by the City of Charles Sturt Council was launched on Sunday afternoon at the Henley Surf Life Saving Club (SLSC).
President of Henley SLSC Rae Lawson says the council approached the surf club in 2016 to introduce a wheelchair access mat to the beach in time for Summer 2018-19.
“This was part of the Council’s vision to make Henley Beach an accessible beach.”
The project has come to life following a successful public trial of a wheelchair access mat and floating chairs early last year.
Roughly 200 people attended the launch at Henley SLSC on Sunday, with about 60 people in wheelchairs able to experience the beach from the water’s edge.
Social Inclusion Coordinator at the City of Charles Sturt Vesna Rozman says feedback has been extremely positive.
“Free booking of the chairs for the rest of the season made people very happy as the chairs are thousands of dollars to outlay and costly,” she says.
“For me, at the end of the event I was so pleased to see a man had wheeled himself down to the end of the mat, (in his own chair) stripped down and was sunbathing on the sand next to his chair.”
“He had a partner and two young children and they were all at the beach together. A scene that others take for granted became a reality for this family yesterday.”
Ms Rozman says making the local beach, often visited by interstate and international tourists accessible is so important for the community.
“If Charles Sturt can have an accessible beach that’s a huge leap forward in terms of inclusiveness and breaking down barriers.”
“Let’s focus on ability rather than disability.”
The Council is now turning its sights to a new project to enhance Henley’s accessibility and will evaluate how they can further build on its ‘Inclusive Beaches’ program after Summer.
“In April 2019, council will be constructing a Changing Places Toilet at Henley in preparation for Summer 2019/20.”
Ms Lawson says the SLSC will ensure the safety of everyone on the beach by assigning members to patrol the area and assist where needed.
“The Henley SLSC is currently incorporating our support of this initiative into our 2018/19 season patrol planning which will include patrolling members assigned to assist within the area where the access mat and chairs will be positioned.”
She says the club is also currently developing a broader ‘Community and Diversity’ Program for the 2018/19 season that offers a modified ‘nipper’ program designed for children with special needs such as autism and Down syndrome.
Other South Australian Councils helping to cater to the needs of their community through accessible mats include The City of Port Adelaide Enfield and Seacliff Councils.