Port Stephens leg amputee fighting with council for better wheelchair accessibility at Little Beach jetty

ACCESSIBILITY: Bruce Harrison has been advocating for better wheelchair access at Little Beach for four years.

ACCESSIBILITY: Bruce Harrison has been advocating for better wheelchair access at Little Beach for four years.

A Port Stephens leg amputee says he is pursuing the council over inadequate wheelchair accessibility as an advocate for all people living with a disability.

Bruce Harrison, from Salamander Bay, lost his left leg above the knee eight years ago following an accident and complications brought on by 30-plus years as a miner.

Mr Harrison’s battle with Port Stephens Council began four years ago when the 74-year-old retiree almost died from a blood infection after being hooked by a fisherman while swimming off the Little Beach jetty in Nelson Bay.

The access ramp is the only one of its kind in the Port allowing disabled people direct access into the ocean, unfortunately they have to share the platform with recreational fishermen.

“I wasn’t angry with the council at the time but I did vow to make this a safe swimming place for people with disability,” he said.

When he wasn’t satisfied with the council’s initial response, Mr Harrison took his case to the anti-discrimination office but withdrew his claim on the eve of the court case last December due to certain undertakings he says he was given by the council.

A council spokesperson told the Examiner that work on the access ramp was progressing.

“Over the past year, we have been able to achieve a number of key items on our Disability Inclusion Action Plan including $20,000 funding in partnership with Ability Links and Surf Life Saving Australia to improve beach access,” the spokesperson said.

“Other projects include the extension of the accessible ramp to allow for separation of fishing activities and access to water and an investigation into the ramp from the foreshore reserve to the beach.

“Several other items were part of our Capital Works plan for 2017/2018, the plan is subject to change as grant funding becomes available, which is why we have not been able to achieve all that we planned.

“The funded works which are a priority for 2018-2019 includes $24,445 to upgrade and improve accessibility at Little Beach, including two wheelchair accessible picnic tables, footpath connections, signage and line marking improvements.

“Also the placement of a waterproof wheelchair back into the disabled toilets and fix the locks with correct keys. Finally, the non-slip surface material has been ordered.”

Mr Harrison said that due to his disability, swimming was his only form of exercise and the council was denying him safe access to the water at Little Beach.

He claimed this was contributing to his depression, anxiety and chronic pain.

“I feel I have been greatly let down and it is for this reason I want to bring this council to account so that hopefully no other wheelchair bound person has to put up with unacceptable facilities.”

Mr Harrison said the most logical solution would be the construction of a new concrete ramp/path from the existing amenity building, where the beach wheelchair is housed, directly to the water – a distance of about 20m. 

At the completion of work to expand the access ramp in August, mayor Ryan Palmer said that transforming the Little Beach precinct into a disability accessible hub was a priority for the council, but was subject to the proposed special rate variation.​