People with a disability will have the opportunity to access the Port’s three most popular beaches – Fingal, Birubi and One Mile – through the use of newly acquired beach wheelchairs.
Port Stephens Council has partnered with Ability Links, Accessible Beaches Australia, Surf Life Saving NSW and delegates from each of the Port’s three surf lifesaving clubs to provide the beaches with beach mobility equipment including wheelchairs designed for the sand and surf.
Fingal Surf Lifesaving Club president Tanya Squires was one of the organisers of a launch event held at Fingal Beach on November 18 which showcased and demonstrated the new equipment.
“These chairs are a significant step forward for wheelchair users and will improve their quality of life by getting them back onto the beach and in some cases into the water,” Ms Squires said.
“We had people come down on Sunday for the accessible beach day who hadn’t been down to the water’s edge for a number of years.
“The Fingal club is also in discussion with Port Stephens Council to leave the matting out permanently during the months of September to April.”
Through an Ability Links program titled ‘Beaches for Everybody’, Sandcruiser beach chairs have been purchased by Ability Links for all three patrolled beaches – Fingal, Birubi and One Mile.
The Fingal club has also received a MobiChair floating beach chair and beach matting through the program.
Ms Squires said that volunteer lifeguards would be on hand to assist wheelchair users at weekends and public holidays and the council lifeguards would be available during weekdays.
“The chairs will be handed over to the hirer for self use, however the lifesavers are always there to help out if they can. Booking and waiver forms are currently being organised by Port Stephens Council with an on-line booking system expected to be operating in the near future,” she said.
Earlier in the year, Salamander Bay Recycling donated a Sandcruiser beach wheelchair worth $4100 for the One Mile Beach surf lifesaving building. There will be two chairs available for use at the beach this summer.
Port Stephens Mayor Ryan Palmer said it was a fantastic initiative being launched in time for the summer beach season.
“This council is working hard to improve the quality of life for people living with a disability across Port Stephens,” he said.
“We’re lucky to have many beautiful beaches and this initiative will ensure that everyone will have the opportunity to enjoy them.”
Ability Links program manager Leonie Miller congratulated all those involved with the Beaches For Everybody initiative.
“We have walked alongside the clubs, their members and guests, beach users and the council to put meaningful measures in place to make our beaches more accessible and inclusive of every body,” she said.
“The results are a testament to the willingness of all involved to open our communities up to people with disabilities, their families and carers.”
Ms Squires said that the chairs would be promoted through the club’s website fingalbeachslsc.com, as well as Ability Links and Port Stephens Council.