United in Action | Accessible Beach Day event

Coinciding with International Day of People with Disability (held on 3rd December) community members came together at the Port Campbell foreshore to show how everyone in the community can enjoy something most of us take for granted: a day at the beach.

This year’s theme for International Day of People with a Disability ‘United in Action’, called for collective effort and collaboration to create a world that is better and fairer for everyone, including individuals with disabilities.

Port Campbell Surf Life Saving Club (PCSLSC), supported by Corangamite Shire, Disabled Surfers Assoc (DSA) Warrnambool and TDHS, held an Accessible Beach Day event, which included surfing, guided beach walks at Port Campbell Bay and sport and recreation activities by Variety Abilities Unleashed Kids at the Port Campell Tennis Courts.

Over 4 million Australians, which is 1 in 5 people, have a disability and almost 90% of disabilities are not visible. The United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities defines disability as: a long-term physical, mental, intellectual, or sensory impairment which in interaction with various barriers may hinder a person’s full and effective participation in society on an equal basis with others.

Interestingly, there is no indigenous word for disability; a perfect example of social inclusion. Social inclusion has been shown to have numerous benefits. This includes:

  • Improved physical health;
  • Enhanced mental health;
  • Improved social skills;
  • Increased independence and empowerment.

There were plenty of smiles and shrieks of excitement as people of all ages and from as far as Colac came to take advantage of this opportunity to catch a wave in the Port Campbel bay and take a guided beach wheelchair ride along the sand and around to the suspension bridge.

TDHS resident John Wilson didn’t need a lot of persuading to be hoisted into the beach wheelchair. John, who was diagnosed with Primary Progressive Multiple Sclerosis (PPMS) in 1983 and has been in a wheelchair for about 20 years, was able to dip his toes in the Port Campbell Bay again after 30 years! “Before ending up in the wheelchair, I adapted to using walking sticks, which meant I couldn’t walk on the sand,” John said. He said he had the day of his life and it was a joy to see so many happy faces.

PCSLSC volunteer and TDHS Allied Health Assistant Tracey Heeps helped her energetic 14 year old niece Maddy, who has a chromosomal condition called Cri du chat, and who loves the water. “Water is Maddy’s happy place, so when this opportunity came along, my brother Dan, signed up both Maddy and her younger brother Austin for the surfing experience.” Tracey said. The “Dune Buggy” (Maddy’s words) transferred her down to the many secure arms of the DSA Warrnambool crew to help her catch three waves in absolute safety and joy.

“Even though Maddy was tuckered out, she insisted on completing the rest of the beach walk, traversing the sand for another 30 minutes.” Tracey said. “This beach day allowed both Austin and Maddy to try a new activity on equal footing; two very happy kids and a very proud and grateful Dad!”

At 2 pm a presentation was held by passionate local Brendan Hyland about the Port Campbell Accessible Beach Initiative “Advocacy Campaign”, which aims to increase accessibility to the nearest patrolled beach to one of Victoria’s most high-profile tourist attractions fostering inclusion and equity for all members of the community. Brendan’s passion was even more apparent when he showed photos of his disabled nephew, who can only communicate by face expressions, wearing a huge smile on his face sitting on a sandy beach.

The event concluded with an Access and Inclusion Panel Discussion hosted by PCSLSC volunteer (event initiator) and TDHS physiotherapist James Czencz. The panel consisted of Corangamite Shire Councillor Jo Beard, who was diagnosed with PPMS in 2017, Emma Olivier, founder and CEO of Twenty Percent and having been born without a left hand, and Patrick Caruana, Corangamite Shire’s Rural Access Officer, responsible for delivering actions from the Shire’s Disability Inclusion Plan 2020-2025.

All three talked with positivity and humor about their journey with a disability and how they embraced and owned their disability. They concurred that their disability increased their creativity, agility, persistence, openness, forethought, and capacity for solving problems. They were happy for people to offer their help, but they might just choose to take 10 minutes while they try to tie their shoelaces themselves!

When asked by Natalie Powell, PCSLSC Administration Officer and event initiator, what this awareness day would look like in 5 years’ time, the panel members all agreed: that an awareness day like this was no longer required and that we would live in a world where everyone could dip their toes in the water at any time and any day!

By standing united in action, we can make meaningful strides towards a more inclusive and equitable world for all.

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