Campaign to improve accessibility at Hunter beaches

SHANE HRYHOREC never considered he would not be able to join in his family’s regular beach holidays.

“The thought of that not being possible would have never crossed my mind before my accident,” he said.

Then a lifeguard, Mr Hryhorec slipped while getting into a swimming pool in 2007. He broke his neck and almost drowned.

“I spent five days in a coma and was told I’d never walk again, although I can now stand and walk short distances, but not enough to get down to the water.

“One thing about people with disabilities is they focus on things they can do, they don’t do things where they know they’re going to be lit up with disappointment.”

Mr Hryhorec was on social media when he first saw an image of a beach mat, which gave wheelchair users a stable surface to move across sand to water. He didn’t know if it was real.

“I started doing some research and exploration on equipment and realised this was real, had been around for a while and for some reason had never been picked up here.”

Mr Hryhorec has a goal to make the majority of Australia’s beaches accessible by 2020. He said there were around three accessible beaches two years ago but this will grow to 40 by the end of summer.

Ability Links NSW has brought Mr Hryhorec to the region as part of its Beaches For Every Body initiative to speak at Souths Merewether at 10am on Saturday August 11 about how to make beaches more accessible and inclusive. 

The free sessions are open to everyone, including members of surf life saving clubs, lifesavers, councils, and advocates.

Mr Hyrhorec said the cost to purchase equipment such as beach mats and beach wheelchairs was usually less than installing a new bus shelter.

But he said accessibility also extended to improving infrastructure around car parking, pathways to the beach, shade, bathrooms and change rooms.

“The byproduct of inclusion, the joy of having everyone together, is in my opinion completely worth it.

“Think of how this could affect a wheelchair user, a dad who is no longer going to be excluded and can build sandcastles with his children.” 

RSVP: abilitylinks@vinnies.org.au or 49050700.