Making Bundaberg beaches accessible to all

16 February 2023

Tears of joy and smiles of happiness lit up Neilson Park-Beach at CQUniversity's inaugural U-Beach Community Beach Day.

More than 250 individuals attended the popular event this week (15 February 2023)' many of whom have not had the social' physical' or technical support to enjoy the beach for many years.

The community event is part of the Universal Beach Access Hub (U-BEACH) project' led by CQU Bundaberg physiotherapy lecturer Sasha Job.

The project aims to improve beach access for the community and provide support to participate in beach-based activities for all people and abilities.

Ms Job said she is proud to see the impact Bundaberg's first accessible beach event has had within the community.

"In the Bundaberg region' one in five people have a disability' and research has shown 50 per cent of those people can't access the beach'" she explained.

"Some challenges people face include moving through the soft sand and lack of mobility equipment.

"The U-Beach community beach day is about showing people that with some simple solutions' they can access the beach and safely engage in beach activity."

To overcome these accessibility concerns' attendees utilised Mobi-Mat' Beach Walkers and Beach Wheelchairs' alongside assistance from volunteers who coordinated wheelchair transfers' mobility and beach activities.

U-Beach is a project driven by CQUniversity' in partnership with Bundaberg Regional Council' Bundaberg Surf Lifesaving' IMPACT Community Services' and Rotary Bundaberg Region' as well as local education providers' allied health organisations and sporting clubs.

The much-needed mobility equipment was supplied by Independent Living Specialists (ILS)' Regional Health and Mobility Bundaberg' and disability organisations including Rise-up Support Partners.

The collaborative event brought together CQU physiotherapy and occupational therapy experts and students' as well as community supporters to facilitate beach access and activities.

Bargara resident and CQUniversity student Kathryn Tolstoff is just one attendee who benefited from a day of sun' surf and salt.

The CQU Skills for Tertiary Education Preparatory Studies (STEPS) student' who was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis (MS) five years ago' said she has not been able to visit the beach for more than two years.

"Not being able to visit the beach makes me feel trapped' sad and frustrated'" Kathryn explained.

"Last time I tried to visit the beach' I got stuck in a quicksand hole. Previous attempts had also resulted in me falling and needing to crawl back to safety.

"I miss being able to visit the beach. There is no other experience that compares to being in the salt water."

She explained that the U-Beach event encouraged her to be brave and attempt future beach visits' even opening her eyes to some mobility tools she could utilise.

"While I had some fear at first' I knew I had support from the volunteers to get into the ocean. It was a refreshing' liberating and freeing experience.

"Speaking with the volunteers even educated me on ways I might be able to visit a beach closer to my house'" she said.

"I loved being able to attend and be at future U-Beach events with bells on."