For Stratford man Chris Wighton getting into the ocean is not an easy exercise.
But now, thanks to the purchase of float chairs and mobi mats by Cairns Regional Council, it is a little easier for people using a wheelchair and older people with walking frames.
Eight years ago, Chris’ life changed forever, when in a freak mountain bike accident, he broke his back and suffered a complete spinal injury.
Today, the 63-year-old former Cairns youth worker is a keen sea kayaker and said the float chairs and mobi mats will greatly improve accessibility and inclusiveness for people with a disability.
“before my accident, one of my great pleasures was running along the beach and plunging into the water,” Chris said.
“Since my accident, other than being on my kayak, I’ve probably only gone into the ocean from the beach maybe one time.
“The mats and float will be a good inclusion and it opens another avenue for recreation for people with a disability.”
Council has purchased two beach wheelchairs for public use at the Palm Cove and Ellis Beach, which can be accessed from the local Surf Life Saving Clubs.
Ellis Beach also has a mobi mat, which rolls over the sand and allows conventional wheelchairs to cross the soft sand to the hard sand, which can be used in combination with turn-out mats to allow people using a wheelchair to sit on the beach, or to transfer onto a new float chair.
The Ellis Beach float chair and mat are available during patrol times from April to November; Saturday’s from midday and all day Sunday and public holidays. The Palm Cove float chair is available all year round.
New accessible car parks and linking paths to the beach have also been installed to improve access to the beach.
Cairns Mayor Bob Manning said Council was working to ensure people were engaged and connected within the community, irrespective of their ability.
“Council has made real progress in improving the capacity for people with a disability to access our services, facilities and information," Cr Manning said.
“From improving access for people using a wheelchair to installing Braille and tactile street name signs in the city, we are continuing to find ways to remove barriers for people to participate in activities within the community and improve the quality of life for people with a disability.
“The cost of such things as float chairs and mobi mats can be quite cost prohibitive for individuals, which is why Council has stepped in and purchased these pieces to help all people in our community gain access to the beach and ocean, something most of us take for granted.”
A third float chair is located at the Smithfield Surf Life Saving Queensland (SLSQ) office for use in registered programs, or as an additional chair at Ellis and Palm Cove beaches during peak times.
The float chairs and mobi mats are part of suite of measures rolled out by Council in recent years to provide greater accessibility for all abilities, including the construction of new beach viewing paths at Kewarra Beach and Ellis Beach and installation of more than 20 new accessible parking bays throughout the Cairns region.
A new parking map on the My Cairns app shows all the accessible parking bays in the city; it can be found in the Things to Do tab.
Braille and tactile street name signs will also be installed as part of the new Florence Street intersection upgrades.
It follows the installation of about 250 of the signs throughout the Cairns CBD, Cairns Hospital and Cairns State High School precincts.
“The signs not only provide way finding for a person with vision impairment, but assist all pedestrians with clear directions and locations throughout the CBD,” Cr Manning said.