Shane Hryhorec enjoys a trip to the beach but the infrastructure at Byron Bay's Main Beach left him unable to access the popular stretch of coast.
Shane Hryhorec enjoys a trip to the beach but the infrastructure at Byron Bay's Main Beach left him unable to access the popular stretch of coast. Shane Hryhorec Facebook

Wheelchair swimmer left high and dry

A TRIP to Byron Bay left one of its visitors "feeling truly disabled" after he couldn't join other beach-goers in enjoying one of Australia's most popular beaches.

Bound to a wheelchair, Shane came prepared with his own beach wheelchair to enable him to access Main Beach on Sunday.

Wearing his swimmers and armed with all the beach-going gear, Mr Hryhorec was ready to take the plunge but came to a harsh realisation as he approached the ramp.

He had the chair but he couldn't safely push himself down the steep slope to the beach below.

"It didn't even click with me that it's one thing to have a beach wheel chair but it's another thing to actually get onto the beach to access it ," Mr Hryhorec said.

"It's like having a pair of running shoes but not being able to run."

Abandoning his coastal craving, Mr Hryhorec was "silently fuming" on the way home when he decided to post about his experience on Facebook.

"But I just got to a point after Byron Bay that I thought, 'you know what I have to speak out about this' and I am so glad I have," he said.

The post attracted hundreds of likes, more than 50 shares and plenty of conversation about Byron Shire Council's delayed effort to ensure its world-class beaches are accessible for all over the years.

Byron Shire Council made comment on the post and offered Mr Hryhorec access to their beach wheelchairs for next time.

Mr Hryhorec found council's response unacceptable given he made clear he brought his own beach wheelchair.

"It's not fair, investing in two beach chairs does not make a beach accessible," he said.

"It's a holistic approach, its accessible parking, entry, matting as well as equipment that they just don't care about by the sounds."

As one of the country's biggest tourism hotspots, Byron Bay attracts about 1.7 million visitors annually.

Mr Hryhorec said the statistic alone should be enough for Byron Shire to prioritise access as other councils down have around the country.

"It would be nice if they could make it a priority rather than put it off for another 20 years," he said.

Byron Shire mayor Simon Richardson said he plans to make it a council priority.

"We really do need to go beyond beach wheelchairs. I'm keen to act on it and explore what's involved," Cr Richardson said.

The mayor cited funding as the main issue hampering with council's ability to roll out upgraded, shire-wide beach infrastructure.

Cr Richardson raised concerns about the State Government's tourism funding rules which he said "are off limits" to improving infrastructure like beach access that "will enhance visitor satisfaction."

Treasurer for the Disabled Surfers Association Far North Coast, John Manfield said Byron's beaches "were among the worst in the Northern Rivers."

Mr Manfield, like others on Mr Hryhorec's Facebook post, noted Clarke's Beach as another notorious beach with difficult infrastructure for people with disabilities to navigate.

Northern Rivers Community Foundation chairman, John Callanan said accessibility in Byron Bay extends beyond beach access to footpaths and intersections.

He said Byron's infrastructure has been "very unfriendly" for people with disabilities, particularly wheelchair users, for years.



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