Hannah Dodd, 24, used to love going to the beach as a kid.
But as her debilitating condition deteriorated so did a passion that the rest of us take for granted each summer.
That is until the wheel-chair bound Central Coast, NSW resident, discovered the benefits of the Royal Rehab Beach Access Program.
“The Beach Access program helped give me the skills I needed to manage the beach in my chair,” says Hannah, who was born with the deteriorating neck condition sacral agenesis and Spina bifida.
“I learned about the importance of safety [like avoiding rips], how to manage my fatigue and even how to get back up onto a boogie board for the first time in a long time.”
Now more confident than ever, Hannah is thrilled to be able to participate in the program for a second time this summer.
Accessing the beach, particularly for someone in a wheelchair, can be near impossible without the proper equipment and assistance.
Research shows only one in five people with a disability participate in sport or recreation activity compared to 75% of people in good health.
NSW falls below the national average and is ranked second lowest for percentage of people with a disability who participate in sport and recreation.
The Royal Rehab program, now in its second year, provides free clinics for people with spine and brain injury, multiple sclerosis, cerebral palsy, muscular dystrophy or other disability to help them learn ways to access and gain confidence, independence and safety when visiting the beach.
The 2016 program is hosted from Collaroy Beach on Sydney’s Northern Beaches. Funding from Surf Life Saving NSW, the Department of Family and Community Service (FACS) and private donors allowed the organisation to purchase state-of-the-art equipment and train 25 Warringah lifeguards in disability safety.
Participants learn how to enter the ocean safely, what the best equipment to use is and how to be water safe.
They also receive tips from people living with disability who regularly access the beach. The program also helps increase awareness and understanding of disability, social inclusion and beach access in the local community.
Sydney husband and father of two young boys Lee Ferrier can’t speak highly enough of the benefits.
Lee was always a very outdoorsy and active guy. He loved surfing and had a passion for his motorbikes.
Then in 2015 his life changed forever when he decided to take a trip to the store.
On the way he was involved in an accident which severed his spinal cord and t2 vertibrae, punctured his lung and broke his sternum and ribs. He spent 3.5 months in hospital before arriving at Royal Rehab where he spent a further 2.5 months in full time rehabilitation adjusting to life in a wheelchair.
Lee was one of the first to try the Beach Access program.
“After the accident I wouldn’t have considered doing it by myself, but everyone involved in the program really gave me that confidence to know my capabilities and what equipment I need to be safe in the water.
“With my oldest son especially, our main bonding time was when we went out surfing together, so it’s great to be able to still participate in beach trips as a family. I’m looking forward to coming back again this year!”
For more information and to support Royal Rehab’s Christmas appeal, click here.