I am a visual artist and a mother. In 2017, I completed the first year of my law degree and became a member of the Western Australia Disability Services Board.
I was diagnosed with muscular dystrophy at the age of 19 and have lived with increasing levels of disability as the muscles of my arms and legs have deteriorated. It took years for me to learn to articulate, let alone navigate, the chaos of acquiring and experiencing disability.
I now live in the town of Denmark in Western Australia and at the top of my wish list is improved universal access to recreation – especially to outdoor and natural amenities. I believe many people underestimate the impact on mental and physical health of those who are barred by lack of access and denied equal opportunity to a lifestyle most Australians hold dear.
Greens Pool, William Bay, is an example of a place of great natural beauty, a rare safe swimming spot on the rugged Southern Coast. It has a topography which could be adapted to universal access but remains accessible via only a notoriously difficult stair climb.
There is an old maintenance track running down to the water’s edge – clearly vehicular access was at some point a priority – and yet it is unsealed and not usable by those who rely on mobility aids. I am frankly nauseated by the privilege infrastructure and technology affords to vehicles and bikes in a world where access for wheelchairs remains vastly inadequate.
The provision of universal access throughout the built environment is a basic human right. A period of disability, whether permanent or temporary, is a part of the lives of many Australians. Barriers within the built environment limit freedom of movement and choice for many people, especially people with disability, people with limited mobility and older people. Universal access accommodates the needs of all people regardless of age and ability and benefits the whole community. As such, it as a community responsibility.
When we think of the built environment, its easy to forget that nature is accessible to most via roads, paths, trails, camp sites, platforms and holiday bungalows. Boat launches along the coast demonstrate that it’s not hard to get a set of wheels to the water’s edge in a desirable location.
Where there’s a will, there’s a way.
It is the external built environment that enables us to access that lifestyle – or bars us from it. I’m not suggesting every natural amenity be graded to universal access – only that as with urban environments, there is room for improvement. After all, recreational moments, be they from a city wine bar or immersed in the ocean, are what quality of life is all about.