The sun is starting to shine brighter, the days are getting warmer and Aussies across the nation are planning their weekends around heading to the beach. There are few things more iconic to the Aussie lifestyle than sitting on a sunny beach, drinking an ice-cold drink from the Esky and trying not to burn yourself to a crisp. Beaches form a major part of the Australian iconography, it is in our ads, it is our tourism calling card and it is our go-to holiday destination. So how are we working to make the beach enjoyable for people of all types?
Australia has a proud history of red and yellow stewards who guard our beaches saving over 10,000 people per year. Surf Life Saving has been operating since 1907 and now have over 311 affiliated clubs, their mission is to create a safe beach environment for all. We typically hear of these Aussie heroes when they are pulling someone out of the surf who was drowning or when they are patrolling for sharks but there is another side that is equally just as important.
Surf Life Saving Australia has been rolling out an inclusive beaches program since November 2016 across Australia that is now active in over 40 of their clubs. This initiative is designed to help people with a disability feel safe on their local beaches or to connect them to other clubs who are running inclusion programs. The most exciting part of this, especially for a child is the inclusive Nippers program.
For those like me that grew up 5 hours from a beach, the Nippers program is aimed at giving kids the tools to survive any situation they may encounter on the beach and is a great pathway into Surf Life Saving for many people. The inclusive Nippers program has the same goal but is tailored to help kids with disability, and their parents, on the beach. Each program is customised to the needs of the children and helps them grow into confident beachgoers.
The inclusive Nipper program is designed to run either in concurrence with an existing or as a stand-alone program — each of which helps boost inclusion by making the program, for lack of a better word, ‘normalised’. This is important both for the children in the inclusive Nippers program and those not because it shows the abilities of children with disability, instead of isolating them from being involved. By offering the different types of programs, it allows the teachers to focus on the needs of the individual and tailor the class accordingly. They also encourage running events that can be a 1-day festival or short courses for 3–6 weeks which are great for families unsure if they want to fully commit to the inclusive Nippers program.
A recent story from the North Steyne Surf Life Saving Club who, with the help of Autism Spectrum Australia, produced this video highlighting their inclusive program. North Steyne is not alone, however, in November Fingal Bay near Port Stephens ran an accessible beach day with their floating wheelchairs and Sandcruiser beach wheelchair — donated by Ability Links and Salamander Bay Recycling respectively.
These programs, donations and days are integral in creating inclusion in Australia. They are built on something so very fundamentally Aussie, giving everyone a ‘fair go’. It is an ethos I remember being drilled into at my school, we’ve heard it in countless political campaigns and at almost every local pub in the country, but it is often lost when it comes to inclusion. The reason for this could be many, but often it is oversight or cost –Inclusion is about providing a world where everyone feels safe, and you can help create that by thinking of more than what you need or how it might look to your bottom line.
Surf Life Saving put it simply when they say, “Inclusion is an attitude”. That attitude is important to the future of Australians; if we can’t make our most iconic places inclusive, we aren’t working towards a better future. Find out more about the Inclusive Beaches program and Surf Life Saving by visiting their website.