In response to Bernie McComb’s letter, Sentinel-Times, August 8.
Mr McComb, it is with sadness and disappointment that I read your letter regarding the access improvements at Cowes Yacht Club. Some of the opinions expressed regarding people with disability (PwD) belong pre-1992 when the Disability Discrimination Act came into effect.
I am Gippsland’s Access for All Abilities program manager with GippSport, a State Government funded program working with the Gippsland sporting community to be inclusive of people with disability.
I work with individuals to identify sports of interest, then assist clubs facilitate their participation through training, developing new programs and/or applying for grants to improve physical access.
The access improvements at Cowes Yacht Club (CYC) are part of a three-year project to provide a local option for PwD to participate in sailing. Other partners in this project are the South Coast Access Alliance (SCAA), Newhaven Yacht Squadron (NYS) and Yachting Victoria.
To answer your question, “How many people with disabilities (not “disabled people” as you put it – they’re not broken) are interested in sailing?” The short answer is ‘lots’.
We have two specialist schools and many disability service providers (DSPs) in Bass Coast/South Gippsland who send groups weekly in season to Hazelwood pondage to sail.
With so many fantastic beaches and clubs in the region why should groups have to travel up to one and a half hours each way to go for a sail?
We’ve hosted two ‘Beach Festivals’ at Cowes and Inverloch as part of this project, and won the 2012 Tidy Towns – Sustainable Communities Award. The Cowes event had 104 PwD attend, plus families and carers, over 50 volunteers from local clubs and community groups.
This season our sailing program has averaged 40 participants per session at CYC and NYS.
I applaud both clubs’ commitment to inclusion and welcoming a segment of our community who often don’t get the opportunity to participate in sports that the rest of us take for granted.
“What provision is there to help the PwD access yachts downstairs?” There are three all-terrain wheelchairs available. Two of which we received a $12,000 grant for and donated to the communities of Bass Coast and South Gippsland for free community use, Bass Coast Shire Council also contributed purchasing the third.
There are also such things as portable hoists which are available to be used.
Not all PwD have mobility restrictions, so accessing off the beach dinghies is not a major hurdle for us to navigate to help people participate in, as you rightly describe, sailing as an enjoyable sport.
The grant scheme that provided the money for the improvements at CYC came from Regional Development Victoria’s (RDV) ‘Putting Locals First’ scheme. Whilst Bass MP Ken Smith may well have been at the opening of the ramp, it was a group of local volunteers from the club, RDV staff and myself that drove and advocated for this project.
Facility developments under this scheme need to meet Universal Design principles. This is around providing fair, dignified and equitable access for the whole community – not just PwD. It is interesting to note that you think that providing ramp access to upstairs is only for the benefit of PwD.
What about a young mum with a pram and a couple of kids? What about the person delivering drinks on trolleys? What about older adults whose hips don’t allow them to walk up and down stairs?
It is widely accepted that 20 per cent of the population associate as having some form of disability. If you include long term injuries and illness, that percentage increases to 25 per cent.
Add in people over the age of 65 and it’s way up there.
Improving community facilities to better facilitate access for everyone is a smart investment long term. I’m sure you realise we have an ageing population.
I’m curious as to where your facts come from that justification for this project is to enable bus excursions for the elderly to have lunch.
This statement really misses the mark.
Surely at a time where sections of the Phillip Island community are crying out for investment and improvement in their community assets, smart investment into a community facility that aims to provide long term sustainable participation opportunities for the whole community is something to be celebrated.
If, as it seems you are inferring, you’d like to see this pool of funding redirected to roads or other alternatives, be aware that the Cowes Activity Centre Plan was funded through this pool and as a result may not have otherwise gone ahead – this could have been another thing the Island missed out on.
Mr McComb, I invite you to come to one of the programs that I support and see the joy as well as the health benefits that our community sports clubs can provide to PwD by providing simple sports participation opportunities.
Come to Newhaven Yacht Squadron on November 21 or December 5, and see first-hand how many people with disability enjoy sailing.
Alternatively, come to Cowes Yacht Club during the ‘Tackers’ school holiday program in January or March 1, use the new ramp, sit upstairs at the club and watch how local PwD enjoy sailing off the beach at Cowes Yacht Club.
Dan Poynton, Access for All Abilities Program Manager, GippSport; On behalf of the South Coast Access Alliance.