Last Friday morning, it was exciting to be 'making waves' at Brighton Beach in many ways:
water waves in Gulf St Vincent and
social and radio waves with
ABC Radio Adelaide!
Here's a picture of the ABC Radio Roving Reporter, Spence Denny, and me ready for a live-cross to the ABC Adelaide morning program, hosted by Presenter and Journalist David Bevan.
Spence is sitting in my spare wheelchair so he could experience first-hand the bumpy ride created by the surface of a new ramp which is covered in ridged tiles.
Spence had never used a wheelchair before and he was very brave for trusting me to guide him along the ramp, especially since we were joined together by microphone cables etc.
It was fun but also 'serious' fun because the issue under discussion was wheelchair access to a beautiful, modern stretch of footpath (a 'boardwalk' if you like) designed for people to stroll alongside the beach at Brighton, South Australia. It is also an access ramp to beach level for members of the Brighton Surf Life Saving Club.
|A photo of the Brighton Boardwalk from Google Maps' 'Street View'.|
Previously only accessible by stairs, this lowered section of
footpath now has ramp access.
The new ramp can easily be identified by the blue-grey coloured tiles on its surface.
How this adventure came about
On Wednesday, the ABC Adelaide morning radio program, hosted by David Bevan, conducted a discussion about footpath access–in particular, street clutter like bus shelters, signposts, A-frame advertising signs etc.–and the difficulties faced by people who use wheelchairs, walkers, prams, canes and other mobility devices.
After interviews with a celebrity wheelchair user, Quentin Kenihan, and various disability advocates, the phones were opened up to the public.
I couldn't help myself and phoned in to give examples of urban developments which 'on paper' are compliant with disability access standards but 'in practice' are not practicable for wheelchair users. I called for better awareness from urban planners, architects and landscapers.
These design people should know better and, if they don't, they need to prioritise consultation with disability advocates and behavioural scientists at the very beginning of their projects if they want to make sure that their new developments will be truly accessible and inclusive.
I used the Brighton Boardwalk ramp as an example of a ramp that has the right railings, enough width, the incline is not too steep and it has regular level 'rest platforms' that meet the disability access standards. It ticks the boxes so it's properly accessible by wheelchair users, right?
Wrong! The choice of surface finish makes it the most unpleasant strip of pavement I've used in a very long time. The first (and last) time I used it was during a visit with my family and it was so unpleasant, I made a mental note to myself to remember never to go there again because the experience was so bad.
The problem is not the ramp itself but the choice of surface finish–blue-grey synthetic tiles (possibly made of recycled materials) which have a series of ridged lines across them, with crevices between each line. This corrugated surface causes a wheelchair at walking pace to bump, vibrate, rattle and bounce!
It might be an entertaining ride for toddlers in prams, but for people with disabilities, it is enough to jar sensitive bodies and painful joints, causing damage and pain that will linger for much longer than the time spent at the beach. By the time I reached the middle of the ramp, I felt like I was on an amusement park ride that I just wanted to get off! It made me extremely nauseous. It was horrid!
Spence said, "If you haven't stirred your coffee you wouldn't need to now!"
After the talkback segment on Wednesday morning, the producers of the program invited me to participate in a live segment from the offending location at Brighton Beach, South Australia.
It has been posted to the ABC Radio Adelaide web site here:
Some people might accuse me of being a 'WWW' ('Whinging Woman in a Wheelchair'). There is a certain attitude in some parts of society which expects people with disabilities to be 'grateful' for any little concession given by able-bodied people. This attitude is focussed on the needs of those who want to feel good about themselves for being 'charitable'. It's about their able-bodied, privileged egos and not about the needs of people with disabilities.
When people with disabilities have valid complaints about equity, they are frequently attacked for being 'ungrateful' even when their basic human rights (and right to complain) are not respected; e.g. "We gave you a ramp, who cares if you can't use it, you should be grateful we even bothered." This sort of statement immediately highlights the power imbalance between those with and without disabilities and the way that people with disabilities are often treated as 'other' or 'lesser' than everyone else.
|A wheelchair similar to mine.|
One talkback caller had no sympathy whatsoever and described the ramp experience as being 'slightly uncomfortable' for wheelchair users so 'bad luck'. This caller fails to realise that for many wheelchair users it is not 'mere inconvenience' but it can cause real pain and damage to people. If someone cannot use a path without becoming injured, then it is inaccessible.
People with disabilities deserve the same rights to public amenity as everyone else and that means being able to access the boardwalk without getting sick or injured.
Imagine how you would feel if you had been unable to get outside for months and then you got access to a wheelchair and personal support for an outing to the beach. What a marvellous opportunity for respite and some quality of life. I would be looking forward to an outing like that.
(When illness shrinks your world to the confines of your bedroom, simple excursions that others take for granted can loom large on the horizon of future expectations.)
After all that time looking forward to a happy experience, how would you feel if your outing was spoiled when you encountered this corrugated pathway and it left you feeling more sore and exhausted than you were before you left home?
I suspect that the tiled surface may have been chosen for one of the following reasons:
- non-slip surface on an incline
- water drainage
- discourage skateboarders (and other perceived 'pests')
- cost of materials (maybe they got a good deal?)
- possibly recycled materials (trying to be environmentally friendly)
It was interesting to hear one of the talkback callers say that the ridged tiles are the sort often found at the top of staircases to provide a non-slip surface. They then went on to say that the ridges on the tiles create a tripping hazard, particularly for older people.
Later on Friday, I went to the hospital for a regular appointment and one of the (able-bodied) staff there said a similar thing: she goes running and has had direct experience with those ridges that are notorious for catching one's toes.
She had nothing complimentary to say about the blue-grey ridged tiles:
- they get extremely hot in summer
- they hurt to walk on in bare feet (that's what my daughter said too!)
- they catch the toes of your shoes causing a tripping hazard
- the tiles collect the sand which makes them slippery
- the sand makes them rough
- "I would hate for anyone to fall on them as it would be very nasty."
Apparently this surface has also been used on the paths around Seacliff beach as well. Seacliff is the very beach which had the very first 'roll out' mat to allow wheelchair users access to the water's edge.
I will be so dismayed if this paving surface becomes more widespread. Wouldn't it be a shame if the installation of this surface negated the benefits of the 'roll out' beach access mat?
I would love to know what other beachgoers and wheelchair users think? Please feel free to leave comments, questions and stories in the box below or email firstname.lastname@example.org
I know it's not 'just me' and it worried me when I thought I caught a glimpse of this same material on a path to access the tram or train line. (I can't remember which but will let you know when I travel that way again!)
Finally, could someone from the City of Holdfast Bay tell me exactly who suggested this surface and why!
P.S. Correction: in the radio segment I said I had been using a wheelchair since 2007 but my daughter, whose memory is so much sharper than mine, corrected me: it was 2005!
P.P.S. 14 May 2019 Edited to add:
This is the stuff: Enduroplank
The Brighton Boardwalk is pictured on the website
under the Boardwalks heading.
This product is marketed as slip-resistant, long lasting, maintenance free and an ethical alternative to timber because it is recycled product. This company is doing the right thing by finding new applications for used plastics from supermarkets and trying to create a 'circular economy' through recycling.
My ethical problem with this product is that it is still plastic and being used in beach and marine environments in our hot climate. (It is marketed as 'marine jetty planking.') I am concerned that all plastics break down eventually and the micro-plastic molecules will find their way into the ocean, environment and our food chains.
What happens to the plastic dust that emits from installation as workers cut and drill the material?
It's great that these people are trying to reduce waste by recycling but that doesn't seem to stop other people from manufacturing plastics in the first place!
The Enduroplank specifications say:
"It has been determined that weathering of an exposed plastic surface occurs at a maximum rate of 0.003 inches per year and that the mechanical properties of the plastic actually increase over time. (Weathering Effects on Mechanical Properties of Recycled HDPE Based Plastic Lumber, Jennifer K. Lynch, et al.Rutgers university ANTEC 2001p. 2738-2740)"
[https://www.replas.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/marine_jettyplanking.pdf - Enduroplank Specifications and Installation Instructions, December 2008, accessed 14 May 2019]
References & LinksABC Radio Adelaide, Mornings with David Bevan, Australian Broadcasting Corporation: http://www.abc.net.au/radio/adelaide/programs/mornings/
- Episode: 10 November 2017: http://www.abc.net.au/radio/adelaide/programs/mornings/mornings/9118306
The segment is approximately 1 minute into the program. Programs usually stay available for 1 week after broadcast.
- Twitter post about this segment, ABC Adelaide, 10 November 2017: https://twitter.com/abcadelaide/status/928759658923175937
City of Holdfast Bay, web site: https://www.holdfast.sa.gov.au/page.aspx?u=3743
- ABC Radio Mornings: http://www.abc.net.au/radio/adelaide/programs/mornings/
- Twitter @DavidBevanSA: https://twitter.com/DavidBevanSA
- Web site: http://quentinkenihan.com.au/
- Twitter @qkenihan: https://twitter.com/qkenihan?ref_src=twsrc%5Egoogle%7Ctwcamp%5Eserp%7Ctwgr%5Eauthor