History – Water Under the Bridge.
The Disabled Surfers Association was established in 1986 by Gary Blaschke after a motorcycle accident which he lost his knee cap and under went extensive rehabilitation.
Gary saw a void that needed to be filled as over the years, many surfers with disabilities have unfortunately, been loners with no one to help them get back into the water.
Many suffer from disabilities that the general public would not consider a disability.
From asthmatics to joint injuries to paraplegic, many members have found friendship, support and have renewed their interest in surfing.
Gary’s vision quickly extended to all classes of disabilities, as it is today. A total voluntary organisation, which sets world’s best practice for Disabled Surfers.
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The Saga of: SLSA Bans Beach Wheelchairs
It is hard to believe a bigger act of beach access bastardry, than the one enacted by SLSA back in November last year, when they banned the use of beach wheelchairs by their Surf Life Saving Clubs.
This egregious act was only discovered 4 days before Xmas after an enquiry from a concerned Victorian Surf Life Saving Club secretary, asking us to check if it was correct.
A flurry of phone calls and emails was generated from our end to the top CEOs of Surf Life Saving, all to no avail (no answer or reply – nada).
On New Year’s Day an ABC TV investigative journo confirmed the ban from the CEO of SLSA, Brett Williamson, only that “it was temporary”.
From that moment on, until the present time, SLSA degenerated into a mountain of spin and serious ‘deep hole digging’, ‘clarifying’ Brett’s comments a few hours later by saying it was only for ‘new/future acquisitions’ because of reports of an unknown donor who was about to give SLSA 200 beach wheelchairs. But they had “no details as to who/ what/ why”.
Classic excuses included ‘these new chairs are high tech, requiring specialized training’ – pity the same chairs have been in SLSCs for up to 10 years. Or the implication that the chairs had the same degree of risk as jetski, IRB, helicopter, surf ski or surf boat usage.
This ban therefore was akin to the Coalition of the Willing’s pre-emptive strike strategy on Iraq – get in first before there is an established threat. Instead of the threat of ‘Weapons of Mass Destruction’, SLSA was treating the issue of beach wheelchairs, housed in their SLSCs, as their own WMD threat viz “Wheelchairs of Mass Distraction”.
On January 2 the DSAA wrote to all 7 of SLSA’s CEOs, state and national, outlining in great detail, our abhorrence to their ban while at the same time offering solutions to any problems as possibly perceived by SLSA, providing “they wanted to cater for all Australians, in the first place”. And finally, “under no circumstances, should TGA approved Sandcruisers (formerly Freewheelers) be destroyed while this matter is being resolved.”
On Friday 6th January, another aggrieved SLSC member provided us with the smoking gun: an email from the Sunshine Coast SLSA Branch, dated 30.11.11, proving the ban was far worse than just ‘temporary’ or ‘only for new acquisitions’: “wheelchairs be returned immediately to the organisation that donated/left them at the club or failing that have them destroyed or dumped at council waste transfer station” Oops.
What did the DSAA do? Quite a lot, actually. By this time we had had the debacle aired on National ABC TV news 4.1.12, dozens of newspapers and radio stations across Australia, and had written to every State and Federal Politician who had anything to do with a Disability/ Sport/ Community services portfolio.
Saturday 14th had a particularly appalling story (for SLSA) in the Sunshine Coast Daily, where apart from everything else, there was the first reported confirmation of the destruction of a beach wheelchair, one of our Sandcruisers (Freewheelers), by the Caloundra SLSC when reluctantly following the SLSA edict.
On Monday 16.1.12, for the first time in 6 years (!) we got a response from the top of SLSA, dictating that we had to answer 13 questions before ” accept (ing) your invitation to have the meeting”, as we had requested.
Not, “How are you mate? Sorry about our cock-up. When can we sit down and clear the air on this whole unfortunate matter, then move on and give our disabled Australians a better deal when it comes to beach access”. Like to see some of the questions?
- How many beach wheelchairs have been distributed to SLSC’s?
- Where and when were these chairs distributed?
- How many new chairs do you anticipate may be available for distribution and where to…in both short and longer terms?
- Who do you consider “owns” the current and future chairs?
- Who do you consider is liable for any injury or worse arising from the use of the chairs?
- Does your organisation have public liability insurance cover for those storing, making available or using the chairs?
- Who are the manufacturers of the various chairs which seem to exist?
- Are manufacturers registered or approved by your organisation?
- Are there any approved national or international design standard/s for the chairs?
HTFWWK (you work it out) most of this, without making us liable for providing any mis-information if we tried to supply it first to an antagonistic party?
Here we have the head of SLSA essentially admitting that they do not have a clue about their own use of beach wheelchairs – for the past 10 or more years, the time they have been in some SLSCs around Australia.
How in Elmer Fudd’s name can we have been privy to the inner details of the workings of SLSA who had not responded to our entreaties for 6 years?
So that’s where we are now at the time of writing (28.1.12). We are waiting on a number of possible facilitators to get back to us, to first have a ‘clearing the air’ meeting with SLSA and then to get down to having a good outcome in terms of increased beach access, with some of the 307 SLSCs becoming part of the solution.
We note in today’s SMH (28.1.12) ‘PM-in-waiting’, Tony Abbott, has promised another $10 million to SLSA “to reduce drownings”, if they get elected.
SLSA’s own insurance broker gave the DSAA, back on 21.12.11, a rough estimate for insuring the re-introduction of beach wheelchairs to SLSCs as being around $50 000.
So money is clearly not the issue.
The individual SLSCs and their members are not the problem – be very clear on this point. Or is it, when you get down to it, that SLSA, the national body, just cannot be bothered?
If you want any more specific details, just contact me on firstname.lastname@example.org
Finally, a big thanks to everyone who put their hand up and helped over the past 4 weeks – and particularly those SLSC members who were outraged enough to come forward.
It will get sorted. It must get sorted. For it to not to happen will once again condone “that people with disabilities living in Australia have the poorest quality of life among people with disabilities anywhere in the developed world. We rank 27th out of the 27 OECD countries.” From a report released by Pricewaterhouse Coopers, just prior to Xmas, last year.
If you want just a taste of the rubbish the DSAA has had to put up with in recent weeks just click on the icon as attached.
Jim Bradley Hon Nat DSAA Advisor
Foundation Member Gerringong SLSC, Hon National SLSA Surf Survival Certificate Coordinator (’83-’95), just for the record.