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Parks Victoria creating accessible environments for visitors with disabilities

Ryan Smith at Norman Beach, near Tidal River Campgrounds, Wilsons Promontory
Photo: Kris Pokori

More than 80 per cent of Australians with reduced mobility want more practical and prominent information before they travel and for many, not knowing what to expect can be a major barrier to exploring somewhere new.

Parks Victoria is improving and creating accessible environments for visitors with a disability, their families, friends and carers.

A new video series filmed and produced by accessibility advocate Ryan Smith aims to inspire people with a physical disability to get into nature, with knowledge and a level of certainty around what to expect.

As a designer and wheelchair user, Ryan has an expert insight into accessible travel: “Video’s a great way to communicate physical access because ‘accessibility’ means different things to different people.”

“With video you can virtually visit a place and decide if the access will work for you in real life. It’s a great format too because you can re-watch, slow down and share it easily.”

What started as passion projects – documenting his adventures while travelling and recording the accessibility on various overseas trips – has turned into a career calling for Ryan.

He has extended his experience to a 10-part video series for Parks Victoria, showcasing all abilities walks at:

  • Wilsons Promontory National Park
  • Port Campbell National Park
  • Cape Schanck Lighthouse Reserve
  • Grampians National Park
  • Dandenong Ranges National Park
  • Werribee Park and the Victoria State Rose Garden
  • Serendip Sanctuary
  • Karkarook Park
  • Albert Park

“I worked with staff from Parks Victoria to make videos that people with reduced mobility would find useful. Some of the questions I ask myself before I travel – such as what’s the surface like, where are the toilets, how’s the parking – I wanted to answer in this video series,” Ryan said.

The series features a diverse group of visitors, demonstrating the varying experiences of people with reduced mobility. It also showcases access at some of Victoria’s most iconic places such as Albert Park Lake, the Twelve Apostles in Port Campbell and the Grampians National Park.

“Filming was a lot of fun. I hadn’t been to the Twelve Apostles before so that was brilliant. I was surprised how much Parks Victoria has done to improve access at some of these places – Wilson’s Promontory must be one of the best places in Australia to visit if you’re a wheelchair user. We were lucky too, we managed to get close to wombats, rosellas and kangaroos,” Ryan said.

Not every filming day was easy though. “We had to contend with rain a few times and on the way back from the Grampians, our car broke down. It was part of the adventure though really.”

“Going out to a park and getting into nature is a regenerative experience, but a significant part of society is missing out. While there’s varying reasons for this, a big deterrent is the lack of available information.”

“About 18 per cent of Australians have a disability and, as the population ages, this proportion increases. It’s important we provide tailored advice about access, so we can empower people with disabilities to turn their planning to visitation and their visitation into positive experiences. Put simply, information provides confidence.”

A disability may be physical, intellectual, sensory, psychosocial, neurological or a combination of these. Some conditions and impairments are present from birth, while other people acquire or develop a disability during their lifetime due to an accident, a health condition or other factors.

Parks Victoria has a responsibility and opportunity to help reduce the many physical, social and cultural barriers currently experienced by people with disabilities. Parks are good for the mind, body and soul. They are essential places for people to connect with nature, socialise and disconnect from day-to-day stressors. Enabling more people with a disability to enjoy parks will improve their physical and mental health, as well as their wellbeing.

Parks Victoria is continuously working to improve the level of access to parks and providing more inclusive experiences in nature. We do this through engagement and consultation with the disability community and the adoption of the principles of universal design.

In recent years, we have undertaken significant foundation work to help make parks more accessible and inclusive by providing:

  • More universally designed visitor facilities in parks
  • TrailRider all-terrain wheelchairs for visitors with low mobility
  • Universally designed park accommodation and support equipment
  • Support to the blind and vision impaired community to bushwalk in parks
  • Online resources for families of young children with autism
  • More comprehensive park access information for visitors of all abilities

Richard Amon – CEO of Disability, Sport and Recreation (DSR) – said he warmly welcomes the release of Parks Victoria’s video series: “The availability of such information is critical to both educate potential users of these facilities with low mobility, but also to educate the broader community around what’s possible for people with disability.”

“With participation rates currently lower than the rest of the population, DSR encourages all people with disability to access this new resource to enhance their choice, access and ultimately participation in active recreation in Victoria’s magnificent parks. We look forward to the resulting health and social benefits of these experiences becoming more available to all Victorians.”

“Nobody loses when you make places more accessible,” Ryan said.

“This series allows people with a physical disability to equip themselves with information and to look at new experiences through a lens of exploration and curiosity. I hope it shows that with a little bit of courage, humour and a positive mindset, people can visit our wonderful parks with less guesswork around physical access.”

“There is a lot on offer for people with reduced mobility, and more experiences come online every day.”

“I want to encourage people to enjoy our Parks and to see their visit as a rewarding adventure. Yes, visiting somewhere new can be tricky, but the right information can make planning easier and being with friends in nature is a wonderful prize.”

To watch each video and find out more about accessible parks around Victoria, please visit: www.parks.vic.gov.au

Parks Victoria will be reviewing its Disability Action Plan and will be engaging with the community for feedback this year. If you are interested, please register your email so we can contact you when consultation is live.

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