It’s just one day though. And while Marlena Katene is excited about Friday, she knows it’s nowhere near enough for the large number of people living in wheelchairs and those who help them get about.
Marlena is a 25 year old businesswoman and journalist. She’s a mover and a shaker. As well as covering major events like Bluesfest and the ARIA Awards, she’s interviewed the likes of Russell Brand and has even met the Pope and perhaps more significantly, the Dalai Lama.
She’s also non-verbal and lives with cerebral palsy. And although she’s lived on the Gold Coast all of her life, she’s hardly ever been to the beach. Relying on a wheelchair to get around in, as well as a carer to help navigate life’s obstacles means Gold Coast beaches are all but out of bounds for Marlena.
Which explains why Marlena is championing a call for the Gold Coast to be the first place in Queensland to have a wheelchair accessible beach.
“I don’t go much, to be honest,” she said when we asked how frequently she visits the beach.
“As close as I get is the path which runs alongside the beach.”
Marlena said when she does make it to the beach, she needs to use a lot of muscle to drag her manual wheelchair through the sand.
“The person who takes me is generally exhausted by time we hit the water front so it is something we do not do much.”
“I am so biased but we live on the BEST beaches in the world,” Marlena said.
She likens getting on the beach to landing on the moon for some… “freedom.”
“If you give a kid an icecream a kid can not stop at just having a lick and handing it back, they want the lot,” Marlena said.
“When I have been in the water it has been amazing. Even walking on the sand and smelling the ocean is a luxury I would like to experience weekly.”
Marlena said starting a petition has been on her mind for some time.
“With the Commonwealth Games coming (and the millions of dollars being spent) it is a perfect time to showcase to the world that we can be pioneers in access,” Marlena said.
“This potentially can be the start of a worldwide trend and the cost is very minimal.”
And it’s not just wheelchair onto the beach she’s asking for.
“Currently all we have to access the beach are some beach chairs that are scattered across the coast,” she explained.
“While these are great for some, not all can sit in them.”
“Many wheelies have to wait for organised days (by organisations like Disability Surf Australia) to get to the beach.”
“Mats would open up the beaches every day for users such as myself.”
“Other things which would be great to consider are things such as accessible parking to the beach and possibly different chairs to the ones currently on offer.”
“There are better chairs which offer more support. The mats will allow many people to stay in the chairs until they reach the water where buoyancy takes over. The mats are the priority and most cost effective to get more people on the beach.”
Marlena says installing access to beaches like Burleigh wouldn’t cost a lot of money, but obviously beaches like Kirra would be more.
“It’s in the thousands, not the tens of thousands,” she said. “And on a scale of what is being outlaid around the Commonwealth Games, it will be a drop in the ocean.”
Marlena’s petition has 2,756 signatures at the time of publishing. She’s hoping for 5,000 before it’s presented to Mayor Tom Tate.
Jump on board and sign now.