SURF Lifesaving Australia has denied claims it wants to ban beach wheelchairs from its clubs, following outrage from a disabled beach users group.
The Disabled Surfers Association of Australia yesterday released a copy of an email sent to Sunshine Coast surf clubs by Surf Lifesaving's insurers, asking them to get rid of the chairs because of their liability risk.
It recommended: "the wheelchairs be returned immediately to the organisation that donated/left them at the club or failing that have them destroyed or dumped at a council waste transfer station."
The email enraged the Disabled Surfers Association, including Far North Coast co-ordinator, Ted Kabbout.
Mr Kabbout said the chairs cost $4000 each and were mostly purchased through community fundraising.
There are four chairs available in the local area: one at Brunswick Heads, one in Byron Bay and two at Ballina.
And while none of these is stored at Surf Lifesaving Clubs (mainly because of a lack of space, rather than insurance issues) Mr Kabbout said surf clubs all over Australia had been managing beach wheelchairs and helping people with disabilities have access to the beach for the past decade.
Mr Kabbout said any decision that restricted their availability would be a blow to people with disabilities.
Surf Lifesaving Australia yesterday moved to hose down the association's claims, and publicly retracted the directive from its insurers.
"As far as SLSA is aware, no wheelchairs have been destroyed," chief operating officer Peter George said.
"All beach wheelchairs currently operated by our clubs are covered under SLSA's insurance.
"SLSA is now working to ensure national operational procedures are in place for the safe use of beach wheelchairs.
"As with all SLSA programs, we must ensure that the appropriate risk management guidelines are in place before a national program is implemented.
"All surf lifesaving clubs will be notified of these standard operating procedures by SLSA once finalised.
"SLSA will be meeting with all relevant parties including the Disabled Surfers Association as soon as possible."
Meanwhile, storage of a beach wheelchair that was purchased last year for use at Brunswick Heads remains a problem.
Mr Kabbout said the Disabled Surfers Association would like to see it stored in a purpose-built shed near the beach, with MLAK key access.
Byron Shire Council resolved at its December meeting to help find a permanent home for the chair.
HAVE YOU USED OR HELPED FUNDRAISE FOR A BEACH WHEELCHAIR?
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