IT has been more than two years since Taya enjoyed a sunny afternoon swim with her little sister, but council upgrades to Newcastle pools could soon change that.
The 13-year-old has muscular dystrophy and uses a wheelchair full-time. To date, no inland swimming pools within City of Newcastle's (CN) area have accessible ways to enter the water.
An estimated $1.25 million worth of accessibility improvements to CN's five pools has now begun, with a changeroom upgrade at Wallsend Swimming Centre completed. Refurbished accessible changerooms are also proposed for Lambton Swimming Centre.
The council is also evaluating how to retrofit the city's 50 or 60-year-old pools for accessible entry.
"The real issue now is, how do you get into the pool?" co-chair of CN's Access and Inclusion Advisory Committee, councillor Margaret Wood said.
"Because of the age of our pools, we really need to think a little outside the square about how we improve access actually into the pool.
"In terms of gaining access to the facility itself - being able to enjoy picnics here, spend time with family - that's all doable right now," she said.
Upgrading accessibility into the main 50 metre pool at Wallsend will cost about $250,000.
"That will involve something like a lift or a hoist," Cr Wood said. "They're quite expensive but we are prioritising this. We want everybody to be able to get into the water and enjoy themselves."
Taya's grandma and long-time advocate for accessible pools, Kerrie Porter, said it would be "absolutely fantastic" for accessible access to the Wallsend 50 metre pool to happen "soon".
"It would absolutely be [a game-changer]. She could go and have fun with her little sister," Ms Porter said. "It would be fantastic."
The council has not formally said when entry to the pool itself will be upgraded. The works at Wallsend are part of the Inland Pools Strategy 2043, which sets out a strategic path to enhance and protect Newcastle's public pools for the community during the next 20 years.
"[If it takes that long], Taya will be married before she can even have a swim," Ms Porter said.
Cr Wood said retrofitting old pools is complex and proper evaluation takes time but was an important step for the council.
Lord Mayor Nuatali Nelmes said improving access to the city's pools continued to be a priority for CN.
"City of Newcastle is committed to maintaining and investing in our network of inland swimming centres to ensure they continue to meet the expectations and evolving needs of more than 320,000 people who visit them each year," Cr Nelmes said.
"Accessibility is an issue facing councils across the region given almost all local pools were built more than fifty years ago."
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