By Grace Frost
Collingwood’s Victorian Wheelchair Football League captain Ben Jankovski has called for greater wheelchair accessibility and specialist services in Wallan.
The Chintin resident faced difficulty accessing nearby specialist services during rehabilitation, and still struggles to obtain disabled parking and manoeuvre the state of the shire’s footpaths.
“I wouldn’t say Wallan is very accommodating at this stage for people with disabilities, but I’m really hoping that in the future with more light shed on this space we can make a difference,” Mr Jankovski said.
After becoming permanently paralysed from the chest down as a result of a car accident in late 2017. Mr Jankovski said it took time to adjust to a new way of life.
“I think it took probably a good three years for me to really come to terms with not only my situation but just learning my body, how it reacts to different things and learning how to deal with day-to-day life,” he said.
A long-held passion for football led him to be selected by Collingwood in the wheelchair football draft in 2020, and he is now the club’s disability inclusion officer. His side won the premiership in 2021 and he was elected captain in 2022.
Mr Jankovski said unfinished footpaths in Wallan’s residential areas and in High Street still caused himself and other wheelchair users mobility difficulties.
“Someone like me who can push in a manual chair can sort of manipulate around [the cracks], but those that that have an electric wheelchair, they’re 120 kilograms, and one little crack or crevice can tip them over, cause damage to the person and the machine itself,” he said.
“We would just like to see a little bit more attention in that space.”
Mitchell Shire Council Mayor Fiona Stevens said council knew how important footpaths were to the everyday lives of people in the shire and acknowledged safety was an important requirement.
She said council officers regularly inspected footpaths across the shire to identify areas where new footpaths were needed, and existing footpaths needed repairs.
“Unfortunately, some footpaths from days gone by will need remedial works,” she said.
“That’s why our recently adopted budget allocated $500,000 for the Footpath Renewal Program and $740,000 for the Missing Links Footpath Program.”
Footpaths connecting to pedestrian crossings on High Street remain unevenly surfaced.
Mr Jankovski also called for stricter fining systems for those using disabled parking spots without a permit.
Cr Stevens said council’s authorised officers had a ‘zero tolerance approach’ when it came to fining people using disabled parking without a permit, with officers conducting ‘proactive, targeted and complaint focused patrols’.
But Mr Jankovski said a fining system had not been aptly implemented, often leaving him without a parking space available.
“When my limited accessibility gets taken away from me, it can be quite frustrating,” he said.
Mr Jankovski said generally there were a lack of specialist services in Wallan, and he had struggled to find nearby healthcare during rehabilitation.
“The only thing I had available to me was your local [general practitioner] in Wallan. Everything else in terms of physio[therapists] and other specialists had to be elsewhere,” he said.
“I wasn’t too comfortable driving somewhere further north.”
He called himself ‘very lucky’ to have had a ‘strong, supportive family and partner’ while recovering, but worried for those without those support systems.
“There weren’t really any [counsellors] available to deal with disability or trauma accidents in Wallan,” he said.
“I’m not asking for 10 clinics, one clinic would be amazing.”
Cr Stevens said council was aware the community did not have ‘all the services they deserve’.
“[Council] are constantly advocating for service providers to base themselves within our shire,” she said.
“When looking at all our services, we are consciously considering the needs of those with special mobility needs in our communities and are always trying to improve.”
But limited commercial rentals available in the shire’s central precincts hampered practitioners attempting to relocate.
Cr Stevens noted services at Kilmore Leisure Centre and Seymour Sports and Aquatic Centre were accessible to people with disabilities, and that new accessible hoists would be installed at Seymour War Memorial Outdoor Pool and Broadford Outdoor Pool for the 2023-24 season.
Cr Stevens said residents could report footpaths needing attention via the Report It Tool on council’s website or by calling 5734 6200.