The evolution of an Australian-first accessible health and wellness hub

by Sophie Berrill
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In recognition of Disability Action Week – November 25 to December 2 – Facility Management profiles the co-able health and wellness hub in Port Adelaide that emerged out of a need to provide a fully accessible environment to allied health tenants and their clients. 

Shane Hryhorec was in the early days of starting up Push Mobility, a business providing disability equipment, when he found himself stumped at an important primary hurdle. He had to find the right real estate to house his growing venture and, as both a wheelchair user and someone who offered a service to people with disability, he needed that space to be accessible.

“I looked all over the state and it was so difficult to find accessible real estate. There’s no filter at all, so you can’t go on realestate.com.au and try to filter out anything accessible. It just doesn’t exist,” Hryhorec tells Facility Management.

So he had to ring around to find a place, which was a pain, and even when he did find suitable workspaces they were rarely in the vicinity of like-minded businesses. Ever the entrepreneur, Hryhorec was struck with a new idea for a facility that would bring together different disability providers under the one roof.

“That way not only do businesses move in knowing it’s accessible and inclusive, but they can also connect and collaborate with other disability providers doing different things, which is then a great way to complement each other,” he says.

In 2021, Hryhorec saw his vision through and opened co-able, a fully accessible and inclusive health and wellness destination in Port Adelaide.

As accessible as possible

Anyone who rents a space at co-able needs to do something for people with disabilities, although this does not need to be their sole clientele. The building is currently leased out to physiotherapists, disability employment services, mental health professionals, parents programs, as well as Push Mobility and a registered charity founded by Hryhorec called Accessible Beaches.

Shane Hryhorec (right) with Push Mobility colleague Grant Allen.

“We did start with the idea of doing a section of the building for hot desks, but Adelaide being such a spacious place, people just didn’t really understand the hot desk concept. So we’ve just stuck to single rooms and suite rentals, which is great for anywhere staff from one through to 10,” says Hryhorec. 

As part of their lease, co-able tenants can also access breakout rooms, a boardroom, a communal kitchen with a barista-quality coffee machine and, soon, a gym. Several design elements have been factored into making these spaces “as accessible as possible”.

“The key thing for accessibility is getting in the building, number one. A lot of buildings just fail at that one key element,” says Hryhorec.

“The main entrance is completely accessible to everyone, so we’ve got tactile pads, Braille, and even when you come into the building, we have two wayfinding boards. One of them says all the names of where [things] are in the building and the other one’s actually made in Braille.”

Visitors can take the lift or stairs to the upper and lower levels, using handrails made to comply with the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA).

“To be honest with you, we don’t even look at the DDA, and the reason being is that we just build what is best for people with disabilities,” says Hryhorec.

“People see the DDA as the requirement, but I see DDA as being the bare minimum and people need to change that mindset when they look at the DDA. For instance, there are no guidelines about what table height things should be, but in many restaurants, wheelchair users can’t even fit their legs under a table.”

Not skimping on aesthetics 

Under tables and benches with leg clearance at co-able, concrete hard floors make it easy for wheelchair users to roll around, while the dishwasher was selected to be within reach of shorter people. 

“We’ve got water dispensers that are touchless as well. We’re in the process of upgrading all the doors in the building to touchless entry. So from our boardroom you just wheel up to it and it opens,” Hyhorec adds.

The design studio Lukas Partners helped to execute a vision that was equally as beautiful and unpretentious as it was inclusive, with the goal of making end-users feel at home. For example, it was important for Hryohorec to maintain a higher aesthetic standard than what is usually found in accessible bathrooms.

“Other places – when they do have accessible bathrooms – the wheelchair bathroom is white, boring and clinical and usually hidden in the back corner, and it’s used as half the store room,” explains Hryhorec.

“But meanwhile, no expense was spared designing the able-bodied toilets, which have got beautiful bronze fixtures and all these nice things, but with the accessible bathrooms, usually they’re clinical, sterile white. So we made these bathrooms the pinnacle feature. We actually don’t have able-bodied bathrooms, there are only universal bathrooms, so it means that anyone can use the bathroom, no matter their level of ability.”

Need for ongoing improvement

While Hryhorec believes co-able is “one of the leaders” when it comes to accessibility in the built environment, he recognises the need for constant improvement. The team has worked with access consultants to review things like sound and scent to make sure plans meet neurodiverse needs.

Additionally, solutions for one particular group of people can create problems for others. A great example of that, says Hryhorec, is tactile indicators. These assist people with visual impairments to navigate around but can be hard for wheelchair users to wheel over, or can cause damage to their wheelchairs.

It can be difficult for anyone to find the “happy medium” of serving different communities.

“When I talk about making a place accessible, it’s in my opinion that you never finish. You never ever complete your accessibility journey and the reason is because there are always ways to make improvements for people with different types of abilities,” he says.

Aiming for co-able buildings far and wide

When it comes to the cost of making these improvements, Hryohorec says renovations on co-able were not dissimilar to any other fitout.

“The building cost me $900,000 and I spent about $300,000 on the fitout. The fitout was the same as any fitout really so nothing too special was done. In other words, we weren’t really out of pocket for making it accessible. The building is now valued at almost three million,” he says.

The team is currently renovating the building and as such relies on an in-house builder when things need fixing. Once that’s finished, and with bigger plans for future developments on the horizon, Hryhorec says they will look at getting a facilities manager.

“Our goal is to have at least 50 buildings around Australia, so every building will have a very similar concept,” Hryhorec says.

“We shouldn’t exist, but we exist because buildings don’t meet the needs of people with disabilities.”  

Photography supplied by co-able.

This article originally appeared in the ‘Future-focused Facilities Issue’ of the Facility Management digital magazine. Grab your free copy here. Existing subscribers can read the magazine here.

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