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By Joanne Bauman
To experience the beach and amble through the sand to the water's edge to beach comb or get my feet wet is a treasured moment. Yet, conventional wheelchairs, with their thin wheels, do not work well in the sand, despite always finding a couple of people willing to help maneuver my chair closer to the water.
Typically, a view from the sidewalk or parking lot is about as close as you can get to the beach. Persons with disabilities who want to sun, search for treasures, hang out with friends, swim, or splash in the rhythmic waves find it totally frustrating to be cut off from a cherished activity.
Improvements in wheelchair design are helping persons with disabilities enjoy the beach. Surf wheelchairs, specially adapted all-terrain chairs outfitted with thick balloon tires, can take you where you want to go. Twenty-five beaches out of 100 in Massachusetts offer surf wheelchairs. Charlie Ekizian, president of Quincy, MA Wheelchair Sports and Recreation Association (WSRA Link) led the grassroots effort to obtain a surf chair at Nantasket Beach in Hull, MA.
Ekizian contends that to be one with nature is an important aspect of life. Several beaches at Cape Cod, such as Provincetown's Herring Cove and Sandwich's Sandy Neck, offer surf chairs and boardwalks or paved trails that provide beach access. If you are planning a visit, check out the Cape Cod Disability Access Directory. Hilton Head's beaches are installing beach matting to improve wheelchair users' access. The rubber matting, Mobi-mat, is used on European beaches. Lowcountry Mobility distributes the matting from the French manufacturer Deschamps (Lowcountry Link). Bart Brophy, president of Access Disability Action Center (ADAC Link), and other individuals with disabilities, applied for accommodations tax money to secure motorized beach wheelchairs and matting.
Although the matting is exciting, and hopefully will be successful, the group is ready to begin discussions to expand the accessibility program to include providing the motorized surf chairs at all public beaches.
Town councils and access boards usually focus on boardwalks, ramps and building accommodations, and not on equipment. Persons with disabilities who do not want to be cut off from the outdoors advocate that the US Access Board, an independent federal agency that develops ADA guidelines for parks, campgrounds, trails and other recreation sites/facilities should address the provision of equipment as well.