Arguing that all people should have access to public beaches regardless of their physical ability, advocates and officials on Tuesday called for improvements and upgrades so people with disabilities can easily take advantage of Massachusetts seaside offerings.
The Metropolitan Beaches Commission and Save the Harbor / Save the Bay held the second of three hearings focusing on access to public spaces for people with disabilities on Tuesday as officials prepare a report in the spring. Save the Harbor / Save the Bay executive director Chris Mancini said the report will provide a roadmap for improvements in the areas of access, equity and inclusion.
“We are focusing on these specific access issues in an effort to continue what has always been our mission, which is to connect everyone to the beaches and the harbor and the clean water we have in Boston,” said Mancini told the News Service after the hearing. “Everyone could and should feel that they are appropriating public space and being able to use it spontaneously.”
A third hearing on language barriers to beach safety and enjoyment is scheduled for January. The first hearing, held in early May, focused on improving the equity and inclusion of people of color.
Acting Department of Conservation and Recreation Commissioner Stephanie Cooper said her universal access program, which the state says “ensures equal access to outdoor recreation,” is critical in providing advice to the entire agency on accessibility requirements.
The program, Cooper said, has provided a “significant number” of wheelchairs and rugs for residents to access state beaches. These, she said, allow for a “supportive beach experience.”
Universal Access Program Director Tom McCarthy said the agency had figured out how to meet minimum accessibility requirements and regulations for beaches, but warned keeping accessibility measures in place was a challenge.
“We have found that without a strong focus on maintenance and management, these accessibility improvements can go away very quickly, it doesn’t take a lot of obstacles to block access to the beach,” McCarthy said. “Sidewalks buried in drifting sand, erosion at the end of a walkway that creates a six inch drop, unreported broken beach wheelchair means we cannot claim to provide accessibility at this beach specifically.”
Boston Disability Commissioner Kristen McCosh said accessibility to beaches had a direct impact on her life as a power wheelchair user due to a disability she contracted from the ‘adolescence.
A longtime South Boston resident, McCosh said she grew up going to the beach every day and now, as a wheelchair user, little things can make a beach inaccessible.
“Most of the beaches you can walk down to the sand, most have ramps or sloping walkways, but when you get to the sand, there’s really nowhere to go,” she said. declared. “I have often noticed that there was a gap between the end of the ramp and the start of the [beach] carpet.”
Accessible upgrades, McCarthy said, can be expensive. According to Save the Harbor / Save the Bay, mobility mats for nine beaches can cost between $ 10,000 and $ 20,000, while beach and float wheelchairs cost an average of around $ 1,000 each.
“We are truly fortunate to have received these resources to create these often expensive and accessible improvements on our beaches,” said McCarthy. “But they can, as I said before, go away very quickly without the constant maintenance and monitoring required.”
For Mancini, some aspects of making a beach accessible are priceless.
“The challenge with this topic is, I think one of the community members put it this way, we have these big visions but you have to start with where someone’s wheel gets stuck or where there is. Does it have sand on the ramp, “he said. the News Service. “So some of these products don’t have a specific price. “
Many North Shore veterans find it difficult to access and enjoy public beaches, especially in Lynn, said Andrea Gayle-Bennett, third junior vice commander of the US Department of Disabled Veterans in Massachusetts.
In a town of about 100,000 residents, Gayle-Bennett said, beach accessibility is limited to people with physical disabilities.
“This is because there is a ramp at the entrance to Wallace Street, it is not easily or easily identified as disabled access, there is no signage,” Gayle-Bennett said. . “Plus, this ramp ends in the sand and, as mentioned earlier, it limits access to the entire beach and turns them into spectators instead of participants.”
There are mental health benefits to going to the beach, she said, and the state and municipalities should invest in the right infrastructure and equipment to make sure our public beaches are accessible to all. .
“No one should ever be prevented from sitting on a public beach on a summer day, hearing the crashing waves or the call of hungry seagulls, especially not because of a disability, let alone someone. one who has suffered this handicap in the service of our country, ”Gayle-Bennett said. “Public beaches should be accessible to everyone. “