A walk on the beach is a simple pleasure, the kind that can be taken for granted. At least by most.
Being a few steps from the beach, smelling the salty air, hearing the waves crashing on the shore and feeling the breeze in your hair, but not being able to dip a single toe in the water: this is an obstacle members of the community with disabilities face. too often.
Responding to a social media petition organized by a resident with a disability, the Flagler Beach City Commission said Thursday it was interested in exploring the issue — and will do so in time. But not through a workshop, and “not for a while,” Flagler Beach Commission Chairman Eric Cooley said today. “The band was asking for one, but that’s not how it works. Items need to be worked out with the City Manager, and then when some concepts can be brought together, that will be an agenda item.
Donna Lane, a Long Island native and familiar with its many beaches, moved to Palm Coast six years ago. A year later, he was diagnosed with primary lateral sclerosis (PLS), which took away his ability to walk and talk. After visiting Varn Park, expecting to see a ramp leading down to the beach, Lane was heartbroken when she saw that the end of the ramp had been rebuilt into a staircase after a hurricane. (Varn Park is a county park, outside the jurisdiction of Flagler Beach. Flagler Beach has its own beach access walkways, though disabled access is largely limited to ramps near the pier. )
“I was so happy to go up, to be stopped by steps. How did they ever think it was ok? Lane said in an email. This experience sparked Lane’s goal of raising awareness and to improve the accessibility of beaches for people with disabilities, believing that “all beaches should have a ramp that leads into or near the water. Doing more for beach access for people with disabilities” would not mean not just crowded for me and other disabled people,” Lane said, but the beach is “immediately calming. It is mental healing. It brings peace to your soul.
Doreen Scott, who has a rare neurological condition related to amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), said she “grew up enjoying the beaches all my life” but can no longer fully enjoy the beach because she is in a wheelchair.
“There are no ramps that allow me to take my wheelchair into the water and enjoy what other people take for granted. For four years I couldn’t use my beaches,” she said. “When you are wheelchair bound your world becomes smaller, having access to beaches is mentally and spiritually important. It also allows the wheelchair a sense of freedom, inclusion and normality. I want to go to the beach and why can’t I?
This week, Lane posted a petition on Facebook to illustrate minimal beach accessibility for people with disabilities. With hundreds of reactions and comments, the petition spread quickly, garnering 329 signatures, and caught the attention of Flagler Strong, a local community group in Flagler Beach.
Many threads under Facebook posts highlight pre-existing disabled beach access and aids. Flagler Beach has handicap parking, a ramp near the pier, and beach wheelchairs, which draw comments such as “cumbersome” or “difficult to use.”
While Varn Park is outside the jurisdiction of Flagler Beach, the petition to make the beaches more accessible to people with disabilities was discussed at a meeting of the Flagler Beach City Council on Thursday evening. Tracy Callahan-Hennessey, representing Flagler Strong, acted as a spokesperson for Lane and other disabled members of the community, bringing the matter to the attention of commissioners and the city manager.
“I know we’re already ADA compliant, but I think we can do better,” Callahan-Hennessey said, referring to the Americans with Disabilities Act, which requires businesses and governments to ensure facilities are accessible to people with disabilities. But compliance can be subjective and have its blind spots. One of the first things Callahan-Hennessey brought to light was that there is no signage, other than for disabled parking, indicating where the ramp or beach wheelchair rentals are, making it difficult for people with disabilities to even find a beach access point.
Residents speaking to the commission mentioned the value of an educational campaign and additions to the current ramp, including new products such as a portable mat that would allow ordinary wheelchairs to roll further down the beach than the current ramp does not allow it. With community support, Callahan-Hennessey was asking for a “blessing” from the city to begin raising funds for greater beach accessibility for people with disabilities. “I would like to ask the commission to schedule a workshop. That way we can invite our disabled citizens to come and speak, tell us their needs, their concerns,” Callahan-Hennessey said.
“I like the idea of the workshop,” said William Whitson, manager of Flagler Beach City, who began working with the city this month. “So we are integrating it into the calendar. Right now, I’m in the middle of the budget as you know, and I’m late, because I just arrived. And there should have been a lot more work on a budget before I got here.
Commissioner Jane Mealy said she would like to hold a workshop, “it’s just a bit off the cuff at the moment”. Cooley noted his preference for discussing the issue as an agenda item in a meeting rather than a workshop, and defining the item to ensure it would have a purpose. light. While the city commission appears to be fine with improving beach accessibility, timing and funding are the main setbacks.
Cooley, speaking to Flagler Strong, said the group was “on to something really good”, suggesting local authorities will take action – eventually.
–Terra White for FlaglerLive