How Physical Disability Affects Beach Trips

The beach is the quitessential vacation spot–beautiful views, warm weather with a cool breeze, total relaxation. Being a wheelchair user (or having mobility issues) adds some complication to the picture-perfect-paradise. I’d like to discuss some of these difficulties to spread awareness and, near the end, provide ideas on advocating for disabled people to make our beach trips more enjoyable.

Most beach houses are built on stilts and/or feature a long staircase to reach the first floor. This is understandable since hurricanes bring a lot of water and sand into people’s yards. Unfortunately, this means that most beach houses are inaccessible from the get-go. Luckily, many wheelchair users like myself have family members, friends, or a caregiver to carry or help us–not ideal, but hey, gotta get there somehow. Knowing the rigamarole it’ll require makes it less appealing to leave the house for visiting beach shops, eating out, etc. As disability awareness spreads, more and more beach homes and condos are being built with elevators, thank goodness!

Crossing over to the shore is also tough. Many beach access ramps are simply a set of stairs, often without a handrail, going over or down a dune. I imagine those who are getting old or have knee/ankle/etc. issues struggle with this also. Thankfully, many beaches have handicap accessible ramps now. Though it can be a bit irritating to drive out of the way to reach them, I’m still grateful they exist. Ya know what’s annoying, though? Not all, but some beach access points designated to handicapped people still require one step up/down off a platform to get to the actual ramp. Umm…do city officials think my chair can just hop up or down for one step?

Once I roll down the ramp, someone will have to carry me to our umbrella-and-chairs set-up because wheelchairs and sand do not mix. At all. A wheelchair will not roll in sand, period. The inability to enjoy any mobility on the beach is the worst part–no walks on the beach, no searching for seashells, no approaching the water just to wet my feet. Ugh. Having no control or independence may be fine for a pet or a baby, but as an autonomous adult, it’s incredibly disheartening and frustrating. Last time I went to the beach, though, we borrowed a wheelchair with big rubber wheels from the town’s police department. Though it was still a bit tough to navigate, it enabled me to “walk on the beach” for the first time in who-knows-when. Talk about a joyous discovery!

Also worth noting: swimming in the ocean is basically a no-go. Between the shifting floorboard and currents pulling every which way at random (and threatening to yank me down every moment, even with someone on each side), getting past the breakers to reach the deeper, calmer part is nearly impossible. This doesn’t bother me as much as everything else, but perhaps that’s a result of being so accustomed to the disabled life. Envisioning myself walking into the ocean with no balance issues and “jumping the waves” as I did in my childhood feels like a distant dream. Sorry if that was super sad. Life can’t always be rainbows and butterflies, unfortunately.

So, now you know how physical disabiliy can put some dampers on an the idyllic beach get-away. If you would like to advocate for disabled people (or if you personally face these obstacles), here are a couple things you can do at your beach of choice:

  • Find out if they’ve built any public handicap-accessible beach ramps. If not, request that the town build them (I’d contact town hall). If there are, great! But if you get a chance, try out the ramp and ensure they didn’t sneak in some steps.
  • Inquire with the town (I’d try town hall, the visitor center, and/or the police department) whether they have a beach chair for people to borrow. If not, explain to them why it’s necessary and how difficult it is for handicapped people to move around in sand.

There’s not much we can do about inaccessible housing and rough waves…but just having a ramp and a beach chair make a world of difference!

Thanks for reading! Do you or does anyone you know struggle with the sand, the ocean, the stairs, etc. at the beach? On behalf of disabled people, would you commit to checking on a ramp and a beach chair next time you vacation at one? Let me know in the comments!

20 comments

  1. Hi Lily, I love the picture of you and is that your mom? I will certainly check into a ramp next time we go to the Outer Banks, our (my husband and I) favorite spot. My mom is in a wheelchair which means I have no beach memories with her because of the issues you just mentioned. We vacationed in other ways/spots. Much love!❤

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Hi Lily,
    Thanks for sharing your experiences; I think it will raise awareness. My son’s good friend from college is in a wheelchair and I’ve heard firsthand how frustrating this issue can be. I will look more carefully at access when we take our next beach excursion.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Thanks so much for raising the awareness. I would love to see these types of wheelchairs made available for rent as easily as a jetski!

    My grandmother who cannot walk for long distances due to age and severe asthma went to the beach with me a few years ago and we opted for a condo instead of a beach house so she would have elevator accessibility. But when you consider the value of a beach house vs a condo, I’m so glad more and more are being built with elevators.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, that would be so ideal! Using your mom as an example, it’s not just people who are wheelchair-bound who could benefit from a beach chair. I’m glad y’all were able to rent a condo with an elevator. I hope to try one someday!

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  4. I pay close attention to areas in public that have or don’t have handicap accessibilities. My dad was paralyzed and wheelchair bound at the end of his life so this is something near and dear to me…I think, sadly, some people don’t consider the importance if they haven’t dealt firsthand or with a family member…
    Thank you for raising some awareness and speaking out through sharing your own experiences.
    Love the photo of you at the beach ❤️

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Alicia! ♥♥ So true that people don’t think about these things if they haven’t been affected by them. That’s why people need to speak out and share their experiences–so we can all have a little more empathy. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Lily
    I know you don’t know me but every time I read one of your post it’s like I’m talking to myself. As a person was born on a tropical island literally four blocks away from a beach I cannot tell you how disheartening it was knowing I could never go there that was one of the reasons why we moved to New Jersey
    I know you’re a stranger but you seem to have a remarkable insight. Could I ask you to read this blank I just wrote this evening for feedback. I don’t really have people who love to read Around My Life. I even have a writing portfolio that no one has read. Untitled document
    On Fri, Aug 14, 2020, 4:14 PM Retrospective Lily wrote:
    > Lily Pierce posted: ” The beach is the quitessential vacation > spot–beautiful views, warm weather with a cool breeze, total relaxation. > Being a wheelchair user (or having mobility issues) adds some complication > to the picture-perfect-paradise. I’d like to discuss some of thes” >

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Kevin, I think part of your other comment got cut off because I was a bit confused. So glad you found this post relatable. We handicappers go through so many things that are hard for other people to comprehend, like the feeling of being an adult with very little control in their own life. I love that technology enables us to connect and know we are not alone in our feelings and what we go through. I look forward to reading more from you talking about disability!

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      1. Yes the message did get cut off technology can be very bad sometimes but also very good. I don’t know if you saw my latest post about what I would be like as a father. You might enjoy that one

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  6. We don’t get to the ocean often, nor public inland beaches. I’ve visited the ocean 3 or 4 times in my life. So my input there might not help much. But what I can do is pray for God to put it in the hearts of those who do visit. Thank you for sharing your life and the difficulties. We need to be made more aware.

    Liked by 1 person

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