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!