These Wheelchairs Are Helping Disabled Travelers Enjoy the Beach

For Linda Green-James, going to the beach is always on her mind when planning a summer vacation with her daughter, Susie Osbourne, 47, who uses a wheelchair due to a traumatic brain injury.

But when they stay at a friend’s condo in Pompano Beach, Fla., they usually put up with hanging out around the pool.

During a visit in January, James was overjoyed when he peered into a beach wheelchair. Beach wheelchairs are devices with thick oversized tires that can roll over sandy beaches and uneven terrain, and can be rented from beach gear sheds. “We’ve been going to this condo for years and Susie couldn’t go to the beach, she just went to the pool,” said James, 75, a former college professor in Brownsville, Tennessee. ) said.

“It’s less fun to go to the beach when someone in your family can’t come with you,” she said. “With this chair, spending time with family is exactly what it sounds like.”

Beach wheelchairs are becoming more common on America’s beaches, thanks to legislation, government initiatives, and increased demand by travelers with disabilities.

Wheelchairs, available for rent or free at many public beaches, are made with PVC or steel frames. tires like balloons. Her three-wheeled version with reclining frame allows even beachgoers with limited mobility to float on the waves.

Most chairs require someone to push them, but some models are motorized, giving them more independence. Visitors can usually rent chairs on a first-come, first-served basis at the beach or from rental shops. Some beaches accept reservations.

For millions of people like James and Osborne, accessibility is central to vacation planning. Approximately 2% of the U.S. population uses a manual wheelchair or power mobility aid. 2019 US Housing Survey According to the US Census. Travelers with disabilities account for $58.2 billion of the $1.2 trillion U.S. travel market, nearly 5%, and they travel about the same amount as people without disabilities. . MMGY GlobalIn a 2022 report from the tourism marketing company, it said:

“Inclusivity is not only ethically correct, but it’s also a great business opportunity,” said Chris Davidson, the company’s executive vice president. MMGY Travel Intelligencethe company’s travel market research division.

The Americans with Disabilities Act requires all states and local governments to “give persons with disabilities an equal opportunity to benefit from all of their programs, services and activities.” Although the ADA does not include the provision of beach wheelchairs, another law, the Building Barrier Act, applies to national parks with beaches and requires access routes such as boardwalks and mats.

“The ADA applies to all public beaches,” said access expert Jennifer Perry. Tohoku ADA Centeris a government-funded organization that provides guidance on ADA compliance. “There is a requirement to provide access to the program, but there is no clear roadmap for what that is.”

Rian Wilkinson, president of Marine Rescue Products in Middletown, Rhode Island, sells mats and wheelchairs to beaches nationwide. “The point is that most cities say, ‘We have ADA,'” he said. “There are six wheelchairs on the local beach here as well.”

It was founded in 1996 by Mike Deming, who became a quadriplegic in a car accident, and his wife Karen Deming. Debugging Mobility Products manufactures stainless steel beach wheelchairs, priced at $2,275 for a 3-wheel floating model and $2,475 for a standard model with fixed leg rests. The standard model has options for tilting the seat, reclining the backrest, raising and lowering the legs, and adding holders for fishing rods, drinks, umbrellas, etc.

“It gives wheelchair users a sense of normality and a sense of freedom,” said Deming, 61. “There’s nothing worse than reaching the end of the ramp and getting stuck while all your friends and family are sitting on the ramp.” Beach. ”

Some electric beach wheelchair manufacturers rent chairs directly to hotel guests. sand helperOne such company is offering battery-powered, four-wheel-drive wheelchairs to people for about $500 a week in Florida and several other states, and $30 an hour in Ocean City, Maryland. I’m here. The company sells chairs for about $12,000. Especially expensive considering beach wheelchairs aren’t covered by Medicaid or Medicare.

There is also at least one manual model that can be driven by the user. Hippocampe All Terrain Beach Wheelchair, retails for around $4,000 and is manufactured by France-based Vipamat. Among the more economical options are Wheelies offers a kit to convert a road wheelchair into a beach wheelchair. Options range from about $300 to $1,000 depending on wheel size and number.

Finding information about beach access can be difficult.of California Coastal Commission lists at least 114 locations in the state that have beach wheelchairs, some of which include free electric chairs, including Imperial Beach in San Diego County and Laguna Beach in Orange County. doing. But other local governments and beaches are listing them in stages, so people have to check their destinations one by one.

Some accessible travel writers are working to fill in the information gaps. Sylvia Longmeyer, 48, of Sanford, Fla., has multiple sclerosis and she uses a wheelchair, but dozens in Florida provide beach wheelchairs and mats. has put together a list of beaches in the accessible travel blog. let’s rotate the globe. “I went eight years without going to the beach, and I thought it would be impossible for me to go to the beach forever,” Longmeyer said. I wrote on my blog. “Beach It brought back to me the magic of the beaches of my hometown of Florida, until he discovered two of his revolutionary inventions, the mat and the beach wheelchair.”

Jennifer Allen, 39, of Elizabethtown, Pennsylvania, is the mother of 7-year-old wheelchair-using son Jayden, who was diagnosed with spina bifida in 2017. She donated wheelchairs from New York to Florida. We list over 50 beaches on our website. Wonder within reach. “When we got her son’s diagnosis, we had to find new ways to travel and get out,” Allen said. “I haven’t been able to find much resources to help with that, especially when it comes to children. So I decided to share my travels and learnings.”

On a trip to Buckroe Beach in Hampton, Virginia, Allen was delighted to find a paved boardwalk and surf wheelchair. “We had everything we needed, but we didn’t know it beforehand because it wasn’t available online,” she said.

From Texas to New York to the U.S. Virgin Islands, some places remain an “accessibility nightmare” despite new measures and more wheelchair-friendly beaches. Allen said, citing North Carolina as an example. This summer, her family plans a trip to the state’s Outer Banks, where “there are fewer parking lots, fewer accessible access points, and fewer beach wheelchairs to rent,” she said. rice field.

The family plans to rent a beach wheelchair and have it delivered to their beachfront rental home, but there will still be major obstacles, she said. ”

Follow The New York Times Travel upon Instagram and Sign up for our weekly Travel Dispatch newsletter Get expert tips and inspiration for your next vacation to travel smarter.Are you dreaming about your future vacation or just want to travel in your armchair? Check us out 52 places to visit in 2023.

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