On a warm August afternoon this past summer, more than 125 individuals with disabilities from around the region came together to enjoy a fun-filled day at Constitution Beach in nearby East Boston.
The Beach:Ability day at Constitution Beach program was created several years ago through a grant from Save the Harbor/Save the Bay’s Better Beaches program with support by DCR’s Universal Access program. The yearly event hosted by Triangle, Inc. highlights programs that make Massachusetts public beaches accessible to the disability community.
Building on the success of this program the Metropolitan Beaches Commission (MBC) and Save the Harbor/Save the Bay held a hearing last Tuesday on improving beach access in Lynn for those with disabilities. At the hearing, the MBC members heard testimony from people with disabilities about their experiences accessing local beaches.
“The powerful testimony we heard today will help shape necessary improvements on the Commonwealth’s public beaches to ensure that these resources are always accessible for all,” said MBC Co-Chair Sen Brendan Crighton.
As part of the annual Save the Harbor/Save the Bay Beach:Ability day Save the Harbor donated beach wheelchairs and showcased the non-profit’s investments in ramps, mobility mats and beach and floating wheelchairs—all of which are critical to improving beach access for people with disabilities.
Third Junior Vice Commander of the Disabled American Veterans Department of Massachusetts Gayle-Bennett of Lynn, said that when accessibility to the beach is limited for those with physical disabilities, “It turns them into spectators instead of participants.”
“No one should ever be prevented from sitting on a public beach on a summer day, hearing the crash of the waves or the call of hungry seagulls, especially not because of a disability, much less someone who incurred that disability in service to our country,” said Gayle-Bennett at last week’s hearing. “Public beaches should be for everyone to enjoy.”
Coleman Nee, CEO of Triangle Inc. who hosted the “Beach:Ability” series thanked the MBC and Save the Harbor for their leadership on this issue.
“I cannot stress enough the positive impact on mental health and spirits of those who attended Beach: Ability…our program participants love the beach and they love the ocean,” said Nee. “In truth, these beaches are public assets and they shouldn’t only be available to the disability community during an event once a year, they should be available all the time. We need additional investments, we need more walkways and ramps, we need proper equipment, we need mobi-mats, we need floating wheelchairs at every beach, and we need all bathrooms and snack stands to be ADA compliant.”
Chris Mancini, Executive Director of Save the Harbor, added that the legislative community and the community members of the MPC will use information from last week’s hearing to help better understand the challenges facing people with disabilities on the metropolitan beaches. “We are looking forward to working together with DCR to develop strategies to improve access to these spectacular urban natural resources for everyone,” he said.