When my daughter Kelsey was a little girl, there was no such thing as heading to the beach, locating a beach wheelchair and enjoying the sand and surf. Beach wheelchairs were an oddity; something that you considered yourself lucky if you came upon. The search to find one was endless, and most times I gave up. When she was small enough, we used one of those long plastic snow sleds, piled her in it, and pulled her across the sand. That worked well for a while. Then she grew up, and I grew older, thus my "Herculean" strength that was needed to pull her across the sand has long since dissipated and replaced with bulging discs.
Kelsey is graduating high school and I asked her to choose anywhere in the world she would like to go on vacation as her gift. She decided she wanted to go to Maui. Maui! I love Maui! What a great choice! Beautiful sunsets, great dining, and lovely beaches... Wait! Oh no! Kelsey is far too big for the sled. How will she possibly enjoy those beautiful beaches in her wheelchair?
As I started to do my research for this wonderful trip, I started to think of other beach destinations. The research grew to other areas of the United States and Mexico.
Fortunately, the world has matured a little bit, and destinations have realized that people with disabilities actually would like to go to the beach and might even want to go in the water. Imagine that! Please don't mind my sarcasm, I just find it a bit odd that anyone would think that people with disabilities wouldn't like to do what the rest of us like to do. Anyway, back to my story...
For those of you who choose to go to Maui, Gammie Home Care provides beach wheelchair vacation rentals, as well as any other equipment you might need. They can deliver the chair to your accessible hotel or condo, or you can pick it up in their store. Their website quotes a rate of about $110 per week.
Other parts of Hawaii have more favorable situations. In Honolulu, many of the beaches have beach wheelchairs for FREE! They also have wheelchair accessible paths between the water and shower/bath houses. Those paths are a back saver if you happen to be the person pushing those clunky beach wheelchairs. They don't corner well, and if you intend to push them on the sand, make sure you start doing you leg exercises now. You will get a great workout! Want to be really adventurous? Learn to surf, check out http://www.accessurf.org/. Yes, you can get out on a board and "hang ten."
Don't have a desire to travel for several hours on a plane to enjoy Hawaii's beaches? That's ok! There are several other places on the mainland!
The State of California has done a great job of not only providing access, but making that information easy to find. The California Coastal Commission has a website page that shows all of the accessible beaches that supply free beach wheelchairs in exchange for a form of identification. Some of the beaches even have motorized beach wheelchairs so that users may propel themselves. The site does a good job of listing the parks by county. However, the details about the beaches are not as well drawn out on the site.
California State Parks does a much better job of detailing accessibility. You can choose the activity you want to do, whether it is going to the beach, fishing, camping, etc., and the site will drill down into the specific areas that are accessible. There are far more details at the park level to explain the trails, beach heads, whether wheelchairs are available, etc.
Prefer to head down to the Sunshine State? Sarasota recently added free beach wheelchairs to their list of amenities. A recent Herald Tribune article details which beaches have the chairs for use.
Popular Daytona Beach also provides free use of beach wheelchairs, and special needs travelers can drive on the beach for free! I used to live in Daytona Beach many, many years ago, and that was the highlight of the time I lived there. No trip to Florida's East Coast can be without a trip to Daytona Beach. Here are two sites that detail not only where the wheelchairs are, but where the accessible ramps are located http://www.daytonabeach.com/accessible.cfm/mode/beach and http://www.volusia.org/beach/bchwhl.htm
Are you a Jimmy Buffet fan? Parrot Heads can head down to the Keys for some fun in the sun! The Keys have accessible beaches and many other fun things to do. You can do everything from deep sea fishing to swim with the dolphins! The Florida Keys website has a page dedicated to accessibility at: http://www.fla-keys.com/accessibility/mobility.cfm
Ok, maybe sunning yourself until you are crispy isn't your idea of a good time. There are some beautiful beaches up north, and I mean way up north! Interested in Massachusetts? Head out to Cape Cod and hang out with the Kennedy's or any other rich celebs while you enjoy the day fishing or lounging. Massachusetts's Department of Conservation details their accessible beaches on their website. They do require notice and reservations, so plan ahead.
Jacob Riis Park in the Rockaway, Queens area of New York is known for its art deco bathhouse that has been recently remodeled for exhibits. They have a beach wheelchair, and an accessible boardwalk.
When I decided to research wheelchair access at beaches, one of my interns, Kelly was excited to tell me about one of her favorite places. Grand Haven, Michigan. They have beach wheelchairs available free of charge and a special sidewalk on the city beach that goes almost all the way to the water. They have a campground RIGHT on the beach by the lighthouse, and their boardwalks are also totally handicap accessible! She told me that, "Grand Haven is one of the most beautiful places in the world!" Here is some more information on Grand Haven.
Of course, I can't forget my home town, Chicago! You may not want to go in the water in May, but it's pretty nice by oh.... end of July! Actually, Chicago beaches are fun for people watching, even if you don't want to go into the water. North Avenue beach is our favorite hang-out. They have an accessible trail to the water, a beach house, restaurant, and some of the best volleyball in the world. You can rent bikes from this spot and ride down the lakefront, too. They do have an accessible wheelchair for the asking. Just talk to one of the lifeguards.
One of my favorite places to go, and any golfer's paradise, is Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. I am not the best golfer in the world, so I prefer to play on the beach. This was the first places Kelsey ever went that had beach wheelchairs, and it was a God send! They now have 14 chairs available! Their city website has quite a bit of detail about beach accessibility.
A couple months ago, I was lucky enough to go down to Cozumel with the Society for Accessible Travel and Hospitality. We went to the Chankanaab National Park, which was fully accessible and had beach wheelchairs. You can also swim with dolphins and manatees, or hang out with sea lions! There is an admission fee to the park, but the beach is worth it!
So there you have it! I am so excited about all the opportunities to hit the beach, and after a long and brutal winter, I'm ready! While it is fun to research all these destinations, I can't wait for TravelinWheels to go live at the end of April so that we can put all this information in one place.
I would also love to hear from all of you! What beaches have you come across that were accessible? What is your favorite? What beach claimed to be accessible, but turned out to be a disaster? Please comment so that we can share your advice, too!
Until next week, safe travels!
Here is a recap of all the places I mentioned above:
Gammie Home Care: www.gammie.com
Ala Moana Beach: http://www1.honolulu.gov/parks/programs/beach/hanauma.htm
Hanauma Bay http://www1.honolulu.gov/parks/programs/beach/hanauma.htm
Access Surf: http://www.accessurf.org/