A Beach Wheelchair Revolutionizes Summer Getaways for Disabled Travelers
For Linda Green James, going to the beach is often the first thing on her mind when planning a summer getaway with her daughter, Suzi Osborne. However, due to a brain injury, Osborne uses a wheelchair and their options have been limited. When they visited a friend’s apartment in Pompano Beach, Florida, in January, they were thrilled to find a beach wheelchair available for borrowing from a nearby store. This device with oversized, fat tires allows disabled individuals to navigate sand and uneven ground.
“We had been coming to this apartment for years, but Suzi had never been able to go to the beach, only to the pool,” said James, a retired college professor. “It’s not much fun going to the beach when a family member cannot accompany you. With the chair, family time is possible.”
Beach wheelchairs are becoming more common on the coasts of the United States, driven by laws, government initiatives, and a growing demand from disabled travelers. These wheelchairs, made with PVC or steel frames and balloon-type tires, can be rented or borrowed for free at many public beaches. Some models even provide more independence with motorized options.
Approximately 2 percent of the US population uses a manual wheelchair or motorized mobility aid, according to a 2019 American Housing Survey. Disabled travelers account for nearly 5 percent of the $1.2 trillion US travel market and travel just as frequently as people without disabilities, as reported by MMGY Global, a tourism marketing company.
“Inclusivity is not only the ethical right thing to do, but also a great business opportunity,” stated Chris Davidson, Executive Vice President of MMGY Travel Intelligence.
While the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) does not specifically cover beach wheelchairs, the Architectural Barriers Act applies to national parks with beaches, mandating accessibility features such as decks or mats.
DeBug Mobility Products, founded in 1996, offers stainless steel beach wheelchairs with various customizable features. The company’s chairs provide users with freedom and a sense of normalcy, with options to tilt the seat, recline the back, elevate the legs, and even attach holders for a fishing rod, drink, and umbrella. Motorized beach wheelchairs are also available for rent from companies like Sand Helper.
However, the high costs of beach wheelchairs, ranging from $2,000 to $12,000, make them unaffordable for many. Medicaid and Medicare also do not cover these expenses. One more cost-effective option is offered by Wheeleez, which provides kits to convert urban wheelchairs into beach wheelchairs.
Finding information on beach accessibility is challenging, with incomplete lists from local governments and beaches. Some accessible travel writers, like Sylvia Longmire, have taken it upon themselves to compile listings and provide valuable information on accessible beaches on their blogs.
For many disabled travelers, the availability of beach wheelchairs opens up a world of possibilities and allows them to experience the magic of the beach once again.
Source: The New York Times