Petition urges Flagler Beach to consider better beach access for people with disabilities
A walk on the beach is a simple pleasure, one to take for granted. At least by most.
Being a few steps from the beach, feeling the salty air, hearing the waves crashing onto the shore and feeling the breeze in your hair, while being unable to dive as much as a toe in the water: it is a barrier that members of the community with disabilities face. too frequently.
Responding to a social media petition organized by a resident with a disability, the City of Flagler Beach Commission said Thursday it was interested in exploring the issue and will do so in time. But not through a workshop, and “not for a while,” Flagler Beach Commission Chairman Eric Cooley said today. “The group was asking for one, but that’s not how it works. The points need to be worked out with the city manager and then when some concepts can be put together it will be an agenda point. “
Donna Lane, originally from Long Island and familiar with its many beaches, moved to Palm Coast six years ago. A year later, she was diagnosed with primary lateral sclerosis (PLS), which took away the ability to walk and speak. After visiting Varn Park, expecting to see a ramp leading to the beach, Lane was heartbroken when she saw that the end of the ramp had been reconstructed as a staircase after a hurricane. (Varn Park is a county park, outside of Flagler Beach’s jurisdiction. Flagler Beach has its own beach access, although disabled access is largely limited to the ramps near the pier.)
“I was so happy to go upstairs, to be stopped in stages. How did they ever think it was ok? Lane said in an email. This experience triggered Lane’s goal of raising awareness and improving accessibility of beaches for people with disabilities, believing that “all beaches should have a ramp that goes to or near the water. “. Doing more for beach access for people with disabilities “wouldn’t just mean the world to me and other people with disabilities,” Lane said, but the beach is “immediately calming.” It is mental healing. It brings peace to your soul.
Doreen Scott, diagnosed with a rare neurological disease similar to amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), said she “grew up enjoying the beaches all my life” but can’t fully enjoy the beach because she is. in a wheelchair.
“There are no ramps that allow me to put my wheelchair in the water and enjoy what others take for granted. For four years, I couldn’t use my beaches, ”she said. “When you are tied to a wheelchair your world becomes smaller, having access to beaches is mentally and spiritually important. It also allows the linked wheelchair a sense of freedom, inclusion and normalcy. I want to go to the beach and why can’t I do it. “
This week, Lane posted a petition on Facebook to illustrate the beach’s minimum accessibility for people with disabilities. With hundreds of reactions and comments, the petition spread quickly, garnered 329 signatures, and caught the attention of Flagler Strong, a local Flagler Beach community group.
Numerous discussions under Facebook posts highlight beach access and aids for pre-existing disabled people. Flagler Beach has disabled parking, a ramp by the pier, and beach wheelchairs, which prompt comments such as “cumbersome” or “difficult to use.”
Although Varn Park does not fall under Flagler Beach’s jurisdiction, the petition to make beaches more accessible to people with disabilities was discussed at a Flagler Beach city council meeting on Thursday evening. Tracy Callahan-Hennessey, representing Flagler Strong, acted as a spokesperson for Lane and other disabled members of the community, bringing the matter to the attention of the Commissioners and the City Manager.
“I know we’re already ADA compliant, but I think we can do better,” said Callahan-Hennessey, referring to the US Disability Act, which requires businesses and governments to ensure that facilities are accessible to people with disabilities. But compliance can be subjective and have its blind spots. One of the first things that Callahan-Hennessey brought to light is that there is no signage, other than for disabled parking, indicating where the ramp is or the beach wheelchair rental is located. which makes it difficult for people with disabilities to even find a beach access point.
Residents speaking to the commission mentioned the value of an educational campaign and additions to the current ramp, including new products such as a portable mat that would allow regular wheelchairs to roll further down the beach than the current ramp does not allow it. With the support of the community, Callahan-Hennessey was asking for a “blessing” from the city to start raising funds for greater accessibility to the beach for people with disabilities. “I would like to ask the commission to schedule a workshop. That way we can invite our disabled citizens to come and talk, tell us about their needs, their concerns, ”said Callahan-Hennessey.
“I like the idea of the workshop,” said William Whitson, City Manager of Flagler Beach, who began his work with the city this month. “So we are integrating that into the calendar. Right now I’m in the middle of the budget as you know, and I’m supported, because I’ve just arrived. And there should have been a lot more work on a budget before I got here.
Commissioner Jane Mealy said she would like to have a workshop, “it’s just kind of out of the blue right now.” Cooley noted his preference for discussing the issue as an agenda item during a meeting rather than a workshop, and for defining the item to ensure it had a clear purpose. While the city commission seems to agree to improve beach accessibility, the timing and funding are the main setbacks.
Cooley, speaking to Flagler Strong, said the group was “on to something really good,” suggesting local officials would take action – possibly.
–Terra White for FlaglerLive