Which towns in Jersey Shore have wheelchairs for the beach and surfing
The Jersey coast was synonymous with summer for Scott Chesney of Verona, whose family vacationed in Lavallette every year until a stroke tore his legs off at the age of 15.
Now 50, Chesney has been on the sidelines for decades. The thin wheels of his wheelchair got stuck in the sand too easily and made his idea of heaven on earth unattainable.
For decades, wheelchair users had few options, as beach wheelchairs with wheels large enough to navigate the sand were scarce, advocates and families have said. But awareness and mobility options are finally growing on beaches across the state.
Asbury Park, Cape May, Monmouth, Ocean City, Sea Isle City and Wildwood are some of its most accessible towns offering free beach and surf wheelchairs that can be booked, as well as accessible bathrooms. Island Beach State Park and Long Beach Island were both won over by accessibility blog Wonders Within Reach for offering beach wheelchairs, but not surf chairs, which can go in the water.
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Jennifer Allen, 37, of Elizabethtown, Pa., Has tried various solutions to get 5-year-old Jaden, who has spina bifida, to the beach.
“We had experienced all types of wheels,” she said. “We had an all-terrain wagon and an all-terrain stroller, but neither of those could get through the sand. We wanted to make the beach a part of every summer. But it was a nightmare.
“You don’t realize how inaccessible the world is until you have someone who can’t use their legs,” Allen said.
But she and her husband, Phillip Allen, 38, were determined to show their son the world. They decided to hit the beaches along the East Coast and founded Wonders Within Reach to share their findings.
From Florida to New Jersey, they investigated and came back with the conclusion that beach accessibility was “hazardous”. St. Petersburg, Florida did not have beach wheelchairs, but Clearwater offered options, Allen said.
Ralph Coscia, president of Citizens Right to Access Beaches in Ocean County, said he started providing free beach chair rentals to anyone in need in the early 2000s.
Coscia and Allen said accessibility to New Jersey beaches is improving.
“Around 2010 to 2015, people started getting a little more involved and became more aware of ADA access to beaches,” Coscia said, referring to requirements included in the US federal disability law. Reconstruction after Storm Sandy in 2012 gave cities another chance to improve accessibility.
“So that they get [sand for beach] to replenish supplies, they had to be more ADA compliant, ”he said.
For Chesney, the solution came in 2004 in Asbury Park where he came across a beach chair that looked like a recumbent bike. There were pontoons for the armrests that kept the chair afloat in the ocean.
“The first time I tried I was with two other disabled people and what was amazing was that we all had different intentions. Someone just wanted to go to the beach for the first time; he was housed. The next one just wanted to put her feet in the water; she was housed. I wanted to go as far as possible in the ocean and I was accommodated. It was unbelievable. It was great to get back to the ocean, ”Chesney said.
“Many beaches are increasingly accessible,” he said, with ramps that extend past sidewalks and foldable mats and a deck to extend even the reach of a typical wheelchair.
“We hadn’t even heard of these things in 1986. Your family must have taken you to the beach,” said Chesney, who has been starting surfing in recent years.
There is still room for improvement.
A fully accessible day at the beach would not only include a beach chair, ramp and mats, but also a place to change., supporters said. Even an accessible bathroom doesn’t do the trick when there isn’t room to sit with your legs in front of you while you change.
Chesney tries to be content with the floor of his van. “A lot of people who have finished swimming for the day want to get out of their wet clothes. The last thing a person with reduced mobility wants to do is sit in wet clothes. It can create skin problems and other issues. he said.
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Want to try a beach chair? Take a look at Allen’s list of accessible coastal towns.
Coscia warns that demand may still exceed supply.
“I would suggest they call town and check it out,” he says. “It’s on a first come, first serve basis. So if you get there later in the day they might not have anything available. Some places will only carry you to the beach and take you off the beach. [in the rental chair] and you work on their schedules. So when you check with municipalities, check what their procedures are. “
People can also call citizens entitled to access Ocean County beaches if the town they are going to visit does not have a beach chair available. Coscia the group has 10 chairs and moves from beach to beach for anyone who makes a reservation. Although the organization has traveled outside of their county, they mostly stay between Point Pleasant Beach and Lavallette.
The group is available at (732) 361-2722 (CRAB) or by email at [email protected]
Gene Myers is a reporter for NorthJersey.com. For unlimited access to the most important news from your local community, please subscribe or activate your digital account today.
Email: [email protected]