A walk on the beach is a simple pleasure, the kind that can be taken for granted. At least by most.
To be steps away from the beach, smelling the salt air, hearing the waves crash onshore and feeling the breeze in one’s hair, yet being unable to dip so much as a toe in the water: that’s an obstacle disabled members of the community face all too frequently.
Responding to a social media petition organized by a disabled resident, the Flagler Beach City Commission Thursday said 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 requesting one, but that’s not how it works. The items need worked with the city manager and then when some concepts can be pulled together, it will be an agenda item.”
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 her ability to walk and speak. After visiting Varn Park, expecting to see a ramp that led down to the beach, Lane was heartbroken once she saw that the end of the ramp was reconstructed into a flight of stairs after a hurricane. (Varn Park is a county park, outside of Flagler Beach’s jurisdiction. Flagler Beach has its own many beach access walkovers, though disabled access is largely limited to the ramps near the pier.)
“I was so happy heading up, to be stopped by steps. How did they ever think that was ok?” said Lane in an email. This experience sparked Lane’s goal to raise awareness and improve beach accessibility for the disabled, believing that “all beaches should have a ramp that goes out to the water or close to it.” Doing more for disabled beach access “would not only mean the world to me and others disabled,” Lane said, but the beach is “immediately calming. It is healing mentally. It brings peace to your soul.”
Doreen Scott, diagnosed with a rare neurological disease akin to amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) said she, “grew up enjoying beaches all my life,” but can no longer enjoy the beach to its fullest extent because she is in a wheelchair.
“There are no ramps that allow me to take my wheelchair down to the water and enjoy what others take for granted. For four years I’ve been unable to use my beaches,” she said. “When you are bound to a wheelchair your world gets smaller, having access to the beaches is mentally and spiritually important. It also allows the wheelchair bound a sense of freedom, inclusion and normalcy. I want to go to the beach and why shouldn’t I be able to.”
This week Lane posted a petition on Facebook to illustrate the minimal beach accessibility for the disabled. With hundreds of reactions and comments, the petition spread quickly, gained 329 signatures and catching the attention of Flagler Strong, a local Flagler Beach community group.
Many discussions under the Facebook posts highlight the pre-existing handicap beach access and aids. Flagler Beach has dedicated handicap parking, a ramp by the pier and beach wheelchairs, which elicit comments such as “cumbersome” or “difficult to use.”
While Varn Park is outside of Flagler Beach’s jurisdiction, the petition to make beaches more accessible for the disabled was discussed in a Flagler Beach city council meeting Thursday evening. Tracy Callahan-Hennessey, representing Flagler Strong, acted as a voice for Lane and other disabled community members, bringing the topic to the attention of the commissioners and city manager.
“I know we are already ADA compliant, but I think we can do better,” said Callahan-Hennessey, referring to the Americans with Disabilities Act, which requires businesses and governments to ensure that facilities are accessible to the disabled. But compliance can be subjective and have its blind spots. One of the first things Callahan-Hennessey brought to light was that there is no signage, other than for handicapped parking, indicating where the ramp or beach wheelchair rentals are, making it difficult for disabled people to even find an access point to the beach.
Residents addressing 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 on the beach than the current ramp allows. With the community’s backing, Callahan-Hennessey was asking for a “blessing” from the city to start fundraising towards more beach accessibility for the disabled. “I would like to ask the commission to schedule a workshop. This way we can invite our handicapped citizens to come speak, tell us their needs, their concerns,” Callahan-Hennessey, said.
“I like the idea of the workshop,” Flagler Beach City Manager William Whitson, who started his job with the city this month, said. “So we’re working it into the schedule. Right now, I’m in the middle of budget as you know, and I’m backed up, because I’ve just got here. And there should have been a lot more work done on a budget before I got here.”
Commissioner Jane Mealy said she would love to have a workshop, “it’s just kind of out of the blue right now.” Cooley noted his preference for a discussion of the issue as an agenda item during a meeting rather than at a workshop, and for defining the item to make sure it’d have a clear purpose. While the city commission seems to be on board with improving beach accessibility, timing and funding are the main setbacks.
Cooley, addressing Flagler Strong, said the group was “onto something really good,” suggesting local officials will take some action–eventually.
–Terra White for FlaglerLive
Grace Patrick says
A board walk to the water would be very nice.
I have wondered if Varn Park had a ramp as I’m disabled and don’t walk well due to severe radiculopathy in both legs and feet. I was wanting to go this year and enjoy some beach time. My friend was here in 2019 and had to help me up the steps at one of the other beach access points. I sure hope they would put some ramps in at the park.
We have ramps at end of Malacompra Rd. and end of Solee Rd. but still hard to navigate over the berm. It would be nice to have street level access at the end of Malacompra like we had BB (before Berm). Faith didn’t like that idea.
Support 81 says
The Ramp is an interesting idea, but how do you get a wheel chair to the water’s edge on the soft sand at Flagler Beach?
@Support 81 – Ever heard of beach wheelchair? LOOK! https://www.amazon.com/s?k=beach+wheelchair&ref=nb_sb_noss_1
Jaii Hein says
Hello, my name is Jaii Hein, instrumental in original beach access in 1981, Coastal Alliance. In 2001 I met Irene Moses who was a wheelchair user. (Not bound. As usually stated) she was asked to do survey by Indiana University, for beach access in Volusia county’s ramps. We did various items … Horse pads, plywood, etc. The best one which came out of survey was the fiberglass mesh used by helicopter landing pads in Desert Storm. It rolled out, could be staked down and rolled up and secured at night. I was also a BOD on DSIL, disAbility Solutions for Idependent living. Which is a nonprofit for Flagler and Volusia Counties. The survey might be in their archives. Hope this helps
Again survey is BEFORE the berm. The fiberglass mats are there but very steep berm to walk over. Not even thinking about getting wheelchair over it.
Is that the MobiMat we have up here in the Hammock going over our dune walks?
GREAT! That’s all the Lifeguard people and Emergency Response people need is to be rescuing mobility challenged people “dipping” their toes into the waves of the ocean or worse yet being swept away in their mobility devices by a sneaker wave.
What are you thinking?????? Do any of you have even have a pea size amount of common sense?
Excuse TF out of us disabled but we have just as much rights as normal people. If you think we don’t then you’re an idiot!
One way to get wet says
OMG someone in a chair r$ped every hotel in lauderdale by the sea and ft lauderdale one by one that was not ADA compliant, booked a stay, and documented deficiencies…. all over SE FL coast.. many had to sell to make settlement.. FB you better pony up! Wooden stairs no more! And airBnB ppls, if you have a pool and you rent out to anyone, get that thing ADA ready, lol, with crane entry… stairs are not ADA… also at least one room must be ADA shower compliant. The chairman is coming, haha. Good for him , probably a hundred times over multimillionaire.
Jaii Hein says
Yes this happened in 2002-4, my late wife and I did surveys and setup escro accounts to alleviate shuttering Daytona beach hotels from this type of lawyer crap. Transition plans. X amount of years and certain types of improvements gradually from say 10% of funds. ADA was not meant to shutter hotels. It’s the greedy lawyers. Sadly she passed, but contacting Volusia County Hotel Motel may get you answered to thwart this behavior.
Not only Flagler Beach… but Flagler County Beaches are not easily accessed by handicapped. I didn’t realize this until my knee issues. Very hard to get to our beaches since berm has been installed. I have contacted the County and was told it would be looked into. I don’t think our local ramps are in compliance with the federal requirements.
Flagler County has always been limited access due to the hardness of the dunes & sand. I mean, if you ever lived in Daytona & Ormond Beach, the tides have always restricted driving North of Granada Blvd’s beach approach. The only way I can envision this, is a ramp that would have to be one that is essentially a longer and less steep a slope that runs North to South along A1A. Would a concrete slab need to be poured to the water’s edge ? Because the sand is going to be too soft for a wheel chair that isn’t specially made for soft sand. Every storm that comes thru will most likely cover that slab, interrupting that location of sandy dunes. Would that be an environmental issue ? I think there is a ramp on the North side of the pier already. But at a certain point it becomes steps as well ? The South Side has only steps from sidewalk to sandy beach. I don’t think the ramp would be any more intrusive that the one on the North side of the pier, it would have to wind back & forth as close to the dune wall as possible. But again, once your at beach sand level, the fact it’s as soft as it is, one will need a special set of wheels on a wheelchair to get to the water’s edge.
Jaii Hein says
This was done in 2002 but it gives you an idea of what was done with different mediums. https://scholarworks.iu.edu/dspace/handle/2022/3101
@ Richard. Reading your comment, you must have a heart smaller than a mustard seed. I don’t know you, but I will probably see you parking in a handicap spot because it is more convenient.
I have ALS and have been in a powered wheelchair since 2015. Simply because I can’t walk or talk does not mean my reasoning, ability, common sense, or empathy is also disabled. I, like Donna Lane, would like to get nearer the water than is presently possible, and believe that I have the intelligence not to put myself – or others – in danger.
There is a ramp in Flagler Beach just south of Moody and A1A, but once you get to the beach you have the unpredictable sand and the violent ocean.
A protected pool that ebbs and floods with the tide but is protected from undertows and sand erosion somehow would work.
All you youngsters out there, stop playing video games and figure this one out.
This is an accessibility issue, which unfortunately are rampant across Florida. Everything from sidewalks, curb cuts, ramps, lack of door push plate automatic door openers, lack of sign language interpreters for the deaf, and the list could go on and on. This state is way behind the rest of the U.S. in regards to accessibility and I have no sympathy for all the people throwing out stupid comments for justifying why it shouldn’t/couldn’t be done. These are moot considering the current technology, products, and designs available. If you are unaware, do some research. And just think about this naysayers: IF Floridians would provide these type of basic accessibility systems there would be INCREASED tax revenues generated by the increase of tourism in Florida, thus raising lots of dollars for the state coffers. Believe me, the first thing people with mobility challenges do when looking for a vacation spot is to determine the accessibility of said locations. If there are none, they take their $$$ elsewhere. So, while you naysayers are waving your American flags this Memorial Day weekend, think about all of the veterans with challenges (as a result of their service or age) that you are denying access to our beaches and other facilities. Chew on that for a while.
Most of us are TABs (Temporarily Able Bodied). Many will need accessibility at some point in their lives. People with Disabilities have been fighting for their rights for way to long with not enough progress. If working on the budget is so important right now, include more funding for increased accessibility.
Perry Taylor says
Don’t hold your breath. The City can’t maintain the walk overs that it already has. Been waiting on several walkovers to be “fixed” on the north side for almost two years now. First promised by Mayor Linda and now assured by Mayor Suzie. Bid processes that take 9 months and ridiculous delays that are “standard” practice. Why doesn’t government work? Ask Mayor Suzie next time you see her or Eric. We’ll see people on Mars before our city lives up to our expectations.