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What to expect when visiting the beach with a mobility impairment

24th June 2015

This news article is from Handicare UK. Articles that appear on this website are for information purposes only.

The beach is a beautiful place. Somewhere where memories are formed and last a lifetime, so why should this experience stop when we get older and less mobile?

Notoriously difficult to access, whether you rely on stairlift mobility at home or not, the beach has posed access issues for some time. However, thanks to technology developments and improved awareness in the UK, the beach is becoming increasingly easier to access and enjoy. Here we highlight what to expect when visiting the beach with a mobility impairment so that you are as prepared as possible and ready to enjoy your time in the sand.

Accessible changing places

Perhaps one of the most difficult aspects of visiting a beach when you struggle with mobility is finding a suitable place to change or go to the toilet. While most beaches should have a toilet block in the near vicinity and these should feature a disabled toilet, as per s.19 of the Disability Discrimination Act 1995, this is not always possible as some councils don’t have the budget to maintain public toilets and therefore have neither regular toilets nor disabled facilities.

Despite this, you will normally find appropriate facilities not too far away, either through council-run toilet blocks or local amenities, so long as the beach you are visiting isn’t too remote. To find an accessible beach near you see this previous post on the UK’s top accessible beaches, where there is information on facilities and mobility equipment hire at specific beaches.

Even if you do manage to find a disabled access toilet, it is unlikely that there will be sufficient room or assistance aids in the facility to get changed safely. That is why the brilliant Changing Places campaign is so beneficial to reduced mobility individuals.

Different to standard accessible toilets, Changing Places toilets have significantly more space as well as the right equipment to meet the needs of users. You can find your nearest Changing Places facility using their map function.

Beach shelter

The classic beach hut is a symbol of family holidays by the sea and the coast, and now they have been adapted so that those who are less mobile can enjoy them too. For a shelter actually on the beach that is accessible, a select number of local councils have gone above and beyond in creating such a facility for mobility restricted visitors.

As reported previously, in the article mentioned above, Bournemouth Council achieved a UK first through the creation of purpose-built disabled beach huts. Each hut includes four directors’ chairs, a table, a split-level work surface, gas stove, lockable cupboards and includes access to an electric scooter charging point, parking bays, wooden pathways to the beach and a Changing Places facility, making the beach incredibly accessible.

Similarly, Summerleaze Beach in Bude has a number of accessible beach huts available for hire from just £20 a day. When it comes to accessibility, be sure to check the local council’s website for information ahead of a trip to the beach as you never know what amazing facilities might be on offer that can really take the stress and discomfort out of such a trip.

Hiring mobility equipment

Aside from beach huts, many councils whose area includes a beach provide mobility equipment for hire that is specifically designed for the beach environment. Sand chairs are becoming an increasingly common sight on UK beaches, where hire is usually free with a deposit. Enabling the user to access the beach sat as comfortably as they would be in their home rise and recline chair or a regular wheelchair, the sand chairs are making the beach accessible to all. With their large wheels and stable design they are suitable for most people with mobility difficulties, just check with the local council if they are available at the beach you are visiting.

Other facilities that are sometimes offered by councils that help individuals with mobility impairments enjoy the beach are bicycles for children and adults with disabilities, such as the “wheelchair tandem” offered by Bude Bike Hire.

Events

Next to making beach days out accessible for those with a mobility impairment, there are also a number of events for individuals to get involved in to make the most of the beach. Whether young or old, there are events and organisations out there that realise how important it is for everyone to have the opportunity to visit the beach.

Paddle Round The Pier, or ‘Paddle’, is the world’s biggest FREE beach and water sports festival at Brighton and Hove. They launched an incredible project in 2010 that looks to get children with disabilities in the water and experiencing everything that the beach has to offer. The project covers all of the areas mentioned above that need to be addressed in order to give individuals the ability to access the beach fully, whilst helping them enjoy beach activities such as kayaking and surfing.

Much like our previous article, What to expect when visiting the high street with a mobility impairment, the conclusion is that slowly but surely, changes are being made to make the world more accessible to all. From government-led schemes and projects to the technology that makes it possible, there should come a time when such places as the beach are completely accessible to anyone who wishes to visit them.

Image Credit: vastateparksstaff, Roberto Venturini, The 5th Ape, Clyde Robinson (flickr.com)

This content was written by Emily Bray. Please feel free to visit my Google + profile to read more stories.