Want to take your MS to the beach?

Beach access is improving for people with disabilities, a columnist says

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by Ed Tobias |

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Memorial Day, the unofficial start of summer vacation in the U.S., is fast approaching. It’s almost time for some summer beach fun — if we can get there.

Beaches can be difficult, if not impossible, to access for many people with multiple sclerosis (MS). But times seem to be changing.

A disability-friendly beach house

Last summer, my friend Sara Loud, the CEO of the nonprofit Accelerated Cure Project for MS (ACP), was visiting a friend with MS who was vacationing on Cape Cod, Massachusetts. She was delighted to find out how accessible his rented beach house was and reported about it in ACP’s newsletter.

I contacted the renter, Kemp Jaycox, for more details, and he told me it’s a two-story town house with a ramp to the front door and another ramp leading to platforms in the back with “an amazing view of the beach and Cape Cod Bay.” There’s a bedroom on the first floor with an adjustable bed. The bathroom is open and has a roll-in shower with a bench.

Outside is a fabric mat that Jaycox can use to roll his wheelchair to the beach. Once there, a floating beach wheelchair — one of those things with big, rubber wheels — can take him farther. He said it allowed him to put his feet in the sand for the first time in eight years. The whole thing, he told me, “is a true gem and blessing for families like mine!”

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SMILE put that smile on his face

All of this was due to the efforts of SMILE Mass (Small Miracles in Life Exist), a nonprofit group featured in the newsletter. It’s dedicated to helping people with disabilities and their families enjoy vacation and recreation experiences.

In addition to the town house, over the past 13 years, SMILE Mass has donated 180 of those floating wheelchairs to public beaches all over New England. Amazingly to me, the organization will even ship those beach wheelchairs to borrowers outside of New England for only the cost of the two-way shipping.

The group offers other recreational items and programs as well. And of course, there’s the Cape Cod town house that’s available to rent, with financial assistance available for people who qualify.

Some cities and towns are helping

Over the past several years, some local governments have made their beaches more accessible. In Ocean City, Maryland, where I used to live, the town makes beach wheelchairs available in the summer. But it’s first come, first served, and there are only a handful of chairs to serve the thousands of people who vacation there.

In Seaside Park, New Jersey, they started putting down temporary, hard plastic mats to create a path across the sand that a wheelchair can travel. I’ve seen this type of mat on a number of beaches. Here in Florida, there are many accessible beaches, and a Google search will turn up more elsewhere in the U.S. Before you go, check out an MS News Today column by Jamie Hughes, who shares a few things that make the beach more comfortable for her.

More beaches need to join in

There seem to be more accessible beaches than there were 10 years ago, but there are still many places where someone with a wheelchair can’t get onto the sand. If your beach is one of them, I encourage you to speak to your local government officials about it. Seaside Park only got its plastic mats because a pair of women started a campaign for them. SMILE Mass was started by two women who are mothers of special needs children and wanted a place for them to play.

You could be the person who helps someone with MS feel the sand on their feet.

You’re invited to visit my personal blog at www.themswire.com.

Note: Multiple Sclerosis News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Multiple Sclerosis News Today or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to multiple sclerosis.


Lorraine Alexander avatar

Lorraine Alexander

I'm quite sure I benefitted from one of the SMILE Mass beach wheelchairs when I visited the Connecticut coast last year. There was only one available but the beach was nearly empty so there was no competition. I was able to push it up the sandy slope from the path leading to the beach. I wish, however, that the "runners" being created weren't made of plastic. (There were none where I was.) Feels like one step forward, two steps back. Perhaps a decent use for recycling plastic, but then we're back to the problem of what next? I hope a different material is found to serve this purpose. Wooden slats are traditional, wear well, and would be fine with the inflated wheels. Bringing more plastic to a beach is not the way to go.

Ed Tobias avatar

Ed Tobias

Hi Lorraine,

Thanks for your comments. I understand your feelings about recycled material and I share them. But, I wonder if there are beach wheelchairs available with different material. Sometimes you have to take what there is. But, it couldn't hurt for you to suggest that to the people at SMILE.



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