Providing Access to Beaches
|Providing access to beaches enables people with disabilities and their friends and family to enjoy a time honored vacationing tradition.|
A beach is a designated area along a shore providing pedestrian entry for the purpose of water play, swimming or other water shoreline activities. Coastal areas, inland lakes, ponds, and rivers all have beaches. However, beach is not synonymous with sand. Soil, gravel, grass and other surfaces are found along shorelines and are also considered to be beaches. Due to the dynamic nature of shorelines, the surface is generally not firm and stable and therefore may not be accessible. This monograph addresses this and other issues involving access to beaches for people with disabilities.
Access to beaches for people with disabilities is a complicated issue due to the ever-changing nature of shoreline surfaces. Standards such as the Americans with Disabilities Act Accessibility Guidelines (ADAAG) address access to the built environment, however at the time of adoption in 1991 did not provide provisions regarding outdoor environments. These “bricks and mortar” guidelines do not easily translate to the outdoors where there is less development. In the built environment, the goal is to build to suit the owner whereas in the outdoors, preserving the natural environment is part of the desired experience. For example, in the built environment, acceptable procedures include bulldozing a lot and constructing a new building to provide goods and services. However in the natural environment, the purpose is not perhaps to cut down the trees but to enjoy their shade or to protect their very existence.
The U. S. Access Board, the independent federal agency designated to develop accessibility guidelines under the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Architectural Barriers Act, has responded to the need for guidelines addressing outdoor environments. In 1993 the Access Board established a Recreation Access Advisory Committee to develop proposed accessibility guidelines for recreation environments and outdoor developed areas.
As the proposed accessibility guidelines for recreation and outdoor developed areas (trail, beaches, picnic areas, and campgrounds) were put forth, many proposed guidelines drew intense public comment. As a result, the Access Board in turn created a Federal Regulatory Negotiation Committee on Accessibility Guidelines for Outdoor Developed Areas. The Federal Regulatory Negotiating Committee had a difficult task of coming to consensus on guidelines for trails, beaches, picnic areas and camping facilities. The result is the Outdoor Developed Areas Report (Sept 1999).
Scoping & Technical Provisions
The following features of beaches are addressed in the Outdoor Developed Areas Report put forth by the Federal Regulatory Negotiating Committee:
Beach Access Route
A beach access route is a continuous unobstructed path designated only for pedestrian use that crosses the surface of the beach. A beach access route must be provided in the same area as the general circulation path to the maximum extent feasible. An access route for the built environment and a beach access route differ in that an access route for the built environment has more stringent requirements. For example, the maximum running slope of an access route is 1:20. A beach access route allows steeper slopes for short distances.
New Beaches vs. Existing Beaches
- There are two scoping provisions regarding beach access routes. The first addresses new beaches. A new beach is a constructed beach where none previously existed through the importing of a beach surface. New beaches require a minimum of one beach access route for every one half mile of linear feet of new beach. The access route should extend to the high tide level, mean riverbed level, or the normal recreation pool level. The second scoping provision refers to existing beaches. Beach access routes for existing beaches should be where a pedestrian access route is provided from a developed site to the edge of an existing beach surface and extend to the high tide level, mean riverbed level or the normal recreation pool level. There has been some controversy regarding the chosen terminology for this section. For example, the term “mean riverbed level” is not recognized by some resource management professionals. NCA strongly encourages professionals to gather comments and suggestions to submit to the Access Board during the NPRM.
Proposed exceptions for beach access routes on new beaches or existing beaches include the following:
- The surface of the beach access route is to be firm and stable. The ADAAG requirement for surfaces to be slip resistant is omitted in the outdoor environment. Firmness refers to how much the surface compresses when pressure is applied and stability refers to the horizontal displacement of the surface when for example, twisting of the foot occurs. Firmness and stability can be measured with a rotational penetrometer, a device designed by Beneficial Designs. The rotational penetrometer uses a spring-loaded device connected to a caster that when lowered simulates the force of a wheelchair on the surface. The amount of penetration of the caster into the surface reflects the firmness measurement. The caster is then rotated back and forth to measure the stability. The measurements are read from a digital caliper. The material used for a surface should be aesthetically pleasing and not of a material that gets hot from sitting in the sun. Accessibility should not detract from the nature of the experience. Although natural beach surfaces are generally not accessible, they are still part of the beach experience, and should be preserved to the greatest extent possible.
- Clear tread width is the measurement of the unobstructed width of the accessible route. The minimum for clear tread width is 36 inches. This allows for the width of a wheelchair to comfortably travel along the route. However, keep in mind the average wheelchair is 28 inches wide, this does not provide enough room for a person to pass by or to walk alongside a person who uses a wheelchair. Therefore, 60 inches is recommended to offer plenty of space for visitors to walk together and pass other visitors.
- Passing space enables people who use wheelchairs, other assistive devices or are simply carrying all their beach gear to comfortably pass other visitors who are traveling along the same route. Where the clear width of the beach access route is less than 60 inches, every 200 feet a passing space of a minimum of 60 inches or a T-shaped space providing a 60 inch in diameter turning space must be provided. The arms and stem of the T-shaped space must extend at least 48 inches beyond the intersection.
- Openings refer to spaces in surfaces where a cane or wheelchair caster may become stuck or cause a tripping hazard. For example, wooden boardwalks have openings between each board, if the openings are too wide, a person with a mobility device may have difficulty traversing along the route. The openings must be no larger than 1/2 inch elongated. Elongated openings are to be placed so that the long dimension is perpendicular or diagonal to the direction of travel. This prevents the wheels or casters of mobility devices from getting caught in the spaces. Elongated openings are permitted to run parallel to the direction of travel where the opening does not permit the passage of one-quarter inch sphere.
- The requirements for protruding objects are based on standard cane techniques used by people with vision impairments. A person who is blind or visually impaired and uses a cane for orientation and mobility utilizes the combination of the angle of the cane and a sweeping motion from side to side in front of him while walking to detect obstacles in his path. The standard sweep of canes allows detection of objects with leading edges up to 27 inches from the floor. Overhead objects are also not cane detectable and therefore should not hang in the path of travel. Based on this, objects projecting from walls with leading edges between 27-80 inches above the floor cannot protrude more than 4 inches. This prevents a person who is blind from running into the object by keeping the object in a cane detectable area, or above their head.
- Space enabling a person who uses a wheelchair to turn around or rest if needed is referred to as maneuvering space. Maneuvering space must be provided at the high tide level, mean riverbed level, normal recreation water level, or end of the beach access route. Maneuvering space cannot overlap with the beach access route and must be a minimum of 60 inches, or an intersection of two walking surfaces providing a T-shaped space mentioned such as discussed in passing space. An additional use for this area is to enable people who use wheelchairs to park their wheelchairs without feeling like or being an obstruction in the route of travel.
- Two types of slopes are addressed: running slope and cross slope. Running slope refers to the slope running parallel to the direction of travel. Cross slope refers to the slope perpendicular to the direction of travel. Although both slopes can cause difficulty to people who are traveling along a path, a steep cross slope can have larger impact on people who use wheelchairs in essence pulling the user off the path as they travel across it. The cross slope can be a maximum of 1:33. Cross slope is permitted to go up to 1:20 for drainage purposes. Running slope can be 1:20 for any distance. A maximum slope of 1:12 is permitted for no more than 50 feet. If the slope continues at 1:12 for a distance greater than 50 feet, resting spaces must be provided. Running slope is permitted to be a maximum of 1:10 for no more than 30 feet. Resting intervals must be provided every 30 feet if the running slope continues as 1:10 for more than 30 feet. Consider a person who uses a wheelchair, any slope may cause difficulty, and then adding on all their beach gear will cause additional strain in pushing up the path. By offering the least amount of slope possible, all visitors will benefit from the ease of the route leading to the beach.
- An example of a change in level is where temporary surface tiles join one another. If a person has an uneven walking gait or problems with depth perception, obstacles caused by changes in level can cause a person to fall. Changes in level in the beach access route can be no higher than one inch. Even at a height of one inch, obstacles can cause difficulties for people who use wheelchairs or other devices. For example, a mother pushing her child in a stroller may struggle to maneuver the stroller over a large rock projecting up from the path of travel. Removing the rock allows for smooth travel and also can help prevent a tripping hazard.
- When dealing with a raised beach access route with a drop off of more than 6 inches, edge protection can act as a safety feature preventing people from falling off the elevated route. Sometimes the raised height of the route can be a tripping hazard; therefore edge protection was recommended by the Reg Neg committee. Edge protection is required when the drop-off from the beach access route to the beach is 6 inches or higher, and may include curbs, walls, railings, or projecting surfaces that prevent people from falling off of the route. The edge protection must be at least 2 inches high. If the drop-off is less than 6 inches, edge protection is not required, however the edge of the access route should be beveled. A beveled edge should be a 30-45 degree angle into the sand to enable easy traversing.
Assistive Devices & Temporary Surfaces
The National Center on Accessibility has conducted three research projects on beach access. The first study took place at Bradford Woods, Indiana University’s Outdoor Center, between August and October 1992 and in Dade County, Florida during March and April, 1993. The study included the testing of assistive devices and surfaces for beach access. A total of 111 subjects participated from ages 9-91. The beach assistive devices were evaluated for three factors: Appearance, independence and safety. The beach surfaces were evaluated for four factors: function, appearance, texture and width.
Considerations for Purchasing Beach Assistive Devices
|The independent operation of a device will determine whether a beach goer can get around on his own and have an enjoyable experience or be left relying on others to push the device from sand to surf.|
Can this device be operated independently? Independence is a critical factor, it means that a person with a disability may use the device unaided by others. Independent use may come in the form of a power source to propel the device, such as a motor, or manually pushing the wheels or using hand pedals. However, presently hand propelled models require a high degree of upper body strength. When a device is not easily operated independently, it can have a negative impact on perception of the overall beach visit. Having to wait for someone else every time a person wants to move is discouraging for both the person using the chair and their companion especially if they are loaded down with beach gear such as towels, coolers, and an umbrella. Needing someone to push the assistive device can also draw attention and pity from others.
Is this device easy to maintain and is it able to withstand water? The effects of water, salt and sand can be destructive. Keep in mind the materials used to construct the device and how well they will hold up to the beach elements.
How can this device be transported to and from the beach? If the device is collapsible or easy to disassemble/reassemble then transportation is much easier. It is also helpful to know how much the unit weighs. Weight will help determine whether it can be transported from one beach to another.
Are options available? Understand the options available and how each option may impact the experience of the user. For example, umbrellas may provide shade for the user, but some umbrellas may have an undignified appearance. Again, even with the options, the device should blend into the beach environment.
Is this device safe? It is important to know how much weight the chair is designed to hold. If a device is unstable and tips over, injuries may occur. Even those injuries to the ego can sometimes ruin the most beautiful day at the beach.
Testing Temporary Surfaces for Beach Use
The third research study conducted by the National Center on Accessibility focused on temporary beach surfaces, and took place in Daytona Beach, Florida in 2001. The study assessed seven temporary surface products for installation time, installation ease, maintenance, user preference, tactual function, mobility, aesthetics, detract, and relative cost. A total of 72 subjects with disabilities participated in the assessments and no single surface was selected as first choice by the majority.
The key findings from NCA’s research study on temporary beach surfaces provide the following considerations for those who are considering the purchase of temporary beach surfaces.
What is involved in maintaining the surface? Sand, wind and water can cause erosion on some materials. In addition, sand build up is an issue.
What are the mobility functions for this surface? Is the surface stable, even over sand? Can a wheeled device maintain control and ease of movement? Can you turn around easily?
What is the cost of installation for the surface? Cost is often a big factor in a buyer’s decision. When comparing prices, keep in mind the longevity of the product’s use. Buying a less expensive surface that must be frequently replaced, requires extensive installation or maintenance can end up actually costing more.
A day at the beach, playing or relaxing in the sand and surf, can provide all of the physical, psychological, emotional and spiritual benefits that recreation has to offer. Providing equalizing opportunities for people of all abilities should be the goal of park and recreation practitioners, including beach operators. One out of five people has some type of functional limitation, 20% of the population, a significant portion of potential visitors to consider. In addition, the friends and family of people with disabilities includes an even greater portion of the population. By including people with disabilities, their friends and family are also included.
*The National Center on Accessibility does not promote or endorse any products. For your convenience, we have compiled this information to be used as a resource. Products listed may or may not meet accessibility standards or recommendations. It is important to check design specifications of products. This list is not comprehensive. For more detailed information, please contact the NCA at (812) 856-4422 Voice, (812) 856-4421 TTY or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Division of Aggressive Industries
8333 Sunset Road NE
Minneapolis, MN 55432
PO Box 157
Williamsville, NY 14231
Sport Court, Inc.
939 South 700 West
Salt Lake City, UT 84104
Usine de Bourisson B.P. 20
La Couronne France
Rollout Path System Kit
P.A.T.H.S. (Providing Access Through Hard Situations)
#26 1551 Johnston Street
Granville Island, Vancouver
British Columbia Canada
(905) 944-0004 www.paths.com http://www.ncaonline.org/index.php?q=node/643
Bike Track Incorporated
PO Box 235
Woodtock, VT 05091
Modular & Roll-Away Walkways
PO Box 789
Point Pleasant, NJ 08742
Deming Designs Inc
141 W. Pinestead Rd
Pensacoala, FL 32503
Innovative Products Unlimited
4351 W. College Ave, Suite 505
Appleton, WI 54914
PO Box 2222
Princeton, NJ 08543-2222
920 Del Amo Blvd, #A
Torrance, CA 90501
PO Box 361
Moonee Ponds 3039
Assistive Technology, Inc
530 South Whittaker Street #240
New Buffalo, MI 49117
Lincoln Equipment, Inc
2051 Commerce Avenue
Concord, CA 94520
73 Uhl Path
Palm Coast, FL 32164
2805 E. 10th Street, Suite 190
Bloomington, IN 47408
(812) 856-4422 (voice)
(812) 856-4421 (TTY)
Beneficial Designs, Inc.
1617 Water Street, Suite B
Minden, NV 89423-4310
(775) 783-8822 ph
US Access Board
(800) 872-2253 (voice)
(800) 993-2822 (TTY)
The citation for this article is:
National Center on Accessibility. (Summer 2003). Providing access to beaches. Bloomington, IN: National Center on Accessibility, Indiana University-Bloomington. Retrieved from www.ncaonline.org.