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   Beach Access: Assist Devices and Surfaces

Beach Access: Assist Devices and Surfaces
A Research Report of the National Center of Accessibility

Table of Contents

This is a photo of beach devices tested at the beach at Bradford Woods.
Beach devices tested are shown at the beach at Bradford Woods.
The lives of people with disabilities have been opened to a new era, an era of hope and opportunity. The passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act has made the elimination of architectural and programmatic barriers a reachable goal. Barrier-free designs for constructed facilities have become the expectation rather than the exception.

The advances in standards for architectural accessibility have moved our society to a point where we can begin looking beyond built environments toward outdoor environments to determine how people with disabilities might be given greater opportunities to enjoy the beauty and majesty of the outdoors. Yet, stepping out of the built environment and into the natural environment provides greater challenges for accessibility than ever before imagined. This is especially true of beach areas, whether they are coastal or inland.

In response to demands for beach access brought on by the Americans with Disabilities Act, there has been a rush to develop new products. These products have centered on two approaches: assistive devices and surfaces. The quick development of these products and the lack of local distribution sites, has left individuals with disabilities and agencies wishing to provide beach access unable to adequately evaluate these products. Therefore, the National Center on Accessibility undertook this study to address the need for objective comparisons of the advantages and disadvantages of the available products.

The study was conducted at the beach on the 110 acre lake at Bradford Woods, Indiana University's Outdoor Center, between August and October 1992 and at an ocean beach in Dade County, Florida during March and April 1993. These sites were selected because of the differences in environmental conditions. The sand at the Bradford Woods beach had a coarse texture. Although an inland lake, unusually heavy rain fall during the data collection at Bradford Woods caused significant fluctuations in the water level of the lake and water run-offs across the beach. The lake was sheltered by steep, forested hills, which reduced wind blowing across the beach. The sand at Dade County, Florida had a very fine texture. As expected, there were significant water level changes due to the tides and ample wind blowing across the beach. Tidal changes caused the expected water level changes at Dade County.

A total of 111 subjects participated in the study, 60 at the Indiana site and 51 at the Florida site. The demographics of the two sites were strikingly different, consequently, the combined demographic results as well as those of each site are presented. The combined sites provided a balanced distribution among the demographic variables. Complete demographic information can be found in   Table 1.

Subjects ranged in age from 9 to 91 years with a mean age of 42.1 years for the combined sites. However, subjects at the Indiana site had a mean age of 26.5 years, while the Miami subjects had a mean age of 60.8 years. For the combined study, 50.5% of the subjects were female. At the Indiana site 40% of the subjects were female, whereas 62.7% of the Miami subjects were female.

Impairment demographics were also very different for the two sites. A total of 19 impairments were reported by the subjects. For the combined sites, cerebral palsy (17), spinal cord injuries (17), spina bifida (13), and "walking difficulty" (12) were most frequently reported and accounted for 53.1% of the responses. There were 13 different impairments reported in Indiana with cerebral palsy (15), spina bifida (13), and spinal cord injury (13) accounting for 68.4% of the responses. At the Florida site, there were 16 separate impairments reported. Walking difficulty (11), stroke (8), and nonspecific paralysis (7) most frequently reported and accounted for 51% of the responses.
For the combined study, 33.3% of the subjects reported having had a disability from birth. Again, the sites were very different with Indiana subjects significantly more likely (chi square=12.2, p<.05) to have a disability from birth (54.9%) than subjects in Florida (8.9%). A total of 74% of the subjects at the two sites reported using manual (54.6%) or motorized (19.4%) wheelchairs. The remaining subjects reported using another type of mobility assistive device (22.4%) or were ambulatory (3.6%).

As one indicator of subjects' physical functioning, they were asked whether assistance was normally required to transfer into a wheelchair. For the combined sites, 55.8% of the subjects reported they needed no assistance to transfer or did not use a wheelchair, while 43.26% of the subjects indicated they needed assistance in transfers(Table 1). Only slightly fewer Indiana subjects reported needing assistance (41.7%) than did Florida subjects (45.1%).

Upon their arrival at a beach area, subjects were given the study information sheet, the Informed Consent Form, and the Beach Access Survey. After completing the survey, subjects were taken to the beach area where the equipment and surfaces are located. Subjects were allowed to view the equipment and surfaces but not use them at that time. Subjects were asked which piece of equipment they would prefer to use and then which surface they would prefer to use. This information was recorded on the initial survey.

Once subjects had indicated their visual preferences, subjects were asked to use the equipment and/or surfaces on the beach and complete a questionnaire on each piece of equipment or surface used. When possible, subjects used their own equipment on the beach prior to using the test equipment. An investigator assisted those subjects who were unable to write. If a companion accompanied and assisted the user with a disability, the companion was asked to complete the Informed Consent Form and a Companion Questionnaire for each piece of equipment or surface on which he or she provided assistance.

After completing a questionnaire for each piece of equipment or surface used, subjects were debriefed by the investigator to determine additional thoughts on the equipment.

The results of this study are broken into two major sections: assistive devices and surfaces.

Assistive Devices /Surfaces

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