-Sun, Sand & Surf
Access to Beaches
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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.
Providing access to beaches enables
people with disabilities and their friends and family to enjoy
a time honored vacationing tradition.
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.
|While test driving an assistive beach wheelchair
during an NCA research study in Florida, beach goers find a
sea shell along the shore.
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).
Currently, the Access Board is preparing a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking
(NPRM) based on the Regulatory Negotiation Committee’s report.
Once published, the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking will be available
for public comment and then published as a final rule. As a final
rule, the guidelines will be adopted by the Department of Justice.
Although the rulemaking process has not been completed at the writing
of this monograph, the Outdoor Developed Areas Report is currently
the best available information for accessibility to beaches.
Beach Access Route
Scoping & Technical Provisions
The following features of beaches are addressed in the Outdoor
Developed Areas Report put forth by the Federal Regulatory
- New Beaches Vs. Existing Beaches
- Clear Tread Width
- Passing Space
- Protruding Objects
- Maneuvering/Resting Space
- Change in Level
- Edge Protection
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:
- A temporary beach access route is permitted. This can be
achieved by using a temporary surface. However, the temporary
surface must be available during all hours of operation (anytime
the beach is open to the public).
- Routes that are created solely for the purpose of shoreline
maintenance are not required to be accessible.
- Routes that are provided solely as undeveloped public easement
are not required to comply.
- If another beach access route is located within one half
mile and in the same jurisdiction.
- When existing beaches are replenished for beach nourishment,
the alterations provisions are not applicable
- When pedestrian route is six inches or higher above beach
surface. (This has been another area of controversy in that
sand can fluctuate six inches rapidly depending on the wind.)
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
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.
|NCA training course participants and instructor
check the width, openings, and installation of some temporary
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.
|Beach visitors test the slope and installation
of temporary beach surfaces at Bradford Woods.
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
Changes in Level
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
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.
|A research participant tests the ease to transfer
from her own wheelchair to a beach wheelchair during an NCA
research study in Daytona.
As the original study was conducted more than 10 years ago and
as many new products are now on the market, NCA conducted a follow
up study in February 2003. Typically, beach wheelchairs take the
structure of standard wheelchairs with some adaptations for beach
use such as wider tires and water resistant seat and frame. This
study picks up where NCA’s first research study in 1993 leaves
off, looking at usability and independent operation of these devices.
People with mobility impairments tested a variety of devices in
Daytona, Florida. Each individual transferred to a beach wheelchair
and took it for a “test drive” across the beach surface.
After using the beach devices, individuals participated in focus
groups to determine user preferences and drawbacks for each design.
Overall, while the devices traveled better through sand than standard
wheelchairs, not many of the beach devices facilitated independent
use, as was the finding during the first study in 1993. The majority
of devices were difficult to propel across sand independently or
with limited mobility, requiring the assistance of another individual
to push the chair from behind. The executive summary for the research
study will be available later this season. It is hoped that the
NCA research findings will assist product vendors in designing assistive
devices based on the preferences of people with disabilities. In
addition, the research findings will assist beach operators as they
decide which types of devices to purchase based on user preferences.
Considerations for Purchasing Beach Assistive Devices
Beach devices or beach chairs are mobility aids that enable a person
with a mobility impairment to travel anywhere on the beach. While
a beach access route may get you to the water, a beach chair can
get you to a lounging spot on the beach, enable a person to enter
the water or go for a stroll along the shoreline. Currently, there
are several wheeled beach accessibility devices on the market. When
shopping for a particular device, consider the following:
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.
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
Is it easy to transfer in and out of? As mentioned
before independence is a critical factor for any assistive device.
Part of that independence includes transferring in and out of the
device. A device that can be operated independently is still a barrier
if a person has difficulty getting in the chair to use it.
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.
|A research participant testing a beach wheelchair
requires a push from a friend to venture out on the Daytona
Is the appearance of this device appealing? For
example, some beach wheelchairs are brightly colored and can cause
a user to feel self-conscious. Be aware of how much attention may
be drawn to the person using the device. Beach wheelchairs are assistive
devices and should not necessarily look like a child’s toy
or stroller. Some beach chairs have a medical look to them. Color
and style should be age appropriate to avoid loss of dignity by
adults that may use the device. The device should blend into the
beach environment as much as possible.
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 comfortable? Comfort is an issue
anytime a person will be sitting for an extended period of time.
Keep in mind each person is an individual with their own body shape.
What may be comfortable for one person may not be for someone else.
The best bet is to test out different devices finding which one
is comfortable for the majority.
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.
If the device has a power source, what is the charge capacity?
Some devices can be run on batteries similar to electric wheelchairs.
Be sure that the life of each fully charged battery is ample for
the time and duration the beach wheelchair will be used. For example,
the charging time may need to be longer if the device is taken for
a long drive along the beach than if it is used for short trips.
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.
County Beach Patrol staff install one of the surfaces to be
tested in the NCA research study. Right:
An NCA training course particaipant tests a temporary beach
surface at Bradford Woods.
Natural beach surfaces generally are not accessible. Under the
proposed accessibility guidelines the beach surfaces for access
routes across beaches are required to be firm and stable and may
be permanent or temporary. Temporary surfaces include rubber mats,
recycled plastic decking, plastic mesh, lattice and other materials.
Beach surface applications are used to inhibit thin wheelchair wheels,
canes, crutches and walkers from penetrating sandy areas, and also
provide paths for families with strollers and people with unsteady
gaits. Temporary surfaces can offer a solution to providing access.
Due to beach erosion, a permanently installed beach route may not
be suitable for some environments. A temporary surface that can
easily be installed and maintained may in the long run provide greater
access. Although labeled as temporary, these surfaces must be available
at all times while the beach is open unless pedestrian use is prohibited.
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.
How much time is required to install the surface?
Installation times vary greatly among various products. The difficulty
of installation should also be considered. If the surface requires
extensive staff time, it may not be cost effective in the long
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 is the tactual function of the surface?
Tactual function includes things such as how rough a surface is,
how slippery the surface is and what the comfort level is for
the use of the surface. Is the surface comfortable to roll a wheeled
device across, walk across with sandals, barefoot, or with wet
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?
Is this surface aesthetically pleasing? Accessibility
should not detract attention from the natural setting. For example,
the color of the surface can be a color that blends with the sand
and looks natural.
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
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.
|An NCA participant tries out a beach wheelchair
Designing facilities, including beaches, that are accessible can
increase visitation by people with disabilities. Marketing accessible
programs and features can ensure increased use by people with disabilities,
their families and friends. Including accessibility features in
brochures, program guides and other marketing materials is also
a great opportunity to attract new visitors. Visiting beaches is
one of the most popular vacation activities. Families and friends
flock during spring break and other vacation times to have some
fun in the sun. Providing access to beaches enables people with
disabilities and their friends and family to enjoy a time honored
Products & Resources
*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
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
Landeez All-Terrain Wheelchair
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
Surf Chair Beach Wheels
73 Uhl Path
Palm Coast, FL 32164
National Center on Accessibility
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)