Friday, June 12, 2015

Parks Dept. Increases Beach & Pool Access For People With Disabilities

Park workers installed a Mobi-Matt at B.73rd Street in Rockaway Beach before the beach season opened in May.  The mats are made of polyester from recycled bottles and are anchored into the sand by 20-inch heavy-duty staples made from bi-chromated steel.  The newer mats are 6 1/2’ wide versus the older mats which are 5’ wide.  (Photos: Geoffrey Croft/NYC Park Advocates) Click on images to enlarge


By Geoffrey Croft

For beach and pool goers who are mobility challenged or impaired help is coming.

Access to the city's beaches, pools and even the ocean will be dramatically increased this summer for people with disabilities, NYC Park Advocates has learned.

The Parks Department increased the number of mobi-mats by more than fifty percent. 

The popular light blue mats allow people in wheel chairs access to the beach and near the water. The mats are also popular with beach goers with strollers and coolers.

In total the city has purchased 112 new mobi-mats, 5,600 feet.  The new mats are also a foot and a half wider, going from 5 feet to 6 and a half feet wide. 

An elderly woman and her aid utilize the Mobi-Mat on Coney Island.

The city has also purchased a number of ADA beach wheelchairs which allows access on to beach and into the water itself, more than doubling the previous number of accessible wheelchairs. 

They have also purchased a number of pool lifts to replace outdated models. 

In total, 16 Hydraulic ADA Pool Lifts,16 ADA Beach Wheelchairs and 5 Pool wheelchairs were purchased.  All of the Parks Department's adult outdoor and indoor pools now have an ADA pool lift according to the agency.   

Before the new arrivals the city had 220 mats, 7 beach wheelchairs and 3 pool chairs.  

Rockaway Beach is seeing the largest increase of matts by far.  The beach,  currently undergoing a massive restoration after being battered by Hurricane Sandy, is receiving 4,200 feet of mats.  The city has also placed mats over sand berms.

Beaches:              Beach Mats Ordered:                             Beach Wheelchairs Ordered:    
Bronx:                   500’ (10- 50’ rolls)                                                          2
Brooklyn:             500’ (10- 50’ rolls                                                            6
Queens:               4,200 (84- 50’ rolls)                                                         5
Staten Island:       400’ (8-50’rolls)                                                               3
Totals:                 5,600’ Mats (112- 50’ rolls)                                           16 ADA Beach Wheelchairs
Pools:         Pool Lifts Ordered:                                              Pool Wheelchairs Ordered:
Bronx:                 3                                                                                          2
Brooklyn:            9                                                                                         2
Manhattan:         0                                                                                         0
Queens:              2                                                                                         0
Staten Island:     2                                                                                         1
Totals:                 16 Hydraulic ADA Pool Lifts                                           5 Pool Wheelchairs

Source: NYC Parks 

The pool wheelchairs - The AquaTrek Aquatic Wheel Chair is a submersible mobility aid. The chairs will be located at pools in the Queens, Bronx, Faber Pool in Staten Island and Sunset Park in Brooklyn.   

The city is spending close to a hundred and eighty-thousand dollars for the new equipment.

“NYC Parks looks forward to significantly increase accessibility at beaches and outdoor pools across the city with these new mobi-mats, beach wheelchairs and pool chairs,” the Parks Department said in a statement. 

Before installing a Mobi-Mat near the lifeguard station in Brighton Beach,  lifeguard Miguel Castro had to place his son Vencel Castro onto a stretcher. His colleagues helped transport him to the shoreline.  Vencel has Cerebral Palsy and Seizure Disorder. 

Miguel's colleagues helped carry his son Vencel to the water.

Miguel enters the surf with his son Vencel where he practices swimming.  

Miguel Castro, 57, has worked as a lifeguard for the Parks Department for the past 42 years,  for the past 21 years as Chief Lifeguard for section 3 in Brighton Beach near Coney Island.

He knows first hand the enormous challenges of providing access to the beach for people with disabilities.

His son Vencel Castro, 24, has Cerebral Palsy and Seizure Disorder. 

For years Miguel had to carry his 120 pound son, sometimes with the help of his colleagues, three hundred feet from the boardwalk to the ocean.

Last year the city finally installed a mobi-mat at Beach at  2nd Street near lifeguard station which he says made the world of difference.  

"It's vital for him.  It's made life so much easier,"  said the proud father and single dad.  

"So many people use it. It makes the beach so much more accessible not just for people with disabilities but for older people,  mothers, people with children and carriages. It's such an important thing to have."

Castro also stressed the need for land chairs which allow access to the water.

"Everywhere else you go around the country they have them."

We hope they put one over here, there are a lot of people who can use it over here," he said.

Before installing the matts the city forced parents and caregivers to drag wheelchairs through the sand. For most people that was not even an option.   (Photos: Geoffrey Croft/NYC Park Advocates) Click on images to enlarge

 The city has come a long way since it first installed the first four mobi-mats in 2007 which enabled disabled access close to the water’s edge for the first time in the city's history. 

Before the city began installing the mats parents and caregivers were forced to drag wheelchairs through the sand. For most people that was not even an option.

Disabled advocates have long complained about the lack of access to basic facilities in the park system including to the city's 14 miles of beaches.   

On June 19, 2007 several disabled people in wheelchairs accompanied by NYC Park Advocates attended a press conference announcing the pilot program at Brighten Beach. 

While acknowledging the significance of the day advocates discussed the city's terrible track record providing access and noted that a width of just 25 feet was now available after providing zero accommodations for more than a century.  (They also questioned the rational of installing a mat where the closest subway station was not ADA accessible)  

Then Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe wasted no time in embarrassing himself and the city. 

Benepe shot back when asked to comment on the criticisms telling a New York Times reporter that advocates for the disabled, “should be ashamed of themselves for complaining about this on this great day.”

"Strike that from the record,  strike that from the record,"  he ordered the reporter waving his hands dismissively.

The paper did not comply.

Read More:

New York Times - June 20, 2007 - By David K. Randall

New York Times - June 19, 2007 -  By Sewell Chan 

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