Making PEI beaches more accessible

Wheelchairs like the one pictured here are available at four provincial parks on PEI. One is at Basin Head, another at Cabot Beach, and two here in West Prince at Jacques Cartier Provincial Park, just outside of Alberton, and Cedar Dunes Provincial Park in West Point. Because the wheelchairs have a wider wheel, they’re better able to traverse areas of terrain like beaches with ease, meaning people with mobility issues have an easier time accessing these locations.     

    Jillian Trainor photo

When those summer days are just too hot to handle, nothing beats going to the beach.

However, gaining access to the beach can sometimes be difficult, especially if a person has issues with mobility. To help with this, some provincial parks have been offering beach wheelchairs and mobility mats.

“We take them for granted, especially in the summer time,” said Kevin Porter, executive director of Community Inclusions. ”A lot of people flock to the beaches, and I think persons with disabilities, mobility (issues), if they’re in a wheelchair, scooter, or something else, they, like us, would like to be able to access the beach, so I think it’s a great idea.”

The beach wheelchairs and mobility mats were available last year at the Basin Head and Cabot Beach provincial parks, but this year another two have been added to provincial parks in West Prince. One, at Cedar Dunes Provincial Park, is available to the public right now, while work is still being done on the ramp at Jacques Cartier Provincial Park, but is expected to be completed sometime this week.

There is a possibility of having the wheelchairs at more provincial parks across the province, but that’s going to be a little tricky in some locations.

“If you look at some of the places like Chelton Beach for example, down by Gateway Village, the bank is very high for us to try to get that chair down,” said Shane Arbing, provincial parks manager. “It’s not feasible at this point, we have to figure out a solution.”

Mr Arbing said there is no sign in sheet for to use the wheelchairs, they’re on more of a first come, first served basis. He said at the end of the year there will be a debrief with all lifeguards, where they’ll give information on things like the number of those who used the wheelchairs, if someone had to wait to use it, and if there was more than one or two persons at a time looking to use them. He said there weren’t a lot of stipulations around their use because staff at the provincial parks wanted to see how people get along with them, what they think of them, and how long they might use them. The information gathered will be used to figure out how staff might want to go with any kind of policies down the road.

Mr Porter does have one suggestion concerning the wheelchairs.

“I was out at West Point last weekend when I saw one there,” he said. “The only thing that I noted is that there wasn’t any signage by it. A suggestion that I have about it is ‘See lifeguards for use of the chair,’ or something like that, just so people know.”

Mr Porter said there are a few clients at Community Inclusions who have accessibility challenges, and though none of them have used the wheelchairs yet, they would in a heartbeat. He said Community Inclusions believes in inclusion, whether it’s at the beach or other public places.

“The beaches on PEI are so celebrated, whether it’s in the summer, early fall, or late spring, people want to get down to the beaches and enjoy them,” he said. “I think people with mobility issues, or are in a chair, are no different than you or I. They want to get down to the water and see the sights and sounds, and be on the beach. Whatever you can do to make things more accessible and allow everybody to enjoy PEI at the best time is a good thing in my mind.”

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