One of the most amazing inventions for wheelchair users is surprisingly one of the most low-tech. It’s the beach wheelchair, and it’s allowing people with a wide variety of physical disabilities and limitations to enjoy the sand and ocean in a way they never could before. I’m incredibly grateful that my home state of Florida has really taken the lead in providing these chairs to the public, allowing you to explore more than 30 wheelchair accessible beaches across Florida!
Some of Florida’s state parks offer free beach wheelchairs for use during your visit. Several beaches also provide free access to beach wheelchairs, including the Gulf Islands National Seashore Beach, Briggs Nature Center Beach, Honeymoon Island Beach, Sunny Isle Beach, Sandy Key Park Beach, Oxbow Eco-Center Beach, Jetty Park Beach and beaches managed by the Osceola Ranger District, Hernando County Government Center, Okaloosa County, Broward County, Charlotte County, City of Miami, the Conservancy of Naples and the Naples Parks and Recreation Department. Here is a list of accessible beaches on the Emerald Coast in the Florida panhandle.
After my last amazing experience on Siesta Key Beach back in December, I couldn’t wait to come back–specifically to spend the day out on the sand with one of the publicly available beach wheelchairs provided for free! The last time my friend Azure and I came here, we arrived too late to check out one of the chairs. However, we planned better this time!
After we arrived and parked, I transferred to my manual chair since I wasn’t sure what I would need to do with it after I transferred into the beach wheelchair. We went to the vendor booth, where they had four of the special big-wheel chairs secured. They didn’t cost anything to check out; we just had to return it to the booth by 4:00pm.
Transferring from my manual chair to the beach chair was a little tricky. The foot rest is fixed, the chair has no wheel brakes, and the whole seat is reclined about 15 degrees. Between Azure holding me and her friend Elliott holding the chair steady, I was able to safely transfer over. The chairs are a little awkward and unwieldy on pavement, but (according to Azure), pushing me across the Gulf Coast white “sugar sand” was a piece of cake.
The three of us asked ourselves a few times if we could take the chair into the water. We never found out ourselves at the time after realizing the water temperature that day was only 62 degrees! After doing some research, I discovered that there are several different kinds of beach wheelchairs available at parks and beaches around the country. Michael Collins explained in a post for New Mobility that the variety of products manufactured for beach use can meet the needs of most anyone with a physical disability. There are even walkers available equipped with large balloon-type tires for rolling across sand and other loose surfaces. Strollers for infants, fitted with similar tires, are also available. Some vendors offer parts or kits that will convert everyday wheelchairs, strollers or walkers for use on the beach. As for the chairs’ ability to get wet, Michael wrote that some people are surprised to learn that many types of beach wheelchairs are solely for traveling over sand, and not for entering the water. It may be obvious that water would damage electronic components on the powered models, but even non-electric models are only designed to roll across the beach, not serve as boats. Those that are designed to float, such as the Mobi-chair, Sand Rider and Water Wheels, make that feature clear with photos and descriptions on their websites.
There are a few minor drawbacks to these beach wheelchairs, but they can generally be overcome. Demand for the chairs is growing, so you may have to arrive at the beach early to make sure you can get one. Some vendors allow you to reserve one the day before your beach visit, so do your research for the beach you plan to visit. Most of the chairs are designed to have someone else push them, so you will be reliant on another person to move or reposition you. Transferring may be challenging as I described above, and you may not be able to do more than wade in the shallows at the edge of the water. However, I still think these hiccups are well worth dealing with just to get out on the sand! Here’s my list of the top 5 wheelchair accessible beaches in Florida where you can use one of these awesome beach wheelchairs.
Are you ready for an accessible beach adventure? Contact me at Spin the Globe/Travel so I can help you start planning!