Many U.S. Beaches are Accessible to Wheelchair Users
It is possible to visit the beach if you have a mobility impairment.
Years ago it may have seemed that sand, water and wheelchairs didn’t mix. But thanks to the Americans with Disabilities Act, which is marking its 25th anniversary in 2015, and improvements in adaptable equipment, it is possible to visit – and enjoy – the beach if you have a mobility impairment. Most public beaches have accessible points and offer amenities such as rubber mats that make it easier to wheel right to the water’s edge. Many beaches also have beach wheelchairs with wide plastic tires that can navigate the sand. These chairs are often available for loan at no charge. Shepherd Center experts and former patients compiled this list of some of America’s wheelchair-accessible beaches.
The California coastline stretches 840 miles, and the beaches along the coast are plentiful. Most of the public beaches lend beach wheelchairs free of charge, usually from a lifeguard or the entrance kiosk at a beach. Some may be reserved ahead of time, while others are available on a first-come, first-served basis. Call ahead for availability. For a complete list, check out this link: www.coastal.ca.gov/access/beach-wheelchairs.html. You can click on the map for a specific beach, or choose “text only” for a complete listing.
If you’re headed to the Los Angeles area, download “A Wheelchair Rider’s Guide to Los Angeles and the Orange County Coast” (www.scc.ca.gov/webmaster/ftp/pdf/pub/la_oc_wheel_guidebook.pdf). The comprehensive guide lists every public beach in the area, complete with information on each location and maps to wheelchair-accessible areas at each beach or public park.
Edisto Island, S.C.
General information: www.edistobeach.comSix public access points for Edisto Island Beach are wheelchair accessible, and the fire department has beach wheelchairs available at no charge. Call 843-869-2505, ext. 217, or visit the fire station to make arrangements.
Emerald Coast, Fla.
Includes Destin, Ft. Walton Beach and Okaloosa IslandGeneral information: www.emeraldcoastfl.comPark and beach information: www.destin-ation.com/parksandtrails.htm#wcBeach wheelchairs are available at most public beaches. Call the office of Public Beach Safety for more information at 850-259-4131. In addition, beach wheelchairs are available without charge on a first-come, first-served basis for use at all county parks on Okaloosa Island. On weekdays from 8 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., call the parks office at 850-689-5772. On Saturdays, Sundays or holidays, call the park ranger at 850-546-0342.
Fort Myers/Sanibel Island, Fla.
General information: www.fortmyers-sanibel.com/see-do/beaches-parks-and-nature/The Sanibel Island Police Department (239-472-3111) will make arrangements to have a beach wheelchair available at any of their beach locations. The Lee County Parks and Recreation Department, which oversees the public beaches in Fort Myers, does not provide beach wheelchairs, but can advise visitors on where to find them. Call 239-533-7275.
Hilton Head, S.C.
General information: www.hiltonheadisland.orgA number of Hilton Head’s beaches are equipped with mats that make them wheelchair accessible. A complete listing of those beaches as well as companies that rent wheelchairs is available at www.hiltonheadisland.org/see-and-do/beaches.
Myrtle Beach, S.C.
General information: www.cityofmyrtlebeach.com or www.visitmyrtlebeach.comAccessibility information: www.cityofmyrtlebeach.com/handicapped.htmlMyrtle Beach has 42 public beach access points (street ends, parks and other access points) that are accessible in varying degrees to people with physical disabilities. The website (listed above) gives a complete list of those public locations. Myrtle Beach has 14 beach-going wheelchairs available for use at no cost on a first-come, first-served basis. From April 15 through Sept. 15, ask at the nearest lifeguard stand, and a chair will be brought to that location. Chairs typically are available in one-hour increments during the summer because of demand. From Sept. 15 to April 15, call 843-918-1382 to arrange for use of a chair for up to one week. The chair will be brought to your residence or hotel lobby during the fall and winter months. Use of the chairs is free, but a photo ID is required.
Outer Banks, N.C.
Includes Duck, Kill Devil Hills, Kitty Hawk, Nags Head, and the beaches at Roanoke and Hatteras islandsGeneral information: www.outerbanks.orgAccessibility information: www.outerbanks.org/outerbanks-handicap-accessibility/Fire departments loan out beach wheelchairs on a first-come, first-served basis. This website lists all the fire departments in the area. It also has a list of state parks that are wheelchair accessible.
Tybee Island, Ga.
General information: www.tybeevisit.comThere are mobi-mats for beach/water access in seven locations along the four miles of beach at Tybee Island, as well as many other wheelchair-accessible locations along the beach. During the summer months, beach wheelchairs are available for no charge at the lifeguard station and from city hall during the off-season. To get a list of accessible locations, call the Tybee Island Visitor’s Center at 912-786-5444 (toll-free is 800-868-2322), or stop by city hall.
For Shepherd Center's tips on planning a wheelchair-accessible beach vacation, click here.
Written by Sara Baxter
Photography by Steve Jessmore
Shepherd Center, located in Atlanta, Georgia, is a private, not-for-profit hospital specializing in medical treatment, research and rehabilitation for people with spinal cord injury, brain injury, multiple sclerosis, spine and chronic pain, and other neuromuscular conditions. Founded in 1975, Shepherd Center is ranked by U.S. News & World Report among the top 10 rehabilitation hospitals in the nation. In its more than four decades, Shepherd Center has grown from a six-bed rehabilitation unit to a world-renowned, 152-bed hospital that treats more than 935 inpatients, 541 day program patients and more than 7,300 outpatients each year.