Mobility mats that have been installed at four beaches in Long Beach this summer and make the ocean more accessible to the elderly and the disabled are being considered for the eight beaches in Atlantic Beach, according to State Assemblywoman Melissa Miller (R-Atlantic Beach).
On Tuesday, Miller will join Atlantic Beach Mayor George Pappas and other elected officials to roll out the new mobility mats purchased by the village to expand accessibility on its beaches.
The mats lay flat on the sand and make it easier for those who are using wheelchairs, walkers, strollers, or other mobility devices to get to the shoreline. These mats are currently used to comply with the federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
“It’s important to recognize Mayor Pappas and everyone who has supported this measure. Accessibility to the beaches has been a struggle for so many. My son, Oliver, and others with disabilities deserve to be able to get down to the ocean.. I want to wholeheartedly thank the Village of Atlantic Beach for doing the right thing by providing these mobility mats to expand accessibility and complying fully with the ADA laws,” said Miller.
The blue, non-slip, roll-up surfaces that are intended to help beachgoers navigate the sand, called Mobi-Mats, are located at Tennessee Avenue and Edwards, Neptune and Long Beach boulevards this year, according to the city. Jones Beach and Rockaway use them as well.
But many residents have voiced concerns about the mats on social media, saying that they aren’t available on enough beaches and don’t extend close enough to the water.
After hearing residents’ complaints, Miller — who has a disabled son — and Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan announced legislation that would require all state beaches to provide Mobi-Mat beach access all the way down to the high tide line, unless there is a physical barrier.
The legislation, Miller said, would ensure that the state better complies with federal Americans with Disabilities Act guidelines and regulations.
“As a mother and an advocate of a child with developmental disabilities, I know firsthand how frustrating the lack of accessibility is across New York,” Miller said.
“As a Long Islander, the frustration is ten-fold, because my family loves to go to the beach — it’s a part of our way of life,” Miller said. “For the past several months I’ve been fighting to provide full access to the high tide waterline for the disabled and elderly population. It is not enough to simply provide the legal minimum access. We wind up with this answer of ‘We’re providing the legal minimum,’ Why is it enough to do the minimum? That’s making a statement to a population of people.”
The city’s ADA compliance officer, Greg Kalnitsky, maintains that the mats comply with ADA regulations. “We’re in compliance by giving people access to the beach,” he said. “From there, the beaches are naturally inaccessible.”
City officials maintained that the mats were planned before the outcry from residents last year, and said that the mats “will be extended to, or in the vicinity of, the surf line of the beach.” In the past, mats did not extend that far.
But residents said that their placement was inconsistent or that they were missing altogether, and this summer marked the second year that the mats have generated controversy.
“The Mobi-Mats are not used correctly,” said Long Beach resident Adam Gordon, who uses a wheelchair. “Last year they moved from beach to beach, and we never knew where they were.”
The city claimed last year that some mats were removed because they were damaged. A 50-foot mat costs $2,800 to $3,500, city officials said. The city also offers, on request, special all-terrain wheelchairs that can be used to transport disabled or elderly people closer to the shoreline.
“If they had a section of the beach that had Mobi-Mats leading to another mat like the one they used at Flex on the Beach, people with disabilities like me in a wheelchair would buy [beach] passes,” said Gordon, referring to an annual fitness event in town. “It makes no sense for me to buy a pass, because I have to call the lifeguard in advance for a beach chair — it’s ridiculous.”