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ONTARIO: A North Bay beach is going to be wheelchair accessible this summer

'It means a lot of my friends are now going to be able to access our downtown lake, dip their toes in the water and enjoy the lake like everybody else' says Linda Thomas-Ouellette

NORTH BAY - Every summer, people with mobility issues and parents with strollers struggle to push through the sand to get to the water’s edge at the North Bay waterfront.  

A person using a wheelchair often can’t go beyond the sidewalk.

This summer will be different, now that the city is moving forward with the purchase of a beach access mat.

See: Disabled ramps at city beaches?

“There is a number of suppliers, so we’re going to be putting out an RFQ (request for quote) to purchase a mat that can go from the boardwalk area to the edge of the water at Marathon Beach. These mats are about six feet wide, and they’re made from a woven structure that lets some of the sand through. Typically, they are blue with white stripes,” explained parks manager David Schroeder.

The cost to provide accessibility to the waterfront is between $5,000 and $10,000.

“The mat will go down for the season and will have long spikes put into the sand and will come up at the end of the season, and then be put out the following spring. It is going to be wonderful,” said Schroeder.

Brian Bibeault, chair of MAAC, Municipal Accessibility Advisory Committee says his organization has been requesting a mat for waterfront access for the past three or four years.

“One of our members who passed away a couple of years ago, Adam Miller was in a wheelchair, and he was advocating for a beach access mat. Unfortunately, other priorities came up for the city, but it stayed on the MAAC agenda. Finally, we have another member, Linda Thomas-Ouellette who was advocating for this mat, and we got confirmation from the city that one will be installed in June,” said Bibeault.

“The beach access mat is technically tightly weaved mesh that is installed on the sand and will give support for a wheelchair, or people with strollers. At the present time, they must leave the stroller up by the sidewalk and carry the baby down. Now they will be able to wheel all the way down. I’m blind so it will be sort of a marker for me to get to the water, wherein the past I would need direction. And it is good for seniors too who need extra support.”

Last summer while bringing her grandchildren to a beach in Cobourg, Linda Thomas-Ouellette witnessed the benefits of having an access mat and began to research how North Bay could get one.

Thomas-Ouellette a member of PADD, Parents of Adults with Developmental Disabilities and MAAC, is ecstatic that something so simple, will positively impact the lives of both young and old in the community.

” I thought about how to make this happen because I really wanted it for our community. So, I created a petition to ask the city to purchase the access mat. I also approached different agencies and organizations that support folks with disabilities to get letters of support.”

While her adult son Christopher can walk and run a little, walking on the beach has its challenges.

“Christopher can walk but he has some mobility issues. Part of it is balance, problems with stability. A mat would make him more secure going down the beach,” said Thomas-Ouellette.

“It also means a lot of my friends are now going to be able to access our downtown lake, dip their toes in the water and enjoy the water like everybody else. It is almost impossible to wheel a chair down to the water’s edge without a pathway. So, the access mat is going to give that to our folks. People at my workplace who are using walkers haven’t been able to get down to the beach safely.”

She says it will bring enjoyment to people who are often left behind.

“For a person with a wheelchair, for the present time, they have to sit by the walkway and be carried if they want to go to the water. Whereas now, they’ll be able to wheel right to the water’s edge and possibly some of them will be able to get out of their chair and into the water.”

The city will use this summer as a pilot to determine if more mats are needed at various beaches throughout the city.

City Councillor Scott Robertson who sits on MAAC is pleased to see the project move forward.

“There’s a big segment of our community who have physical barriers who aren’t able to enjoy the waterfront like most of our neighbours and friends,” said Robertson.

“A lot of people think of it as a mat for wheelchair access, and it is certainly that, but it is a lot more. Even someone who has problems with their hips who may not be able to walk on the sand will benefit. This will give them access to the beach where they can enjoy the waterfront.

“We’ll be looking to see how it works out. We’ll be wanting feedback from MAAC and people who use it, and determine if there should be another location, and where that other location should be. So, we’ll consider all those things.”

Schroeder wants to get the mat installed when the lifeguards are back for the season, so while it is new, people are on site keeping an eye on things.

- BayToday