by Chrissy Jones
With 3375 miles of coastline, some of North Carolina’s finest towns are built along beaches. Living at the edge of the country provides a sense of pride, as residents remember their ancestral origins as sailors and explorers. However, for one group in society, beaches can pose a problem. Wheelchair users or those with low mobility may struggle to navigate the sand and uneven terrain, meaning that they are at risk of being pushed aside and forgotten about. As loyal citizens and patriots, we need to build communities that are accessible to everyone who shares our values.
Accessibility Problems for Beachside Residents
Wheelchairs and other mobility equipment require a solid surface. Seaside towns tend to have long stretches of beach, which make it difficult for wheeled transport. Homes built in these areas may not be easily accessed. For those with limited mobility who have friends or families in coastal towns, or would like to live there themselves, it can be easy to feel cut off from beachside communities.
Due to their proximity to the sea, homes also tend to be raised from the ground. This is essential to prevent flooding, but it usually means installing steps that cannot easily be climbed. Unlike houses built inland, where homes are on ground level, houses built in an area where ground can become saturated need to be placed on a platform. More needs to be done to ensure that protection from flooding doesn’t lead to neglecting the needs of people with disabilities.
In an effort to improve accessibility, solid concrete floors are being installed in towns such as Wrightsville Beach and Nags Head. However, progress is slow. Local residents are concerned that adding paving will spoil the natural and picturesque image of their towns. An alternative could be the use of wooden pathways, which maintain a natural aesthetic. These must be laid carefully, though, ensuring that they are smooth and level. They must then be properly waterproofed to protect against the sea and unpredictable weather of coastal locations.
Levelling the Ground
Preventing erosion and flooding often involves building a wall of rock along the coastline, upon which homes must be built. Although the intentions are good, this can disadvantage those with disabilities. In order to improve access to buildings, any raised platform should have a steady ramp, which protects the land from erosion while allowing entrance for all. Railings can be easily installed to make the climb easier, while a longer, but less sleep pathway can be easily navigated by anyone in an electric mobility vehicle. When this is not possible, then a wheelchair elevator is essential. This won’t cause any harm to the natural environment, but could improve accessibility to housing enormously.
North Carolina has always been a state that was welcoming to all. Its beachside towns are popular as a place to live as well as a vacation destination. However, we need to work harder to improve the accessibility of homes and businesses by improving pathways and levelling entryways.