One beach in Vancouver just got a little more accessible.
Vancouver Park Board this week rolled out the city’s first accessibility mat at English Bay. The Mobi-Mat makes it possible for people with walkers, wheelchairs and scooters to make their way down onto the beach.
Jacques Courteau, co-chair of the persons with disability advisory committee, said people with disabilities are often marginalized when it comes to outdoor activities.
“Because a lot of the areas that our friends want to go to are not accessible to us,” he said.
“In the summer, my friends want to go to the beach. I want to go to the beach, but when it’s time to go to the beach they go and I do something else because there is no way for me to get anywhere onto the beach at all.
“So what we have now is a first attempt to try to make the beach more accessible for people who have mobility disabilities,” he said. “I’ve tried it out. It works great.”
The location of the mat was also an important factor. It’s near restaurants and an accessible bathroom, as well as transit.
“I can plan my day now and be here with my friends and enjoy the sun just like everybody else. And that’s the name of the game is to make it just like everybody else, even for people with disabilities,” Corteau said. “We’re very happy to see the park board undertake all these initiatives to make sports and activities more accessible for everyone.”
Gabrielle Peters, a disability advocate who started asking the park board for the mat last summer, was able to try it out for the first time Wednesday evening.
“It was obviously meaningful to me for many reasons,” she said in an email to the Courier. “I have stared at that beach from the seawall for years. Now I was on it. I was part of the life happening on that beach. That’s not nothing.”
Peters added that she wants this to become a regular part of life.
“But I also look forward to this becoming something that is no more or less of a treat for me than it is for anyone else in Vancouver,” she said. “That is we all love our beaches and we all should be able to love going to our beaches – all of us.”
Corteau and other wheelchair users helped with the installation process.
“Yesterday we installed the mats here and we had some expert advice on how to make sure that these mats were most useful,” Donnie Rosa, director of recreation, said at the unveiling Wednesday.
“We’ll continue to work with this group and others in the community to make sure that we get it right as we go, and if we need to change things or tweak things as we go we’ll do that in collaboration with the community,” she said. “We really want to thank the community because without them providing their input this terrific service wouldn’t be here.”
She added that the park board aims to install additional mats at other locations in the coming years.
Park board chair Michael Wiebe said the Mobi-Mat is a significant addition to the board’s ongoing effort to make the city more accessible.
In addition to the mat at English Bay, the park board has two beach wheelchairs with inflatable tires that can roll on sand, and nine more are on order for the 2018 summer season. The board recently installed four new lifts in changing rooms and pools across the city, and the newly opened Southeast False Creek paddling centre includes ramps to allow paddlers with mobility challenges easy access to the boats.
The board is also working with the Disabled Sailing Association of B.C. on the renewal of the pier in Jericho Beach Park with the aim of providing an accessible floating dock for use by sailors of all ages and levels of mobility.
This story has been updated since it was originally posted.