Diverse Beaches

The Metropolitan Beaches Commission and Save the Harbor/Save the Bay convened a Virtual Public Hearing focused on improving access for people with disabilities on the Commonwealth’s public beaches in Lynn, Nahant, Revere, Winthrop, East Boston, South Boston, Dorchester, Quincy and Hull.

“The legislative and the community members of the Commission hope that this hearing will help us better understand the challenges facing people with disabilities on the metropolitan beaches,” said Chris Mancini, Executive Director of Save the Harbor/ Save the Bay as the hearing began. “We are looking forward to working together with DCR – and all of you here today – to develop strategies to improve access to these spectacular urban natural resources for everyone.”

Among those who testified at the virtual public hearing, which was Co-Chaired by Sen. Brendan Crighton of Lynn and Rep. Adrian Madaro of East Boston, were Stephanie Cooper, Acting Commissioner of the Department of Conservation and Recreation, Andrea Gayle-Bennett of Lynn, Third Junior Vice Commander of the Disabled American Veterans Department of Massachusetts, Kristen McCosh, Commissioner of the Boston Disabilities Commission, and Chris Mancini, Executive Director of Save the Harbor/Save the Bay.

“For those of you who don’t know me, I’d like to let you know that I use a power wheelchair due to a disability I acquired as a teenager,” said Boston’s Disabilities Commissioner Kristen McCosh, who leads the city’s overall effort to ensure accessibility and inclusion for persons with disabilities. “But we don’t all only strive for meeting bare minimum requirements. We strive for ideal accessibility, which really goes from accessibility to inclusion.” According to McCosh, though there are still challenges to overcome, “we do have the political will and great staff and our city agencies and our state partners. The ADA was signed into law over 30 years ago. How can we go to the next step and really make sure that people with disabilities are included in every aspect of life?”

According to Acting DCR Commissioner Cooper, the pandemic “has taught us what we knew in our hearts: The critical importance of getting outdoors for our collective physical, mental and spiritual health.” She underscored the Baker-Polito Administration’s commitment to equity and inclusion, and pointed out that “DCR’s Universal Access provides adaptive programming and equipment at our pools, skating rinks, beaches, of course, lakes and ponds. The idea is that everybody of all abilities can participate and enjoy themselves at our properties.”

The Commission also heard from experts and advocates serving people with disabilities, including Tom McCarthy, Director of DCR’s Universal Access Program. Coleman Nee, ​​CEO of Triangle Inc., Kathy Lafferty, Executive Director of the South Boston Neighborhood House, Alex DeFronzo, Executive Director of the Piers Park Sailing Center in East Boston, Ellice Patterson, Executive Director of Abilities Dance Boston, and Andrea Gayle-Bennett, Third Junior Vice Commander of the Disabled American Veterans Department of Massachusetts.

Coleman Nee, ​​CEO of Triangle Inc. who has hosted “Beach:Ability” at Constitution Beach in East Boston as part of Save the Harbor/Save the Bay’s Better Beaches program partnership with DCR thanked the Commission and Save the Harbor/Savethe Bay for their leadership on this issue. “I cannot stress enough the positive impact on mental health and spirits of those who attended Beach: Ability…our program participants love the beach and they love the ocean,” said Nee. “In truth, these beaches are public assets and they shouldn’t only be available to the disability community during an event once a year, they should be available all the time. We need additional investments, we need more walkways and ramps, we need proper equipment, we need mobi-mats, we need floating wheelchairs at every beach, and we need all bathrooms and snack stands to be ADA compliant.”

Ellice Patterson, Executive Director, Abilities Dance Boston said building cultural understanding is “just as important as the physical access and the equipment to enjoy these beaches. Diverse and disabled beachgoers shouldn’t have to fight to explain themselves. We should be able to participate in these spaces like everyone else.”

Kathy Lafferty, Executive Director of the South Boston Neighborhood House agreed, saying “When we offer a program on the beach, we want everyone to be able to participate. That means getting on the sand, near or in the water, and not just on the pavilion to watch. We are in this conversation because we want to be a part of the solution”

Andrea Gayle-Bennett of Lynn, Third Junior Vice Commander of the Disabled American Veterans Department of Massachusetts, said that when accessibility to the beach is limited for those with physical disabilities, “It turns them into spectators instead of participants.”

“No one should ever be prevented from sitting on a public beach on a summer day, hearing the crash of the waves or the call of hungry seagulls, especially not because of a disability, much less someone who incurred that disability in service to our country,” Gayle-Bennett said. “Public beaches should be for everyone to enjoy.”

As the hearing drew to a close, MBC Co-Chair Sen Brendan Crighton of Lynn thanked Save the Harbor/Save the Bay and the dozens of community members who took part in the hearing, saying “The powerful testimony we heard today will help shape necessary improvements on the Commonwealth’s public beaches to ensure that these resources are always accessible for all.”

MBC Co-Chair Adrian Madaro shared that sentiment. “Our state beaches are public treasures that belong to all of us,” said Madaro. “We need to advance environmental justice and center diversity, equity, and inclusion so that people of all backgrounds, conditions, and abilities can enjoy them for years to come.”

The Metropolitan Beaches Commission welcomes public participation and will gladly accept written testimony from all interested parties. Please email your comments to [email protected] harbor.org.

The Metropolitan Beaches Commission is a permanent Commission charged with making findings and recommendations to the Legislature and the Department of Conservation & Recreation (DCR) on ways to improve the metropolitan region’s public beaches. It was established by the Massachusetts Legislature in 2006 and is led and managed by Save the Harbor/Save the Bay.  You can find more information about the MBC on Save the Harbor/Save the Bay’s website, and download copies of our previous reports at https://www.savetheharbor.org/mbc-archives.

Late last spring the Commission decided to focus attention on ways to increase diversity, equity and inclusion on the Metropolitan Region’s public beaches, to improve access for people of color, people with disabilities, and people who may not speak English as their primary language.  In May, we heard from a diverse group of civic leaders and community members about ways in which we could increase diversity on the beaches and in our beach programming.

After the November 30th hearing on improving access for people with disabilities, in January of 2022 the MBC will hold a hearing on language barriers that affect public safety and enjoyment on our region’s public beaches.

Following that hearing, the Commission will host a Virtual Summit, at which they will present their preliminary findings to a broad and diverse audience of beach users to get their thoughts and input. Following the Summit, the Commission will share a report of their findings and recommendations with the Legislature, the Administration, DCR and the public.  It will serve as a roadmap for improving access and increasing diversity, equity and inclusion on our public beaches going forward.

You can find out more about the Metropolitan Beaches Commission and download copies of prior reports at https://www.savetheharbor.org/.

Source : https://winthroptranscript.com/2021/12/09/metro-beaches-commission-and-advocates-call-for-better-beach-access-for-people-with-disabilities/

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