Going beyond the beach

Access AsburyWhile the beach represents fun in the sun for most families, it has historically been a place full of challenges for wheelchair users. The sand makes it difficult, if not impossible, for both motor and manual wheelchairs to move; exposure to the sun can be life-threatening as many individuals living with spinal cord injury are unable to regulate their temperature; older businesses and venues keep wheelchair users from being active patrons and guests.

Despite very real obstacles, many families impacted by paralysis rightfully want to spend time together at the beach and live without limits.

Therein lies the mission of Access Asbury, to promote greater inclusion by elevating the needs of the paralysis community and transforming Asbury Park into the gold standard for accessibility that can be scaled across cities and communities nationwide.

One of the greatest challenges that individuals living with paralysis face are the physical and social barriers that impede their ability to enjoy active lives within their communities. The Leadership Conference on Civil Rights reported that nearly two million people with disabilities in the U.S. never leave their homes. Unfortunately, the world is not flat and most cities approach accessibility as an afterthought or barely meet the legal requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which is not comprehensive enough for the nuanced needs and realities of the 5.4 million Americans living with paralysis.

The Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation has seen firsthand how individuals living with paralysis feel empowered and engaged when communities remove barriers and promote a more inclusive society. However, many city planners and business owners lack expertise when integrating an accessible design and make decisions without consulting their most vulnerable and unserved constituents.

Why Asbury Park?

Asbury Park is a landmark city within the state of New Jersey. Its rich history combined with its progressive growth and diversity makes it a special destination. The thriving business community and tourist industry provides a perfect blend of a city that both serves the needs of its residents, while catering to its visitors all year round.

By working to achieve greater accessibility, we will empower residents and visitors who are living with paralysis to explore Asbury Park with their families and friends. In addition to addressing current beach accessibility and inclusive design for businesses, the Reeve Foundation will share standards and best practices gleaned from this project for contractors and planners to reference in the future.

Access Asbury will also educate the Asbury community, especially business owners, on the economic value of improving accessibility. By eliminating barriers on the beach, boardwalk, and surrounding area, the city will not only become a model for inclusion, but it will also support an economic argument for universal design. From our work in Asbury Park, we hope to shift the thinking that accessibility is defined by a few modifications, and promote the benefits of an accessibility-first perspective so that more cities and municipalities follow suit.

Live without limits

Access represents freedom for individuals living with paralysis, but it is a word that is interpreted very differently from city-to-city and business-to-business. Despite the federally-mandated protections enshrined in the ADA, many facilities integrate the bare minimum or simply fail to comply with the standards. This creates a world of barriers and obstacles for the millions of Americans living with mobility impairment and the beach is no exception.

Imagine going on vacation or living a few blocks from the beach and never being able to venture there with family and friends. Unfortunately, this is the reality for most Americans living with paralysis who face insurmountable obstacles when trying to enjoy something so simple as a trip to the beach. Few communities have the resources and knowledge on what it takes to ameliorate these challenges. We have heard directly from families who have attempted to travel to the beach, but were thwarted by a lack of adaptive equipment, beach mats, or accessible restaurants. Many of them could get into their hotel room, but they could not access their bathroom due to the door not being wide enough for their wheelchair.

While this project will focus on improving accessibility in Asbury Park, it will also serve as a model that can be scaled nationwide addressing both the social and economic benefits. By offering a blueprint for an accessible community, city planners and officials will have a reference to integrate an inclusive design from the get-go and avoid unnecessary (and costly) retrofitting to satisfy the basic and deserved rights of individuals living paralysis. They will also have data on how transforming Asbury Park into a model accessible city has directly enhanced tourism, community engagement, and overall inclusion.

More importantly, Access Asbury will act as a springboard to elevate the voices and needs of the paralysis community so they feel connected and engaged within the community, as well as part of the planning to promote improved accessibility.

Get Involved

We are currently working with a steering committee comprised of city and business leaders who are committed to improving inclusion for individuals living with paralysis from the beach to the boardwalk and beyond.

There are a number of opportunities for corporations, local partners, community leaders and volunteers to get involved by helping us break down physical barriers and expand our vision for Asbury Park. Over the next year, you will see the Reeve Foundation deepen its roots in Asbury and we hope to have many more supporters join us.

The social impact of this project cannot be understated as there is currently no living blueprint for greater accessibility and inclusion. Access Asbury will tackle an unmet need that is vital to the independence of those living with paralysis and extend far beyond Asbury Park to offer a framework for other communities to follow. While we are looking to start this movement to greater inclusion in one community, there will be a groundswell of support to continue this initiative on a national level.

Access Asbury means to live without limits.