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Everything You Need to Know About Beach Wheelchairs

With these tips, a day at the beach is both easy and accessible.

Wheelchair users traveling to coastal destinations can be surprised by beaches labeled as accessible. The reality might be a deck overlooking a beach area, or an access mat stretched onto the sand to allow a compact surface to roll a chair. Frequently, that mat doesn’t reach the ocean’s main area, where most people gather to enjoy the sun. The sand area between the usable portion of the beach and a mat walkway is usually too loose to push any sort of wheeled item, much less a wheelchair.

There’s a solution. Many locations have specialized beach wheelchairs to borrow or rent, making that loose beach sand become less of a barrier. These chairs have giant balloon tires that rest on top of the sand rather than dig in like the narrow, harder tires of a traditional wheelchair. In fact, they can be taken right into the water, much more preferable than getting salt and sand in an expensive custom chair.

However, there are limitations. There are usually just a few chairs available at a particular beach, and the hours a person can borrow them are limited to the time employees are working. Some chairs will be free, and others will require a deposit and rental fees. Also, most beach wheelchairs are made to be pushed by others, not the wheelchair user. Still, a beach wheelchair can make a difference in whether everyone participates in beach activities or not.

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As travelers are finding for all aspects of tourism, making arrangements before the trip is key to getting their needs met. For beach wheelchairs, this is the rule and not the exception. Follow these tips to find accessible equipment at your chosen beach for the best chances to get what you need.

Always Start With An Online Search

Not all beaches have beach wheelchairs to borrow, but many do, thanks to grants and government funding. The best place to start is the internet, as accessibility information is becoming more widespread. For example, Amelia Island, Florida, has a website devoted to accessibility in their area and another that deals just with beach access and mobility information. That site lists the number of chairs available, the rental information, cost, and location to pick up the equipment. As a bonus for this area, each beach wheelchair can be rented for a week and reserved up to a year in advance.

Related: How to Explore San Francisco With Wheelchairs and Strollers

Check With the Locals

“One of the biggest barriers that travelers face when trying to plan an accessible holiday is that there is currently no standardization of accessibility information across the travel industry.”

If you’re having trouble finding information online, check with local agencies to find out where the beach wheelchairs are located. Start with the lifeguards, fire department, city hall, or police department. If you still need information, try the visitor’s center for your location. The ranger station will have information on possible beach wheelchairs if the beach is within a state park. Any of these options should yield a full picture of accessibility for your trip.

The Outer Banks is a good example of the types of places you find beach wheelchairs. This list of locations names ocean and surf rescue, fire departments, and visitor’s centers that have chairs to borrow.

Other private rental options might be available in the area as well. “A local business that focuses exclusively on accessibility for our guests is OBX Mobility. They do charge a rental fee but deliver for free,” Katie Stone of the Outer Banks Visitors Bureau explained.

Have Personal Identification to Rent a Beach Wheelchair

While many beach wheelchairs are offered for free, most require the person checking them out to have a form of identification.

“In Mission Beach, we rent power beach wheelchairs. The process to rent one of these powerchairs is to fill out a waiver and provide a driver’s license or identification for us to hold until the powerchair is returned. Patrons are allowed to rent it out for one hour but are allowed to rent it out for a longer period of time if there if no other patron is waiting for it. This is completely free of charge,” says Gerald Cunanan, CTRS, Supervising Therapeutic Recreation Specialist with the City of San Diego.

This program is unusual, as most beaches don’t have expensive powerchairs available. It’s a great solution for wheelchair users looking for independence with their beach activities. These chairs can’t get wet, so if you’re looking to be in the water, Ocean Beach, Pacific Beach, La Jolla Shores, and also Mission Beach have the manually pushed chairs available.

Know About the Fees

Some locations, like Tybee Island, Georgia, try to avoid fees in case the financial obligation is also a barrier to access the beach. They offer wheelchairs for rent year-round, though the organization that handles the paperwork may change seasonally. A visitor’s best bet is to call Tybee City Hall (912) 786-4573 for the most current information. The beach wheelchairs for this location are totally free; the only requirement is identification.

Other places have small rental fees required to obtain equipment. More often, wheelchair users might be asked to make a deposit in case the beach wheelchair is damaged. While they look simple and are less expensive than a traditional wheelchair, beach wheelchairs typically cost over $1000. Replacing broken parts and pieces is frequently the user’s responsibility.

Getting Beach Wheelchairs Abroad

While the internet is rapidly getting up-to-date on accessible information domestically, details can still be spotty for international destinations. Your best bet is to find a specialty travel agent or tour operator focusing on accessibility.

Ewan Cluckie, Founder of Tripseed, recognized the need for more accessible travel opportunities. “One of the biggest barriers that travelers face when trying to plan an accessible holiday is that there is currently no standardization of accessibility information across the travel industry. Many destinations face a lack of information altogether. Working with a travel agent or tour operator ensures travelers get timely and accurate information, specifically about their own individual needs.”

His company created accessible travel itineraries for Thailand, sold directly to consumers. In Bangkok, we have launched fully electric, accessible Tuk Tuks allowing travelers with mobility support requirements and wheelchair-users to experience the same thrilling city tours and explorations that are very popular with other travelers for the first time. In the south, we are working with a Dive Master, fully certified by Disabled Divers International, to offer snorkeling and diving experiences. These are just a few of our favorite examples, but there are many more possibilities, depending on a traveler’s preferences,” Cluckie said.

The company is currently working on leisure beach trips to complement its other Thailand offerings.

With so many personal variables for accessible travel, the more information a wheelchair user can learn heading to a destination, the better. Planning for access to a beach wheelchair is key to getting on the sand without investing in your own equipment.