SARASOTA, Fla. (WWSB) - Our beaches are one of the main attractions of the Suncoast, but it’s not always easy for some people to get out on the sand and into the water.
There are signs that are letting beach-goers know there are handicap-accessible ramps that lead to the beach, but the problem is that most people can only get to the end of the ramp where the sand is, and then they get stuck. “Things that you take for granted, I wish for every day," Cody Bowman, a local wheelchair user said. "They say we live in paradise, but to me paradise is not inclusive.”
Bowman has Spina Bifida and has been in a wheelchair her whole life. Even though she hasn’t let her disability stop her from getting a degree and living independently, she says there’s a limit to what she can control. “I can go to the beach, but getting on the beach is a different story," Bowman said.
Many other say the exact same thing. “Ever since my son was born in 2010, he’s never been to the beach because there’s no access cause I walk with a cane and I’m a single father," Ron Lehner, a Venice resident. “When I try walking on the beach, the cane sinks in the sand and I can’t go anywhere.”
Ron Lehner started a petition back in 2015 to have Sarasota County add accessibility to all the beaches. The petition got more than 80,000 signatures. Since then, a mobi-mat was installed at Siesta Key that allows those in wheelchairs or walkers to have a smooth path towards the water which was at first seen as hope for many.
“But they only go 450 feet out on to the sand, and then they stop,” Bowman said. “I was forced to crawl the rest of the way to the water. That defeats the purpose.”
The reason being that FWC has regulations in place to protect the sea turtles. The county has also purchased ten sand wheelchairs, and has disturbed them throughout the beaches. “But another big issue is that these wheelchairs need two people to be operated, so no disabled person can come to the beach alone," Bowman said.
While residents do say they appreciate what they county has done so far, they are still not given the full access that they need. “I’m looking to move back home to Delaware because I know the beaches over there have them," Lehner said. "Why doesn’t Florida? There are beaches everywhere here. They should be able to accommodate the disabled.”
Sarasota County says they are purchasing more sand wheelchairs for South County beaches, but there’s no word on if they will be adding mats to beaches other than Siesta Key.