Beach Access for All
02/04/2007 | 0 comments
I would like to present a summary of our experience working on 'beach access for all'. I am in charge of all European countries for the marketing and sales of MOBI-MAT, a removable matting product which allows wheelchair users and people with walking difficulties to cross difficult terrain, like beaches. MOBI-MAT has joined the European Network of Accessible Tourism in order to spread the word about our product and contribute to improving access to the sea for all. Our website is at http://www.mobi-mat.com.
My work in this field over many years gives me the opportunity to judge and compare the different levels of equipment in different European countries - which is the subject of this article.
The first part of France which promoted ‘Beach Access for All’ was a beach in the South West, at the Atlantic coast near the city of Hendaye, 10 years ago. France was the first country in Europe to develop this concept thanks to the launch of a product called TIRALO, which was a special floating chair, invented and manufactured in France by a CAT (job center for people with disabilities).
At that time, our product MOBI-MAT was designed for and used by the military industry. It was invented in France and patented worldwide. When the ‘TIRALO Concept’ was developed, we were contacted by a disability association which was looking for a product that could be used for crossing the beach easily and efficiently. Traditional access routes were made of wood and these have several drawbacks: they are frequently burned for barbecues, they get broken by the weather or mis-use, the spaces between the wooden slats cause problems, and so on.
The breakthrough was that the French Government decided to give financial help to municipalities who wanted to buy this kind of equipment, also considering the beneficial impact this could have on tourism. (Around 20% of the price of this equipment is covered).
MOBI-MAT and TIRALO have since been 'friendly partners' considering that our products are complementary to each other: the first helps people to have access to the beach and the second helps them go into the water.
We met a huge success on our domestic market, and I can say there are now more than 240 beaches in France fully equipped with our product. That is why we have decided to export this concept and TIRALO, also.
In Europe we see a lot of differences in the case of access to beaches for all. For instance, in the UK there is the 1995 Disability Discrimination Act but beach access is not included in this. It has started, though. Thanks to our promotion, we sold the first TIRALO in Hastings one year ago. In Portugal, there is no specific help but there is a global budget for accessibility works in each municipality. Greece, unfortunately, is very late regarding this kind of equipment. In Cyprus, we have sold two beach access systems and during my visit one month ago I met the CTO (Cyprus Tourism Organisation) and they have confirmed their financial help to municipalities.
Lastly, it is important to remember that in any beach access project for disabled people, it is necessary to start from the car park or promenade and to go into the water. We should try to implement many more projects of this kind in Europe - perhaps with help from ENAT members and the financial support of the European Union.
ENAT Member, Makis Polis, Greece has proposed the formation of an ENAT Special Interest Group on the theme of "Access to the Sea for People with Disabilities". This "SIG" will open in September 2007. In the meantime, you can visit Makis' blog at this URL: http://access2sea4disabled.blogspot.com.