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Gary Robb

Richard Doty
Media Relations

Last modified: Friday, March 14, 2003

Improved beach access for people with disabilities studied at IUB

It's virtually impossible for people who use wheelchairs and other mobility devices to enjoy the full benefits of a beach experience, but the National Center on Accessibility at Indiana University Bloomington is working to remedy this situation that affects millions of Americans.

NCA Director Gary Robb recently directed a study of adults in Florida using various types of devices to move people across the beach surface.

"Most typical wheelchairs are impossible to use on sand, so people with disabilities are unable to enjoy the beach," Robb explained. "We had about 40 men and women who use wheelchairs test five different wheeled devices designed to traverse beach sand to evaluate their usability. We are now compiling the data and hope to report our findings in two to three months to government agencies, people with disabilities, and others interested in an independent analysis of this equipment."

The report will cover only participant input and recommendations. No ratings of the devices or purchase recommendations will be made, he said.

Robb said factors being reviewed include the comfort and safety of the devices, along with their appearance, ease of operation and independence of use. He estimated the cost of these devices at between $1,000 and $2,000 each when manually operated. Powered devices cost considerably more. "These costs would make purchase by the general public prohibitive, but not necessarily for government and private beach agencies that could purchase them as a public service and recover their costs through rental fees," he said.

He estimated there are 2 million people in the United States who use wheelchairs, so the survey findings will interest a large group of people. "The development of these accessible beach devices will obviously help those with disabilities," he explained, "but it also will help the elderly who have difficulty walking across a sandy surface because of the infirmities of aging." He said more than 6 million Americans use mobility devices such as walkers, canes or crutches. In addition, some 25 million people have difficulty walking a quarter of a mile or climbing a flight of 10 stairs, and most of these are either elderly, disabled or both, he said.

Robb said NCA first studied this topic soon after the Americans with Disabilities Act was passed in 1990. Many of those devices are no longer in existence, he said, and the newer models reflect significant improvements.

Two years ago the NCA conducted a study on the use of "temporary beach mats" as a way for people to traverse sand while remaining with their individual mobility device (wheelchair, cane, crutches or walker). A summary of that report is available on the NCA Web site at

NCA is a cooperative program between IU and the National Park Service that was created in 1992 and is committed to full participation in parks, recreation and tourism by people with disabilities. The center is a unit of the Department of Recreation and Park Administration in the IU School of Health, Physical Education and Recreation.

NCA provides technical assistance to organizations, conducts research on accessibility issues, and presents educational courses throughout the United States. NCA has helped develop national accessibility guidelines for swimming pools, trails, beaches, golf and other recreation environments.

For more information, contact Robb at 812-866-4422 or