The Town of Babylon's efforts this summer to increase accessibility at its beaches has been met with an overwhelmingly positive reaction, prompting officials to consider further efforts.
"When we hear positive comments, we start to figure out how to make things even better," said Deputy Supervisor Tony Martinez.
Town officials began an initiative several years ago to provide better access at Babylon's five beaches in response to complaints about difficulty moving on the sand from residents with disabilities, Martinez said.
“When you don’t live it, you don’t understand it,” he said. “But I think it’s our jobs as representatives of the people to listen and understand, and when you listen and understand then you have to act.”
The town began in 2014 by installing rubber matting at four beaches that allows for a steadier surface over the sand for those with wheelchairs, walkers, strollers, crutches and canes. The town also acquired three wheelchairs several years ago that are specifically designed for the sand.
This summer, the town spent $34,000 on an additional 100 yards of matting at Cedar and Overlook beaches. The town also paid $22,000 for seven new beach wheelchairs, including two that can float in the water. Martinez said the town will next focus on accessibility to its parks and will evaluate further work on its beaches.
Babylon is not the first town to try to make its beaches more accessible. Twelve of Long Island’s 13 towns have beach wheelchairs, as does the city of Long Beach, and 10 towns, along with Long Beach and the city of Glen Cove, have matting. Many have had these features for several years, including Hempstead Town, which first bought wheelchairs in 1999. Use of the chairs varies among the towns, ranging from only a handful of requests this summer to daily use.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, as of 2016, 4.6 percent of Nassau County residents and 6.1 percent of Suffolk County residents under age 65 have a disability.
Marilyn Tucci , advocacy and outreach coordinator for the Suffolk Independent Living Organization, a Holtsville-based nonprofit that provides services and programs for the disabled, applauded Babylon’s recent efforts but said more needs to be done overall at Long Island beaches.
“I’m glad they focus on wheelchairs, but they need to focus on all disabilities,” said Tucci, who is blind and said she often can’t go on the sand alone because there are no ropes for guidance.
Deer Park resident Christine Antonetti, 43, called the Babylon chairs “phenomenal” and a huge help to her daughter, Catherine Sacco-Sanchez, 15, who has a congenital condition called arthrogryposis, which causes permanent muscle and joint-shortening and leaves her largely confined to a wheelchair.
Antonetti said that prior to finding out about the chairs, she, her daughter, 11-year-old son and a home health aide would only go once a year to the beach. They would have to wheel her daughter down to the end of the matting and then set up camp there, far from the water. To get to the shore, two people would have to walk the teen, with someone else dragging the wheelchair.
“It was such a production,” Antonetti said.
Not anymore. This summer, they’ve been to the beach several times. “When things are made a little bit easier like this, it gives them [disabled children] a little more courage and a sense of accomplishment,” she said of the wheelchairs. "It’s just a lot less stressful.”
Most of Long Island's towns and cities provide beach wheelchairs and matting for residents to help them navigate the sand:
Chairs and matting
City of Long Beach
North Hempstead Town
Oyster Bay Town
Shelter Island Town
City of Glen Cove
Town of Smithtown
East Hampton Town