People with disabilities can get closer to the ocean more easily, frolic on playgrounds and play 18 holes of golf because of a $2 million investment to make Suffolk County recreational facilities more handicapped accessible.
Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone announced the new purchases and projects Friday — the 29th anniversary of the signing of the Americans with Disabilities Act — during a sun-soaked morning at Smith Point Beach on Fire Island.
"We have an extraordinary place here, but for far too long this hasn't been a place … that was easily accessible for people with different physical disabilities," Bellone said. "This is about opening the opportunity and accessibility to all the people in our county."
Expanding on a 2018 pilot program, the county installed seven new blue mobility mats, which stretch 75 feet on the sand at each of three county beaches: Smith Point, Cupsogue and Meschutt.
The mats, which cost $2,800 each, provide easier beach access for those who use wheelchairs, the elderly, families with strollers and beachgoers pushing overpacked carts stuffed with chairs, towels and umbrellas. Suffolk also purchased six beach wheelchairs to navigate along the sand — two of which are available at each county beach.
Frank Krotschinsky, director of Suffolk's Office for People with Disabilities, uses a wheelchair. Three decades ago, Krotschinsky said he would have been limited to a concrete plaza to observe the beach.
"But today I can roll down on the blue mat and go much farther down the beach," he said.
The county also has invested nearly $300,000 to replace the outdated playground at Smith Point County Park with an ADA-compliant facility, which is expected to be complete in August.
In addition, Suffolk spent roughly $1 million to build a new wheelchair-accessible ramp at Cupsogue Beach County Park that will connect from the main parking lot to the upper-deck boardwalk. Additional parking slots for the disabled were installed in front of the ramp.
"We are always looking at ways to make our parks more accessible to everybody," Suffolk Parks Commissioner Phil Berdolt said.
County officials announced the purchase of a SoloRider golf cart that will allow residents in wheelchairs to use the links at West Sayville Golf Course.
The cart's seat swivels to allow players to move in and out of the vehicle. The seat also tilts up and down to assist golfers who have lost the ability to stand over the ball. Safety belts lock around the player's waist and chest while the seat swings to the side to the precise angle needed to use a driver, putter or other type of golf club.
The cart, which cost $12,000, comes fitted with special turf tires that can travel over tees and greens. It is available free-of-charge to disabled veterans. All other users will be charged $18.
"For people who have thought it was no longer possible for them to play the game that they love, we want them to come out and try this," Bellone said. "And they can find out that they can get out there and enjoy a round."