Make beach accessible for all – not just the able-bodied

A beach wheelchair is impossible to use on the steep pebble inclines of our beaches
A beach wheelchair is impossible to use on the steep pebble inclines of our beaches

What a wonderful summer this is. Plenty of sunshine and a real pleasure to be on the beach.

What a wonderful summer this is. Plenty of sunshine and a real pleasure to be on the beach. I have been swimming in the sea more times this year than any other for an awfully long time. I am certainly not alone; it seems as if thousands of other city residents are of the same mind.

Unless you are disabled, that is. Even though we are in the year 2014, there is still no real provision for a wheelchair-user to access the sea.

The nearest we have to any assistance at all is by contacting the council's beach office. They will, if available, let you use one of their beach wheelchairs free of charge.

I visited the beach office recently to find out how this works as I have a fully-grown 22-year-old disabled son. We also own a beach wheelchair ourselves, which I know from experience is impossible to use on the steep pebble inclines of our beaches.

I was greeted by a very pleasant young man who confirmed that we could indeed arrange to reserve a chair. He did, however, advise me that they did not offer any assistance and that it would take several fit blokes to manoeuvre the chair back up the pebbles.

In turn, I advised him that I didn't have access to several fit blokes and that there was just me, of pensionable age, with dodgy knees and a bad back. I suggested that perhaps a properly-built ramp might be the answer. Nah, I was assured, no good as it would be destroyed by the rough weather. We seemed to have reached a bit of an impasse and, as I was no nearer arranging for my son to access the sea, I thanked him and retreated to think the matter through.

It didn't take me very long to realise that if a sloped concrete access can be arranged to other beaches, we can do the same here. In numerous other resorts throughout the United Kingdom, concrete ramps have been built as launch slopes for lifeboats and small pleasure boats - and, of course they double up for wheeling anything or anybody up or down. I am sure these resorts have equally-inclement weather and they didn't say "Nah, it would be destroyed by the rough weather". Or they would never have been built in the first place.

It seems to me, as someone who actually has a wheelchair-user in the family, that there is, in effect, an element of discrimination here in our city. Yes, it is a positive move to have a couple of beach chairs available for use. But a proper concrete zig-zag ramp needs putting in place, with an attendant at the bottom in charge of possibly 20 beach wheelchairs, so that the beach is truly accessible to all and not just the able-bodied.

It is no good our councillors continually patting each other on the back every time another cycle lane is forced upon us. Stop discriminating and let's have some proper facilities for the disabled. Let's have not only proper beach access, but also some thought about disabled toilet facilities, street-furniture clutter, badly-planned road works that are often difficult to negotiate, and proper dropped curbs.

More restaurants need to be encouraged by the local authority to be properly accessible, with proper facilities rather than token attempts. It also needs to be recognised that all disabled toilets need to be maintained to an extremely-high standard. A disabled person does not have the option of hovering over a filthy toilet, as do the rest of us.

Our council should be saving their self-congratulatory back-slapping for any of their colleagues who champion the improvement of services in our city for the disabled.

Cycling is becoming increasingly popular; indeed, for many, it seems to have virtually replaced walking. Neither of those options, however, is available to the wheelchair-user and a lot more common sense and less discrimination needs to be applied by our city leaders than is currently happening.

Brighton and Hove must be among the least wheelchair-friendly towns and cities I have visited. There is vast room for improvement and proper initiatives need putting in place to bring our city up to an acceptable standard. I just hope the next administration listen to the disabled groups and get some proper advice on accessibility, but only time will tell.