Pensacola Florida 6

Find Accessible Beaches for Summer Fun

In the summer, many of us long for a beach vacation. But for people with disabilities — especially those who use wheelchairs — those stretches of sand may seem like another inaccessible vacation destination.

Fortunately, resorts and public beaches are getting the message that people with disabilities want to travel, and there is a demand for accessible beaches. More places now offer accommodations to help people with disabilities enjoy the sun, sand, and water.

Wheelchair-accessible beaches

Cory Lee, a man with short, dark hair, light skin and black-rimmed glasses, enjoys an accessible beach destination in a beach wheelchair with fat tires.

Beaches are travel blogger Cory Lee’s favorite destinations.

Cory Lee, a travel blogger from LaFayette, Georgia, who lives with spinal muscular atrophy (SMA) and uses a power wheelchair, has been to dozens of countries and all seven continents. In all his travels, visiting accessible beaches is his “favorite thing in the world to do,” he says. Cory describes a few different ways that he has been able to enjoy beaches in the US and abroad.

“Internationally, my favorite accessible beaches are in Barcelona, Spain. They have beach access mats and accessible changing rooms, and they have lifts that can help people into the beach wheelchair. I really love it for that reason. Some of my favorites here in the US are Gulf Shores, Alabama, and several places in Florida, including Panama City Beach, Clearwater, and Miami,” Cory says.

Beaches can have different degrees of accessibility. Some of Cory’s favorites have a boardwalk or other surface that allows him to enjoy great ocean views from his wheelchair. Others offer beach access mats, beach wheelchairs, or accessible changing and restrooms that facilitate a day on the sand or in the water.

Beach access mats (also known as Mobi mats) are long straw or plastic mats that create a wheelchair-accessible path through the sand. Many beaches offer beach wheelchairs, either for free or for a rental fee, that are equipped with fat tires that can navigate sandy terrain without beach access mats. Some beach wheelchairs are built to go in the water, too. These “amphibious” wheelchairs can go right into the surf.

Of course, it’s important to consider safety when going into the water. “As long as the water is calm and I have assistants there to help me in the water, I feel really secure,” Cory says. “I was in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in February and March, and they had an amphibious beach wheelchair and a whole team of volunteers who helped get me in the water and made sure that I was safe and having a good time. That was a really, really good experience because they were there.”

Getting to the beach

In addition to the beach itself, consider how you’ll get to the beach. If Cory plans to use a beach wheelchair, he prefers to stay at a hotel on the beach, so he can transfer to the beach wheelchair at the hotel and leave his powered wheelchair securely stored.

“Call the hotel to double-check accessibility, making sure that there is a ramp to the beach and not a set of stairs,” he says.

In some cases, Cory has left his own wheelchair with beach staff while he used a beach wheelchair. When packing his beach gear, he brings the ableSling Lite to make transfers easy.

Planning a beach trip

Check with your potential destination to determine what kind of equipment, accessibility features, and assistance they offer.

If you’re considering a beach resort, call to ask about accessibility features in the rooms, on resort grounds, and at the beach, such as beach mats or beach wheelchairs.

For public beaches, researching with local tourism boards is a good first step. (Read this guide to eight wheelchair-friendly beaches in the US to get some ideas.) Virginia is known for accessible parks and beaches. Virginia Beach has an accessible boardwalk, beach playground, and beach wheelchairs. Accessible features are available in other locations in the state, such as Kiptopeke State Park and First Landing State Park.

California also has several accessible beaches, from Santa Cruz in the north to San Diego in the south. The California Coastal Commission has a map of California beaches that lend beach wheelchairs free of charge.

If getting to the coast is a bit too far, our country has numerous freshwater shorelines that are plenty beachy. For example, Silver Beach County Park in St. Joseph, Michigan, is accessible and offers beach wheelchairs for enjoying Lake Michigan.

Ask the online community

Cory documents his travels and offers guidance to others who seek accessible adventures on his travel blog, He has several blog posts covering accessible beaches and a review of beach wheelchairs.

But even a seasoned traveler like Cory needs advice before visiting a new destination. That’s when he turns to the online community. “I go to Facebook groups about accessible travel and post a message saying that I’m going to a beach destination and asking if anyone has been there before and if they have any tips,” he says. “Those are really good resources because you get that firsthand perspective from other wheelchair users who have already been there, done that, and they know all about accessibility at those beaches.”


Next Steps and Useful Resources

Disclaimer: No content on this site should ever be used as a substitute for direct medical advice from your doctor or other qualified clinician.