Life’s a beach, with any luck

The iconic and picturesque beaches of Parksville and Qualicum Beach draw visitors from across Canada — and beyond. But until now a stroll along the shoreline has been off-limits to local residents limited by mobility challenges.

On Saturday, a pair of area accessibility advocacy organizations wrapped up their joint Accessibility in Oceanside Week by showcasing a pair of local inventions that allowed residents restricted to wheelchairs or walkers to cross the sand and dip a toe into the ocean.

And while Diane LaMonte’s first trip to the shore in four years at the Parksville beach may have been largely symbolic, we can’t think of a better way to symbolize local accessibility issues than opening the city’s iconic waterfront to all.

Less symbolic is the need for local municipalities to continue — and perhaps step up — efforts to remove barriers to access for the mobility challenged.

Of course, neither the City of Parksville nor the Town of Qualicum Beach are responsible for smoothing the way across the shore. Indeed, the Ministry of Environment and the Department of Fisheries and Oceans would no doubt take a dim view of paving the equivalent of a boat launch across real estate the municipalities don’t control.

The streets, sidewalks and other public places are another matter.

To be sure, both Parksville and Qualicum Beach have taken steps in recent years to improve access. When Parksville-based Accessible Oceanside Association and Universal Access Qualicum Beach invite their respective civic leaders and public employees to join them in annual walk-wheelabout excursions of local streets, mayors Marc Lefebvre of Parksville and Teunis Westbroek of Qualicum Beach are typically the first to get in a wheelchair or scooter and see first-hand what the mobility-challenged face on a daily basis.

From insurmountable curbs and stairs, to light and power poles in the middle of sidewalks, to fully accessible washrooms in public facilities, residents run a gantlet of challenges navigating their way through their day-to-day lives.

It’s hardly a mid-Vancouver Island issue. Accessibility requirements are being written into bylaws and legislation at all levels of government, in Canada and abroad.

In some cases, such as the inventions that allowed LaMonte to access the ocean in Parksville Saturday, the private sector has stepped up to fill a need.

Kudos to them. And private businesses will be well-served to make their own establishments as accessible and welcoming as possible to all potential customers.

For local municipalities, it should be an obligation. After all, our primary “industry” is welcoming visitors from elsewhere to enjoy the hospitality, climate and wonderful vistas of coastal Vancouver Island.

Why not welcome everybody?

— Parksville Qualicum Beach News

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