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  • Writer's pictureKyrby Brown

Churchill Fellowship Day 29: On The Beach

Monday we made our way to Santa Monica, on the Los Angeles coast to check out beach access and enjoy some sunshine. The accessibility information suggests that track chairs are available to hire from a beachfront cafe which I was keen to try.

We parked right on the beach in an accessible spot, there was a ramp onto the pier in one direction and a tarmac cycle/walking track along the beach in the other. First, we checked out the pier in search of an accessible rest room, wayfinding was pretty poor and the only ‘accessible’ stall we could find was only about 2ft wider than a standard stall, and about 1ft of that space was taken up by the large hand rail that ran along the whole length of the stall. I could get my wheelchair in but it was a real challenge for Mel to work around it to support me. I couldn’t leave my chair outside as the outside area was directly on the pier itself and it was extremely busy. I found it pretty shocking that, in a well-known tourist hotspot, I couldn’t find a decent accessible loo!

I have found Disabled restroom access in the USA to be generally poor. Most are set inside standard toilet blocks and there doesn’t appear to be a set size or standard. Because they are inside standard blocks they are often being used by the general population, many are not even marked for priority. I also don’t like not having any privacy when I have to communicate my personal care needs to my assistant, in this instance I much prefer the UK system of separate toilets, often with Radar key locks.

The beach was inviting and actually very quiet, the path running along was wide and easy to access, although I was surprised by the lack of beach matting which would allow me to get closer to the water. I could barely see the ocean from the accessible path, which is often the case but a real shame. Unfortunately, it turns out that the track chairs are only available to hire Friday thru Sunday, something that had not been made at all clear on the two websites I had searched. Lack of information and restricted times/access is a common problem in the world of accessibility equipment. Over here I have found that many doors are equipped with electric openers, but often they don’t actually work. Another example of this is the pool hoists. Every hotel I have stayed at has had pool hoists fitted, but none of them have worked on first try, and many require you to notify reception ahead of swimming so that they can be charged and checked. In my case I have been ready to swim at that point and have figured my own way into the pool, but this isn’t possible for everyone. Equipment like this must be available, safe and staff must be trained to use it, otherwise it just gathers dust and falls into disrepair.

Image Description: My view from the beachfront path. The sea is only just visible in the distance.

Santa Monica was an interesting place, it was clear that the opioid crisis had hit the area but nothing like what I had seen in Phoenix. It’s hard to wander and lose yourself in a location where people are clearly suffering from such mental illness and addiction, thus making them unpredictable and extreme in their behaviour. I find that beachfront towns are often quite similar regardless of where you are, often a striking mix of holidaymakers and those who take advantage of them, mostly financially.

The pier itself was extremely bumpy with only a thin layer of mesh which did very little to help. It was pretty hard to enjoy the bumpy ride and there was mostly food and trinkets on offer to mark the Western end of Route 66. It was pretty much exactly what I had expected. We did enjoy a visit to Bubba Gump’s Shrimp co. which, as a huge Forrest Gump fan was pretty damn cool.

Image Description: A Mug with the Bubba Gump’s logo on the front.

We did venture out into the plaza area which was about a 10 minute walk from the pier. There are many nice shops and restaurants here and the area is smooth and hugely accessible, contrasting dramatically with the pier. Once again I find the dramatic contrasts from street to street to be quite disconcerting and something I am just not used to. This, combined with often poor wayfinding can make the USA a challenging place to navigate independently. Fortunately, I had a friend in Santa Monica who pointed me in the right direction for the plaza, but I could have easily ended up walking in the opposite direction. I find this so odd for somewhere so full of tourists.

For myself I have cemented the fact that I am a mountain person through and through. Whilst I enjoy the sea itself and the more ‘wild’ beaches, I am not one to sunbath on the beachfront. The mountains offer more wildlife, more serenity and more adventure!

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