Monday, December 4, 2023

Wrightsville Beach takes public comment on town’s accessibility

Wrightsville Beach is asking people with disabilities to weigh in on their experience with town infrastructure (Port City Daily/File)

WRIGHTSVILLE BEACH — The Town of Wrightsville Beach wants opinions from the community as it prepares to craft an Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) Transition Plan, a roadmap for future infrastructure improvements designed to boost access. 

Wrightsville Beach will accept survey responses from the public through Saturday, Mar. 5.  

“The Town is seeking input from individuals with disabilities, patrons, caregivers, organizations, and agencies that support individuals with disabilities as well as from interested individuals with experience in accessibility needs and best practices,” according to the survey. “This community involvement will help the Town with its self-evaluation process and better enable us to address and prioritize current and future accessibility needs.”

The survey includes a list of questions designed “to gather information on how Town services are, or are not, accessible to people with disabilities.” The self-evaluation process was prepared by the town and consultants, and soliciting feedback from people with disabilities is a standard part of formally developing ADA Transition Plans. 

Carolina Beach, too, is at work on a transition plan, according to the town’s planning director Jeremy Hardison. 

“We never have had one,” Hardison said. “We’re in the midst of drafting the first plan, and going around and identifying what buildings and sidewalks and parking lots and spaces don’t meet accessibility now.”

The ADA prohibits governments from discriminating against people with disabilities, and standards have expanded since the civil rights law was passed in 1990. Transition plans, according to the act, should list physical barriers that limit access to programs and services, and include methods and timelines for removing those barriers — for example, adding curbs to walkways. The ADA requires public agencies with more than 50 employees to make transition plans. 

In some cases, federal transportation funding can be withheld if transition plans are not completed, according to Short Elliott Hendrickson Inc, an engineering and architectural firm. 

“When there’s federal funds that can help you achieve some of this, they’re going to ask: ‘Hey, do you have an adopted accessibility plan in place?’” Hardison said.

Since 2017, the non-profit Ocean Cure has placed a 3,000-square-foot plastic mat on the sands of Carolina Beach near the boardwalk during the summer season. In 2020, the state called it a violation of the Coastal Area Management Act, but the town later secured a variance to ensure the return of the beach mat. 

The Town of Kure Beach adopted a transition plan in 2020, according to Nikki Keely, the town’s ADA coordinator. Kure Beach recently applied for CAMA permits at three beach accesses, to install wheelchair-accessible beach mats; only one of the locations will be “actively utilized,” according to the town. 

All three towns maintain a fleet of sand wheelchairs that can be loaned to beach-goers for free. 

“This community involvement will help the Town with its self-evaluation process and better enable us to address and prioritize current and future accessibility needs,” according to the Wrightsville Beach’s survey. “By updating and implementing the Transition Plan, consistent with the ADA, Town services and facilities will become more comfortable, welcoming, and accessible to everyone.”
Wrightsville Beach’s community engagement survey can be found online. Responses will be accepted through Saturday.

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