Tuesday, February 27, 2024

Youth Staffers Conduct Accessibility Audit in Response to Metropolitan Beaches Report Recommendations


What is the Metropolitan Beaches Commission?

    In 2006, the Massachusetts Legislature established the Metropolitan Beaches Commission (MBC) with the purpose of conducting a comprehensive examination of the 15 public beaches in the Boston metropolitan region. The Massachusetts Beaches Commission serves as a permanent legislative body entrusted with the responsibility of providing precise findings and recommendations in the Legislature, the Department of Conservation and Recreation, and the public regarding strategies for improving the public beaches in the region. The Commission is Co-Chaired by Senator Brendan Crighton of Lynn and Representative Adrian Madaro of East Boston, and managed by Save the Harbor/Save the Bay. The Commission is composed of elected officials and community leaders from Boston and the Metropolitan Region’s waterfront neighborhoods, including Save the Harbor’s very own Chris Mancini!

    In the report “Breaking Barriers, Improving Access to the Metropolitan Beaches”, it addresses the areas of improvement that need to be taken to make the 15 public beaches in the Boston metropolitan region more accessible and equitable for people of all backgrounds. The report is composed of Hearing #1: Improving Beach Access for People of Color, Hearing #2: Improving Beach Access for People with Disabilities, and Hearing #3: Improving Beach Access for People Who Don’t Speak English as their First Language. In each hearing, there is an in-depth dive into the issue at hand and how the issue can be addressed. There is a findings section where statistics and data are pulled to draw the conclusions of the severity of the issue. The findings conclude the percentage of people affected due to the issue, as well as the groups in which are most impacted. There is also a highly detailed recommendation section in each hearing, in which it explores how different departments and organizations can contribute to resolving the issue.

Accessibility Audit

    Hearing #2 addresses the limited beach accessibility for individuals with disabilities. Retired Colonel Andrea Gayle-Bennet emphasizes the need for improvement, stating “Access to the beach is limited for those with physical disabilities, which turns them into spectators instead of participants”. Recommendations to address the findings include for DCR to conduct an accessibility audit for parking, ramps, and pathways on the Boston Metropolitan region’s beaches. To address the recommendations, Save the Harbor/Save the Bay began conducting accessibility audits with its summer youth staff in the summer of 2023. 

This is a glimpse into accessibility issues within Carson Beach.

    As a Junior Program Assistant at Save the Harbor this summer, I had the privilege of conducting an accessibility audit, led by Policy Coordinator Jason Rundle. All youth staff members were able to participate in an accessibility audit on the following respective beaches: Carson, Pleasure Bay, Constitution, Georges, Malibu, Nantasket, Revere, Winthrop, Wollaston, and many more beaches located in the Boston Metropolitan region. The accessibility audit I conducted was focused on all the beaches in South Boston which include: the L Street, M Street, Carson, and Pleasure Bay beaches! Our work day began early in the morning because we had a lot of beaches to get to as well as a lot of information to collect. Before beginning our investigation, Jason asked us to consider the environment and cleanliness of all aspects of the beach. He instructed us to take note of any sidewalks or walkways that can be inaccessible to some people, as well as take pictures of the specific issue so that we could record the details in our report. 

    At Carson Beach, we noticed some areas in which the beach could be inaccessible to people with physical disabilities. We observed that certain walking trails were covered with sand, making it harder for runners, families with children, and people in wheelchairs to navigate. We also looked out for safety hazards on the pavement leading up to the beaches, where there were cracks that would be difficult to maneuver for small children or anyone in a wheelchair. Another aspect we looked for was the number of lifeguards on duty. Due to my team conducting the audit early in the morning, we noticed that a lot of lifeguards were still setting up and preparing the beach for visitors that day. When we got the chance, we were able to ask the lifeguards questions that involved the accessibility of the beach. At Carson Beach, the lifeguards told us they were not specifically trained to assist people with accessibilities. When we asked about the equipment they had that assisted people with disabilities on the beach, they showed us the beach house in which both types of beach wheelchairs were kept, which were relatively new and in good condition. However, it was an important discussion topic for us that the entire team of lifeguards, with the exception of two, were not properly trained to assist people with disabilities.

The Carson Beach team asked lifeguards questions concerning beach accessibility.

    My team discovered the same patterns in almost all the beaches we investigated. We noticed a pattern that lifeguards were not properly trained to assist people with disabilities, as well as not knowing how to use the equipment. We noticed slight issues with the cleanliness of the beaches because the paths were filled with sand, and there were cracks on sidewalks that made using strollers or wheelchairs inaccessible. Another issue Jason pointed out to us was all the beach signs that warned beach-goers of important precautions were in English. This causes an issue for people who don’t speak English as a first language. This is a prominent issue and was included in the report as Hearing #3! These same patterns repeated for L Street, M Street, and Pleasure Bay. For Pleasure Bay, we noticed better results because we went there as our last beach destination and the lifeguards were knowledgeable about the accessibility of the beach. Concluding the accessibility audit, Jason had us fill out a feedback form for our observations. We included pictures we took as well as specific issues within each of the beaches that should be looked at. Overall, it was an exciting day as we got to explore the beaches. My team and I had a lot of fun while conducting the accessibility audit, and on one occasion we were able to test the quality of the accessible chairs ourselves!

Youth Staffers got to examine the beach wheelchairs at Constitution Beach!

    All of the data that we collected that day, as well as the observations that youth staffers collected from the other beaches in the region were compiled to create the full accessibility audit. Save the Harbor is now working with DCR to address these accessibility gaps.

Analyzing Hearing #1

Hearing #1 provides a comprehensive analysis focused on enhancing beach access for people of color. In the findings section, statistics about population size are used to emphasize how the majority of Massachusetts residents are White, however, the majority of residents of Boston, Lynn, and Revere identify as Black, Hispanic, or Asian. There is a prevalent issue within the Boston Metropolitan region as people of color have bad perceptions of the safety and accessibility of the beaches. Due to personal experiences, people of color report feeling unwelcome and being uncomfortable at the beach. Lastly, The Commission also found that these perceptions were influenced by historical and current images of violence and conflict on beaches. Due to the reasons listed above, people of color feel uncomfortable going to the beach.

The report recommends that the Commission and Save the Harbor regularly and publicly reaffirm their commitment to equity, diversity, and inclusive access to the region's public beaches. To achieve this, there is a strong emphasis on utilizing the Better Beaches Program. The Commission must advocate for increased investment in the Better Beaches program as it has given consistent and impactful outcomes in the past. The Better Beaches grant continues to support and uplift local organizations that are impactful in creating a diverse and welcoming community on the region’s public beaches.

Performers at the "Beats on the Beach" block party this August!

   My personal thoughts for addressing “Hearing #1: Improving Beach Access for People of Color” align with the Commission's recommendations to increase funding for the Better Beaches program. Since 2008, Save the Harbor has partnered with the Department of Conservation and Recreation to award grants to local organizations and artists who activate the public beaches through free public events and programs. The Better Beaches Program has been very successful in improving connections to the beach for people of all communities. The free beach events and programs that are supported by the Better Beaches grant have improved beach access for all Boston Metropolitan region’s residents: this includes people of color, people with disabilities, and those who do not speak English as their first language. 

The Better Beaches program can be best applied to promote diversity within public beaches because events can be held to support different cultures and traditions. Abdi Ali of the East Boston Racism Community Coalition states, “Free cultural activities are really important. When I hear music that is relevant and inviting to me, I feel welcome and comfortable in that public space”. Beaches are an inviting venue to capture the essence of the diverse culture in the Boston Metropolitan area. With an increase in funding for the Better Beaches program, money should be allocated to support diversity within the array of public beaches. Multicultural events, programs, food, and entertainment create a more welcoming and inclusive atmosphere on our public beaches and are significant in improving beach access for people of color.

Attendees dance at the 2023 Lynn Diversity Matters Fest!

Written by: Macki Mei