V.I. officials cut the ribbon at Magens Bay Beach Tuesday morning on new equipment to help enable people with mobility challenges to access St. Thomas’ most famous beach. At least six U.S. Virgin Islands beaches are getting brightly colored vinyl mats called AccessMats that make portable walkways and allow easier access across the sand and to the water.
The mats are lightweight and easy to install, and can be installed or removed in a matter of 10 minutes per roll by two people, making them easy to be removed before or after a hurricane or threat of inclement weather.
They are also getting WaterWheels, which are brightly colored vehicles capable of traversing AccessMats, and packed sand that is designed to allow floating in the water.
So far, Magens and Coki Point Beach on St. Thomas; Cramer Park and possibly Fort Frederik Beach; and two as-yet-undetermined beaches on St. John are slated to receive the new equipment, according to Sports, Parks and Recreation Commissioner Calvert White.
The Legislature approved an appropriation in October to help pay for the new equipment, which bring the territory’s beaches closer to compliance with the federal Americans with Disabilities Act.
In December, the Legislature mandated that two beaches per major USVI island, or six beaches in all, be equipped to allow reasonable access to the water and through the sand for those with mobility challenges.
Gov. Albert Bryan Jr., Americans With Disabilities Act Coordinator Julien Henley and other V.I. officials were at the ribbon-cutting ceremony Tuesday.
Bryan spoke of when he injured his foot and was in a full cast and tried to go to the beach, only to find some of the difficulties and lack of access faced constantly by disabled persons.
“They say, ‘Who feels it, knows it,’” Bryan said, according to a statement from Government House.
“We need to make more of a commitment to making our public spaces more accessible to our residents and our visitors who are physically challenged,” he added.
“A disability is a possibility for everyone. It is important to give everyone an opportunity to have a complete life,” Henley said. “It is an extremely proud moment to see that now persons who are challenged with mobility challenges will have an opportunity to go to a place where they can get into the water and not have to worry about the barriers that have plagued us for all these years,” he concluded.