Another summer has just passed and the National Parents’ Society of Persons with Disability (NPSPD) would like to give its comments on the availability of beach accessibility facilities for persons having mobility difficulties, including wheelchair users, parents with children in pushchairs and old people, with regard to three main beaches.

Għadira Bay had been provided with a wooden footpath at the end of summer 2009. While this is highly commendable there are yet several shortcomings that may be improved, namely:

The point where the wooden footpath meets the concrete ramp leading to the public convenience and road pavement needs to be appropriately set to ensure it is on smooth level concrete as wheelchair users often got immobilised at this point.

It is unacceptable for the wooden footpath to stop short around 30 metres from the sea water – this is too far away from the waterline and its purpose is partly defeated.

Most of the beach near the waterline was pre-booked and already set up as early at 10 a.m. on any day of the week with umbrellas and deckchairs to be hired. This was the case even though deckchairs were not occupied. As a result, there was only a very small part where persons with disability could stay within the essential short distance to the waterline to facilitate access to the sea. Obviously this would be the first area to be occupied by beach visitors who do not rent umbrellas and deckchairs and hence access remains a problem. It is recommended that the footpath and nearby area would have priority for persons having mobility problems and their carers. This can be monitored by the Malta Tourism Authority beach employees.

A floating wheelchair for use by mobility-impaired persons on both sand and in the sea has been provided for use by MTA this summer. Though this is not suitable for all, it is highly welcome and a positive step to increase access. NPSPD reiterates that the footpath to waterline in every sandy beach is the best method to ensure equal opportunities to all beach visitors at all times.

Marsalforn beach in Gozo has been provided with an adequate, fully accessible wooden ramp that has now rendered the beach fully accessible. NPSPD would like to thank the Żebbug local council, especially the mayor, for its implementation. Now Gozo has a fully accessible beach.

It has also been noted that the Ramla Bay wooden footpath has been given a flat, even surface and now there is no longer the problem that wheelchair users used to face ­­ getting repeated shocks due to large spacing between the numerous separate wood pieces forming the surface.

This is quite an improvement but NPSPD still continues to urge the authorities to take action such as to extend the footpath to near the waterline and to the part of the beach where the seabed does not have rocks. Thus the sea may be enjoyed by mobility-impaired persons.

Accessibility in beaches is improving but there is still so much more to do. Action needs to be taken at the earliest if Malta is to compete with other international beaches in all aspects.

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