Islanders Make Lasting Impact on Beach Accessibility for Wheelchair Users

Published: June 30, 2017

Islanders Make Lasting Impact on Beach Accessibility for Wheelchair Users

CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas – Spending time along the sandy shores is how many Coastal Bend residents and visitors enjoy their Saturday afternoons. For others, it may be more difficult to access the beach, especially those who use wheelchairs. When the City of Corpus Christi purchased beach access matting and specialized beach wheelchairs called WaterWheels, they solved half of the problem. WaterWheels, provided by AccessRec, LLC, are floating beach wheelchairs that make it easier for wheelchair users to have fun.

Vanessa Nisbet, Brittany Parker and Betty Jo McQueen worked with Russell Armstrong, Corpus Christi Parks and Recreation Gulf Beach and Natural Resources Superintendent lead a community advocacy effort to purchase more beach accessible wheelchairs and bring more public awareness to their availability so that all beachgoers have the opportunity to access our beaches.

“We purchased a few chairs in March of this year and presented our idea to the Disabilities Committee, we wanted three chairs for our beaches and one for the OSO Bay Wetlands Preserve,” explained Armstrong. “The Committee felt that it was such a great idea and thought they would be so well received that we ordered a second batch of chairs. I am proud to say we now have seven chairs for the City beaches and two for the OSO Bay Wetlands Preserve.”

All three students are studying special education as a part of Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi’s Future Leaders in Providing Your Low-Incidence Disability Services (FLIP Your LIDS) program in the College of Education and Human Development (COEHD).

 “This project has taken two of our passions – inclusion in the community and assistive technology – and created a very rewarding project focused on community advocacy,” said Parker.

Thanks to the trio’s hard work and their partnership with the Armstrong, the subject of mobility accessibility at the beach became a discussed topic at the city’s Watershore and Beach Advisory Committee and the Island Strategic Action Committee. These local committees are designed to advise and make recommendations on the use of the waterfront and beaches within city limits. Thanks to the students’ involvement, on Memorial Day 2017, Corpus Christi Parks and Recreation announced a check-out system for the beach accessible wheelchairs. The equipment was then promoted through local media outlets and YouTube to get the information out to the public. The students will continue working with city officials to create a pamphlet advertising available equipment. In the future, Nisbet would like to see more promotion for Corpus Christi’s hidden accessibility gems.

 “By stepping out of our comfort zone and interacting with local officials, we not only spoke up for individuals with disabilities but we also highlighted a unique feature of Corpus Christi that not many people know about. All around, it's been a very gratifying project,” said Nisbet.

Earlier in June, Nisbet and Parker had the opportunity to present the group’s efforts at the Texas Council of Exceptional Children (TCEC) Convention in Austin. The mission of TCEC is to improve the education and quality of life for youths with exceptionalities through advocacy.

“The convention was a learning experience,” said Nisbet, who received her master’s degree in Educational Administration and is finishing the FLIP Your LIDS program. “We had the opportunity to network with other peers and create an awareness of what others have in their community.” 

FLIP Your LIDSis a grant-funded project designed to provide graduate students with specialized training on low-incidence disabilities. Through this program and with the help of Dr. Karen McCaleb, Interim Dean of the COEHD at Texas A&M-Corpus Christi, it was possible for the students to attend the conference.