Committee on Disabilities is busy improving access at several points around town

Westport commission ramps up handicap shore access

By Ted Hayes
Posted 9/3/21

Beach access has always been a hoped for, but often unattainable goal for people confined to wheelchairs and others with physical difficulties. But shoreline by shoreline and parking space by space, …

This item is available in full to subscribers.

Please log in to continue

Log in

Not a subscriber?


Start a Subscription

Sign up to start a subscription today! Click here to see your options.

Purchase a day pass

Purchase 24 hours of website access for $2. Click here to continue

Day pass subscribers

Are you a day pass subscriber who needs to log in? Click here to continue.


Committee on Disabilities is busy improving access at several points around town

Westport commission ramps up handicap shore access

Posted

Beach access has always been a hoped for, but often unattainable goal for people confined to wheelchairs and others with physical difficulties. But shoreline by shoreline and parking space by space, Westport is improving its access and these days, has a friend in the Commission on Disabilities, which has undertaken multiple projects around town and is overseeing changes at the so-called Baby Beach, the Knubble, Westport Point and more.

"You've gotta keep asking" for things to change, said the commission's Martin Costa. "If you don't ask, people tend to forget."

Though not the committee's chairperson, Mr. Costa is perhaps its most vocal voice.

He is 64, and walks with two canes he's had to use ever since he was paralyzed from the knees down in a freak accident 35 years ago. When he was 28 years old, he and a girlfriend were sitting on a tree swing "when all of a sudden, it just gave way," he said. "It happened so fast," and he sustained a serious lower back injury.

Growing up in Westport, "I lived at Horseneck," he said. "I always loved it. But when you (suffer a disabling accident) it becomes difficult."

Mr. Costa joined the commission three years ago and said he's excited about recent work the committee has taken on.

Recently, the commission purchased $1,900 worth of mobile mats which will make it easier for those in wheelchairs to get down to the water at Baby Beach, a section at the north end of Cherry & Webb. He drove his Honda Ridgeline down to New Jersey himself to pick them up after balking at the $500 shipping it would have cost to send them here.

The mats are currently scheduled for installation by the department of public works, whose director Chris Gonslaves, Mr. Costa said, "has been very good to us." In total, they will provide about 50 feet of five-foot-wide pathway suitable for wheelchairs.

When they're in, Mr. Costa said they should make it much easier for those who need them to access the beach. Handicapped parking signs and several parking spaces have already been installed and configured, he said, and the beach committee is working to install a handicap-accessible picnic table.

"I just love that little beach," he said. "We saw a need and it made sense because there's no big waves. It's also close, unlike Cherry & Webb where you have to walk over the dunes."

One of the first major beach areas to gain handicap accessibility here is at the Knubble, and Mr. Costa said plans are in the works to improve the parking situation there.

Several handicap-accessible parking spots at the end of Beach Avenue will soon be topped with "geogrids," which are light, tough honeycomb-textured mats designed to be placed down and filled with larger diameter gravel so they won't shift. Putting them down will help prevent the buildup of sand at the parking spots, where every once in a while a car will become stuck.

"That's a top priority," said Mr. Costa. "If you don't put down a solid substrate of some sort, it's going to happen."

The committee's application to install them is currently before the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), and the Westport Select Board recently approved the committee's request to spend $2,000 on their purchase.

There are other projects in the works, too — helping to ensure handicap access at Hix Bridge, which is currently being studied for modification by the US Army Corps of Engineers. And inland, he said the committee has been working with Ross Moran of the Westport Land Conservation Trust to configure handicap-accessible walking trails at Westport Woods.

"It's a beautiful place," he said, but prior to working with Mr. Moran, people with disabilities "couldn't get past the meadow, and that's not really the woods. We're also thinking about" guide ropes along the trail to help visually-impaired walkers.

The commission gets a $1,000 yearly stipend from the town, and is also funded by parking fine revenue and private donations.

"The commission is under the radar, so to speak. Not many people know about us and we don't have a ton of money," he said. "But what we have, we try to use the right way."

 

 

 

2021 by East Bay Newspapers

Barrington · Bristol · East Providence · Little Compton · Portsmouth · Tiverton · Warren · Westport
Meet our staff
Jim McGaw

A lifelong Portsmouth resident, Jim graduated from Portsmouth High School in 1982 and earned a journalism degree from the University of Rhode Island in 1986. He's worked two different stints at East Bay Newspapers, for a total of 18 years with the company so far. When not running all over town bringing you the news from Portsmouth, Jim listens to lots and lots and lots of music, watches obscure silent films from the '20s and usually has three books going at once. He also loves to cook crazy New Orleans dishes for his wife of 25 years, Michelle, and their two sons, Jake and Max.