Wheeling California's Coast

Hundreds of thousands of visitors flock to California's famed coastline each year to enjoy its spectacular scenery and abundant recreational opportunities. But visiting broad sandy beaches and steep, rocky bluffs can be challenging for people who need a fairly level, firm path of travel—be they wheelchair riders, parents pushing strollers or people who use canes or walkers.

Taking travel risks

With the launch of the website www.wheelingcalscoast.org, A Wheelchair Rider's Guide to the California Coast, finding accessible places to hike, get on the beach, picnic, fish or merely to visit a site for the beautiful scenery just got easier. The website, which was funded by the Coastal Conservancy, a state agency that works to expand access to the coast, contains descriptions of more than 160 sites along the coast.

Reliable Access Information Essential to Disability Community's Travel Plans

Bonnie Lewkowicz, the sites creator, is no stranger to the challenges of finding accessible outdoor recreational opportunities. Forty years ago a dune buggy accident resulted in paralysis from the shoulders down; however, it did not lessen her desire for adventure and to revitalize and nurture her spirit through a nature experience. That's why for more than 30 years, Bonnie has been advocating for greater access to outdoor recreation and travel for people with disabilities.

Taking travel risks

Fear of the unknown and a lack of reliable access information to help plan an adventure are often cited as one of the top reasons why people with disabilities don't travel. "Before people with limited mobility venture out to explore the outdoors, they want to know more about a park or trail than the term 'wheelchair accessible' provides," says Lewkowicz.

What makes the wheelingcalscoast website unique is that each site was visited by a wheelchair user to gather in-depth access information so as to provide enough detail to allow users to determine for themselves if a site meets their particular accessibility needs This include accessible features of the restrooms and parking areas, average cross-slopes and grades of trails and the firmness and width of trail surfaces. One popular feature is whether a beach wheelchair is available for loan.

'Accessible' is NOT One-Size-Fits-All

If a site had limited accessibility yet was so worth visiting because of its beauty, Bonnie felt it would have done a disservice to the disability community not to mention them because they might be accessible to some people.

Taking travel risks

She's frustrated that finding this level of detailed access information on governmental park and trail websites is spotty at best. One explanation for this lack of essential information being provided, offers Lewkowicz, is that government agencies might be restricted to only posting access information on their websites that meet ADA standards, so while a trail might have a firm surface and a gentle slope, yet is not wide enough according to standards, they can't say that the trail accessible. The reality, however, is that even though it doesn't meet all accessibility standards, it is still likely to be accessible to some people since not all accessibility needs are the same.

Taking travel risks

Bonnie's hope is that the wheelingcalscoast website can serve as a model for others to follow. More importantly, she hopes that it will encourage more people with disabilities to get outdoors.

About Bonnie Lewkowicz:

Bonnie Lewkowicz has worked for more than 30 years advocating for and educating about access to outdoor recreation and inclusive tourism. She holds a degree in Recreation Therapy and worked as a travel agent specializing in accessible travel for many years before she founded the non-profit organization, Access Northern California. Here, she authored several access guides to San Francisco in addition to the trail guidebook, A Wheelchair Rider's Guide: San Francisco Bay and the Nearby Coast. She is also a founding member of AXIS Dance Company and, while she no longer dances with the company, she continues to teach with them.

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