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Wheelchair users push back on Willoughby beach renovations

1 min read
Wheelchair at path closest to handicapped parking.
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WESTMORE –– Recent changes made to the beaches on the south end of Willoughby Lake are drawing significant backlash, especially from individuals with mobility challenges who say the changes have barred them from the lakeside they’ve loved for decades.

Cheryl Howland, a Leverett, MA resident with ties to the Northeast Kingdom and former Assistant Director of Disability Services at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, detailed her grievances in a recent letter, expressing her deep dismay at the changes.

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“Your ‘improvements’ have made it so that I can no longer safely access this wonderful place either for swimming or for launching our kayak for fishing,” Howland wrote.

Howland, who relies on a wheelchair due to Ehlers Danlos Syndrome, vividly pointed out the problems she encountered. Among them:

  • Drop-off Dangers: The new drop-off area, constructed of concrete, poses a heightened injury risk compared to the previous sandy area, potentially affecting all visitors and not just those with mobility issues.
  • Ramp Restrictions: She highlighted issues with the newly installed ramp. From hazardous rocks placed at the end, preventing easy access to the beach, to its steep incline causing tripping hazards. She also noted the lack of spots to leave mobility devices, like walkers or wheelchairs, which could obstruct others.
  • Stair Shortcomings: The stairs leading to the beach lack railings and are constructed from uneven rocks, posing serious tripping hazards for both the elderly and those with mobility challenges.
  • Troublesome Trails: Pathways leading to the beach, while initially seeming accessible, often end in obstructions like overgrown roots, cut trees, and uneven stones.
  • Parking Pitfalls: While there are designated handicapped parking spots, getting from them to the beach is a perilous journey. Navigating the parking area, the main road, and an uphill path, poses challenges and potential dangers, especially for those with reduced mobility.

“First and foremost, you have created a situation where it is nearly impossible for someone with a disability to independently access the beach,” the letter reads. “Before, it was difficult, but possible. Now, the drop off area necessitates assistance from another which undermines the independence of individuals with disabilities.”

While the changes might technically meet the standards of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1991, Howland insists they do not truly align with the spirit of ensuring accessibility.

Howland’s plea is clear: she expects stakeholders to acknowledge these concerns, provide solutions, and make immediate alterations to ensure the beach is genuinely inclusive and welcoming for everyone.

Responses from the responsible parties were still pending at the time of reporting.

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