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Measuring Beach Accessibility for People with Ambulatory Difficulty

Duhui Lee, Jinwon Kim, Brijesh Thapa, Taylor Stein


People with disabilities especially those with ambulatory difficulty (PWAD) have particularly limited access to recreation settings such as parks and other open spaces and this trend is expected to continue in the future. Given the limited access and physical limitations of PWAD, they cannot experience the multiple benefits of recreational activities. Beaches are an essential recreation setting that could provide significant physiological, psychological, and social benefits to PWAD. Providing adequate beach access for PWAD has been regarded as an important responsibility of public leisure agencies since the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990. Several studies have measured PWAD’s levels of access to fitness centers, community sports/recreation centers, and swimming pools, but there is a lack of empirical research with respect to beaches. The purpose of this study was therefore to measure beach accessibility for PWAD based on Duval County, Florida. 

To consider PWAD’s unique physical characteristics, the beach access points were selected based on the ADA guidelines and a specific distance (0.25 miles) criteria. In addition, two distance-based access measures (1. the shortest street distance from the center of each census tract to the closest beach access point and 2. the average street distance from the center of each census tract to the seven closest beach access points) based on minimum distance and travel cost approaches were employed to demonstrate the sensitivity of the findings. GIS-based network analysis was employed to calculate the street distance. 

The results indicated that regional disparities in the levels of beach access for PWAD in Duval County were identified. Specifically, PWAD that live in the western, northern and southern regions of Duval County (e.g., cities of Baldwin and Jacksonville [northern and western part]) have extremely poor beach access. Conversely, PWAD that reside in the eastern region of the county (e.g., cities of Jacksonville [eastern part], Atlantic Beach, Jacksonville Beach, and Neptune Beach) have better beach access. This allows researchers and practitioners to better understand the local patterns of beach accessibility for PWAD, ultimately providing guidelines for location-based beach access planning and management. Such information could also be used by public leisure agencies to allocate limited resources, by identifying regions that are in need of increased recreational resources. 

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beach accessibility; people with ambulatory difficulty, GIS, ADA, Duval County, Florida

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