On World Disability Day (Dec 3), people with reduced mobility visited Marina Beach for the first time. CE talks to city officials to find out if they have solutions to make beaches permanently accessible.
CHENNAI: Chennai has the distinction of having the world’s second longest urban beach, with over 50,000 visitors every weekend alone, heading to the Marina. But despite being a resident of Chennai for 15 years, Naveen* was able to experience the joy of beach waters for the first time only this Sunday. Residing in Avadi, he and his mother made their way all across the city for this one very special day, where many like him who have reduced mobility could finally experience the wonders of the sea.
The temporary ramp built by the Greater Chennai Corporation, on the occasion of World Disability Day
(Dec 3) bridged the dreams of several persons with disability and elders who so long had not been able to experience one of Chennai’s simplest pleasures.
“After being married for 15 years, this is the first time I’m ever coming to the beach with my wife!” said one man, while another college student based from Delhi excitedly wheels towards the beach saying “This is the first time ever that I’m going into the beach!” before live-streaming the whole thing to his parents and friends back home. But by the end of the day, the meticulously well-built ramp was dismantled, leaving absolutely no trace of its existence the next morning.
Accessibility to the beach is a fundamental right for every citizen. The Rights of Persons with Disability Act 2016 provides Persons with Disabilities entitlement to access to recreation, leisure, and all other facilities, so shouldn’t something as quintessential as watching a sunrise close to the sea boundary be easily possible? Across the world, several beaches have been made accessible by the construction of wooden or steel ramps or using specialised mobi-wheelchairs that can stroll through sand.
Speaking to disability rights activists in the city, we understand that despite several steps taken by the Government and activists, an accessible beach in Chennai will take a while to be realised. “It is hard for us to go to the beach on any normal day, we don’t have any privacy and many people have to volunteer to take us,” opines Ummul, an advocate and member of the Disability Rights Alliance India (DRAI).
Stressing the importance of accessible beaches, Shankar of the DRAI points out that visiting the beach is as much an educative experience as it is for fun. “Understanding the density of water, soil erosion, the physical forces of water on sand — the kids who visited would have had so many questions! We can educate them only by taking them out into Nature,” he asserts.
After the success of the temporary ramp project last year, steps were taken to make it into a permanent structure, but there are many practical challenges that came into the picture, Ummul explains. The Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ) prevents the construction of permanent structures on the beach. The terrain in Marina is also not conducive — the shore suddenly drops near the waves, making it dangerous during high-tides. An architect was roped in, and solutions were designed to overcome these challenges. “The progress is still going on, and we’re seeing how to make it better,” says a member of DRAI.
With pressing concerns about maintenance and vandalism after construction, perhaps companies in the city should consider adopting such projects as part of their Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), thus eliminating one of the biggest hindrances to accessible beaches in the city.
How beaches around the world have been made accessible
Hanauma Bay, Hawaii — rents Mobi manual chairs suited to both sand and the warm Hawaiian sea
Williamstown Beatralia — rents Mobi-CHD also provides beach matting available 24/7