CLEARWATER, Fla. - People come from near and far to enjoy Tampa Bay’s world-class shoreline, which boasts some of the most beautiful beaches in the world. Now, a team of local activists is calling on city leaders to make Tampa Bay’s beaches the most accessible in the world by offering to fund a much-needed amenity: mobility mats.
Residents and visitors with mobility issues have long had difficulty accessing the waterfront. According to the CDC, 28% of adults in Florida live with a disability. Mobility challenges, the most common type of disability, affects 1 in 7 adults in the U.S.
The Forward Foundation, a private foundation based in Clearwater, FL, is partnering with Help Us Gather (HUG) and the Disability Achievement Center, two local nonprofits that serve individuals with special needs, to give area cities a unique offer; a blank check to every beach-facing city in the Tampa Bay area interested in installing a mobility mat.
Mobility mats are nonslip pathways that help individuals with mobility challenges avoid getting stuck in the soft, uneven sand, allowing them to access the beach safely and easily.
“Human equality is one of the cornerstones of our foundation, and right now people with mobility issues do not have equal access to Tampa Bay’s beaches,” says Robin Lally, Co-President of the Forward Foundation. “We want to see beaches that everyone can enjoy and the Forward Foundation is willing to write a big check to fund it. We are hoping this will be an offer the cities can’t refuse.”
“Some people can’t even get beyond the curb at beaches in our area,” says Michael Ciafone, a local activist with mobility challenges who has for years been advocating for local cities to install mobility mats. “Seniors and people pushing strollers also use the mats to walk on the beach because it’s more stable. Everyone should have the chance to get to the beach and participate in family activities.”
According to one popular brand, MobiMat, only about 30 public parks and beaches in the state of Florida have a MobiMat installed. MobiMat reps say the average cost to purchase and install one of their mobility mats ranges from $4,000-$20,000.
“We have seen firsthand how important mobility mats are in creating equity for every person in our community,” says Jody Armstrong, Director of Outreach at Disability Achievement Center in Largo. “Cities that install mobility mats prove how much they value being inclusive for residents and visitors alike.”
Help Us Gather (HUG) is part of a 501(c)(3) nonprofit based in Clearwater, Florida. HUG’s mission is to advocate for inclusion and connect individuals with disabilities to social events and activities. For more information, visit helpusgather.org.
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