Nothing can be as exhilarating as a walk on the beach, the feel of warm sand under your feet and watching the waves. This joy is, however, denied to many who can only gaze longingly, from afar, at the sea, the sand and the surf. The beach though just a few yards away is unreachable, out of bounds for wheel chair users who cannot reach the shore due to lack of accessibility. But not any more, not at the Alappuzha beach. There is good news for the physically challenged as beaches in Fort Kochi, Marine Drive, Cherai, and Munambam, are set to be accessible by January 15.
On December 3 (2018), the International Day of Persons with Disabilities, Alappuzha town witnessed a sea change for wheelchair users and others with disabilities. It became the first disabled-friendly, accessible and barrier-free beach. A 50 metre ramp was constructed so that wheelchair users could gain access to the beach. For those yearning to see the shore up-close the ramp provides easy accessibility.
Anand Abraham, with his wife and kids, took his octogenarian, wheelchair-user father to the beach. He says, “Only yesterday I found out that Alappuzha beach was disabled-friendly. So I brought my father here. He could not come here ever since he has had to use the wheelchair. It is a very satisfying and happy moment for him and the whole family.”
Braille sign boards
Not just for wheelchair users, the beach has been equipped with Braille sign boards.
Krishna Teja, Sub-Collector, Alappuzha district, says, “This is only the first phase of making the beach barrier-free. More ramps and Braille signposts will be added. Motorised wheelchairs will also be provided very soon. Rest rooms for people with disabilities, toilets for both sexes shall be constructed.” Increasing the length of the ramps till the water’s edge, so that wheelchair users can take a dip is also being carefully considered as the ebb and flow of the tide have to be taken into account.
Such humanitarian projects apart from creating awareness are a pointer, a direction that other beaches can emulate. Besides, accessibility along Kerala’s long and luxuriant coastline can also boost tourism and increase revenue.
Malin Muralidharan, District Tourist Promotion Council (DTPC), secretary says, “The number of people with disabilities who visit the beach has increased every day. Besides Braille and wheelchairs, we are also planning to introduce audio-visual aids for the hearing-impaired. It is our intention to make Alappuzha beach the first full-fledged beach accessible to persons with disabilities in South India.”