In Cornwall, you are never far from a beach. But, for some people, the beach might as well be a million miles away.
If you can’t stand or walk, how do you get across the soft sand?
People will tell you that many beaches have “special” chairs available to hire, but how do you transfer to one if you cannot stand? And how do you sit comfortably if you need support?
There are many beaches in Cornwall which have sand chairs, but they often don’t meet the needs of the very people that designers and purchasers are thinking about. When you think about wheelchair users, you possibly think about people like my son, those who cannot stand or walk at all, maybe even those who find sitting difficult too? Yet many of the sand chairs available have no postural support, no lap belt, and you are often not allowed to take them into the sea. There is no facility for anyone who needs a hoist to transfer from their own chair to the beach chair and no suitable toilet facilities either.
We started planning a beach trip 12 days before going. We thought about a it a while beforehand, but at 12 days we checked out whether we could hire a Changing Places toilet. Because, without that, we couldn’t “go” at all. Not only do we need the hoist facility to access the toilet, it enables us to transfer from wheelchair to beach chair.
There is only one beach in Cornwall with a Changing Places toilet, Summerleaze Beach, at Bude, but it is a long way from our home and we don’t know the area. It is also a long way for our friends to go when they have a lot of other beaches within twenty minutes of their homes that they could use.
We wanted to go out to explore rockpools and have the good fortune to have a rockpool expert as a friend. Heather Buttivant, from Cornish Rock Pools is a friend of ours and was keen to take Adam out to explore, so, as soon as we had a date that she was available, we made plans!
Step 1, check if Mobiloo has a vehicle available to hire for the day.
Step 2, check out where to park it for the day and obtain the necessary permissions.
Step 3, arrange PA (personal assistant) support for Adam.
Step 4, ask if friends are available that day.
Step 5, pay £395 to hire a toilet.
Step 6, hope the weather is good and that everyone stays healthy.
There is no spontaneity. No just deciding on the day that it would be a great day to go to the beach. And no ability to change your mind if you wake up just not feeling great, or you discover it is pouring with rain! You have paid for a toilet, you have to go out.
We booked our toilet and purchased a beach chair, as the beach we planned to go to had none for hire and no Changing Places toilet facilities. The chair arrived. The day drew closer, the excitement built, as did the concern for the weather. The day before was a very wet day, and Heather’s son started being sick, so we had to change plans. Her son needed her, and we are all mindful of staying away from others for 48 hours after sickness. The venue had been chosen as it was a place where Heather could have found us some amazing natural wonders, but, without the expert, we would be a bit lost there.
Side-step 1, check if Mobiloo can change venue (accommodation has often been booked).
Side-step 2, think about a new venue.
Side-step 3, check if friends can make a different venue.
Side-step 4, check out where to park the toilet.
Side-step 5, hope the weather holds.
We decided upon Gyllyngvase Beach in Falmouth as there is a car park very nearby and toilets for everyone else on the beach. But, on the morning of our trip it was raining! No amount of planning can change the weather.
Able-bodied parents of able-bodied children would have just told their children that they would go a different day, or that they would wait to see if the weather improved.
But our toilet was arriving at 10:30am! I know, it sounds like an absurd reason to go to the beach in the rain to me too, but this is our world.
Thankfully, our friends didn’t back out due to rain. Instead, they brought tarpaulins to build a shelter!
And we had fun!
Thankfully, the sun came out at times. We enjoyed a picnic lunch (and hot coffee from the café) and our friends found some cool things in the rockpools which they brought to Adam.
We wrapped up and bunkered down, and, when the sun shone later, we savoured it!
Simple pleasures, simple joys, yet it all took a lot of effort to make happen, and was not something which could have been rescheduled by a day, or brought forward if the weather had been good.
Yet, if beaches had Changing Places toilets we could go any day of the week. We could go on a whim. We could just drop by for an hour. We could be spontaneous!
Some people will say “you can’t expect such things”, but why not? If you expect toilets to be provided for you, don’t suggest that disabled people should not expect the same!
Any one of us can become disabled at any time. None of us has immunity and we should all remember that.
If you couldn’t stand or walk any more, what would you miss? Think about how you would reach the toilet, and how a lack of usable toilets would affect your ability to enjoy trips out.
There is something wonderful about feeling the ocean sweep up and over your feet.
It shouldn’t need planning. And it shouldn’t rely on your ability to pay to hire a mobile toilet.
Tomorrow, when my son asks when he can go to the beach again, I will not be able to answer him in the way he hopes. Because I simply do not know.