Heading to the Shore

Northeast ADA Center Staff April 26, 2020

It’s the time of year when many of us take advantage of the summer weather and “head to the shore” for some R&R. Given that, we wanted to take a minute to remind stakeholders that although the 2010 ADA Standards for Accessible Design do not directly address access to beaches, there are still Program Accessibility obligations to consider (for beaches maintained by state/local government entities) that require that programs and activities offered by public entities must be accessible to people with disabilities when viewed in their entirety, unless it is an undue burden to do so.

So essentially, even though the 2010 ADA Standards for Accessible Design do not contain scoping or technical requirements for beach access, the ADA’s Title II Regulation that requires Program Accessibility still applies to beaches that are covered by Title II of the ADA.

The good news for state governments or municipalities interested in learning how to provide access to beaches, is that there are standards for beach access routes found in the Architectural Barriers Act (ABA) Outdoor Developed Areas Final Rule, which applies to facilities designed, built, altered, or leased with certain federal funds. Applying the ABA’s scoping and technical requirements for beach access routes often proves to be a Best Practice for Title II entities that want to improve or provide access to beaches for people with disabilities.

A big challenge for beach access is obviously the ground surface (sand) as well as dune crossings. Where provided, beach access routes allow pedestrians to cross a beach so they can play, swim, or participate in other beach- or water-related activities. A beach access route is a continuous, unobstructed path that crosses the surface of the beach and provides pedestrians access to the water. Note that ABA standards do not require beach access routes where pedestrian access to the beach is not allowed. Beach access routes can be permanent or removable, and removable routes may be an option where restrictive permits are issued in coastal and shoreline areas, where seasonal tides or high flows may remove or damage a permanent structure, or in areas where the beach erodes or builds up quickly each season and causes a permanent beach access route to become inaccessible. Additionally, removable beach access routes can be moved to a protected storage area during storms and other periods when the routes are subject to damage or loss. Below are a few highlights from the ABA Standards scoping requirements for Beach Access Routes:

  • Beach access routes are required when an entity that administers or manages a beach constructs or alters any circulation paths, parking facilities, toilet facilities, or bathing facilities that serve the beach. The entity is not required to spend more than 20 percent of the costs of constructing or altering these facilities to provide beach access routes.
  • Beach access routes are required when the entity that administers or manages the beach undertakes a beach nourishment project. The entity is not required to spend more than 20 percent of the costs of a beach nourishment project to provide beach access routes.
  • At least one beach access route must be provided for each one-half mile of beach shoreline administered or managed by the same entity. The number of beach access routes is not required to exceed the number of pedestrian access points provided to the beach by the entity. Pedestrian access points to a beach include parking facilities, dune crossings, and stairways or ramps leading from boardwalks to the beach. In high-density population areas, entities should consider providing beach access routes more frequently than the minimum of every one-half mile to prevent people with disabilities from traveling extensive distances to access the beach.
  • Generally, beach access routes must coincide with or be located in the same general area as pedestrian access points that serve the beach  and these routes must connect an entry point to the beach to the high tide level at tidal beaches; the mean high water level at river beaches; and the normal recreation water level at lake, pond, and reservoir beaches. Whenever possible, providing a beach access route that extends into the water will allow people to remain in their mobility devices and to transfer directly into the water.