Melissa and Michael Anderson said a beach mat that was installed last month at Rotary Beach makes Head Lake accessible to Melissa, who uses a wheelchair. /Submitted photo

Making beach accessible ‘a wonderful gift&’ for family 

By Sue Tiffin

Staff reporter

Melissa Anderson is celebrating summer by dipping her toes in the lake.

What is a simple act for some posed challenges for Melissa due to accessibility barriers at public beaches that make mobility tricky sometimes impossible for people who use wheelchairs and walkers.

Last month Dysart et al installed an accessible beach mat at Rotary Beach at Head Lake Park in Haliburton and now Melissa can access the water without the stress of trying to get her mobility device through the sand.

“The ramp has given her hope that she can again swim in the lakes” said Melissa’s husband Michael Anderson.

Melissa a Haliburton resident unexpectedly spent six months in hospital last year after a dissection of her right middle cerebral artery which led to clots that formed a blockage resulting in artery hemorrhaging in May.

“It required her right bone flap to be removed due to swelling a procedure that was followed by it being reinserted in August” said Michael. “It led to her left side being immobile and terrible neuropathic pain.”

Despite pain Michael said Melissa is slowly recovering.

The couple together with their daughter have made Rotary Beach a frequent destination over the years.

“Many castles have been built in the sand there” said Melissa.

As COVID-19 restrictions which had kept the beach closed were lifted the Andersons began returning to the spot.

“Upon arriving at the beach on June 18th we saw what we thought at first was a slip and slide” said Michael. “When we realized it was an accessibility ramp Melissa was ecstatic. We had tried to get her to the water before but the sand was a huge barrier. Concern for her chair to become stuck in the water kept us from trying. Now with the ramp she can quite easily reach the water and submerge her feet. Melissa has even managed to stand on it.”

Tamara Wilbee Dysart et al CAO said the beach mat is part of a pilot project the municipality is exploring to determine if it works well before expanding the option to other beaches and was paid for through a grant from the Enabling Accessibility Fund.

Accessibility features including board walks accessible fishing platforms rent able all-terrain wheelchairs and ramps leading over the sand into the water have become increasingly popular in recent years with beaches throughout the province – including Wasaga Beach Woodbine Beach and at Sandbanks and Bonnechere Provincial Parks – offering the option for beach goers.

“It feels like a wonderful gift from the community for anyone who has issues with accessibility” said Melissa.