By MADDY VITALE
Ocean City is partnering with the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation to improve accessibility at the prime summer attraction in the resort — the beaches — for residents and tourists alike.
“I’m happy to report that the city learned this week that we will be the recipient of a $25,000 grant from the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation,” Mayor Jay Gillian said in a statement Dec. 30.
The funding will help the city expand the already ambitious beach accessibility program by adding more mobility mats.
“Extended pathways of beach mats will lead to more sitting areas that can accommodate persons with disabilities,” Gillian said.
Christopher Reeve, the late actor, was also an equestrian. In 1995, he was paralyzed in a horse-riding accident. He died in 2004 of heart failure, according to the foundation website.
He and his late wife, Dana, who died in 2006 of cancer, created the foundation to help others who were paralyzed and to spread awareness and raise funds for research.
Mark Bogosian, director of the Quality of Life Grants Program for the foundation, said accessibility to the ocean is key.
“When you think about it, everybody should be able to access any kind of community space, especially a beach,” he said in an interview Monday. “In terms of making the beaches accessible, the mats are important so that everyone has access to the beach and can enjoy it together.”
The city already has beach mats at the entrances to each of its 99 beaches. But accessibility with longer beach mats that extend to the water is the goal.
The grant will enable the city to purchase longer mobility mats for beaches at Surf Road, Waverly Beach (off E. Atlantic Boulevard), Stenton Place, 14th Street and 58th Street.
“We are doing the mobility mats that go down to the water,” Bogosian noted of the areas that will receive longer mats. “They will also stretch onto sitting areas, not just a straight line.”
Tom Londres, an Ocean City resident who has a family member who uses a wheelchair, is a member of the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation’s board of directors. Londres brought the idea of applying for grants from the foundation to his hometown.
During an Oct. 22 First Ward meeting of City Councilman Terry Crowley Jr., Londres said that he would like more accessibility throughout the community, to the beaches and other areas of town, including more parking.
Gillian mentioned the city’s appreciation for Londres and his idea to seek funding from the foundation.
“I want to thank Tom Londres, an Ocean City resident and his family, for making us aware of the grant opportunity and encouraging us to apply,” Gillian said.
Londres said Monday that he was thrilled when he learned the city received funding for improvements to beach access.
“The mayor texted me last week and told me,” Londres said. “I’m just really impressed with how the town has embraced the idea of more accessibility.”
He emphasized that all of the Ocean City officials have been supportive of ways to create a more accessible community.
“They have been advocates,” Londres said.
He made special note of the work of Gillian, Councilmen Bob Barr, Crowley and Pete Madden for being strong advocates for creating a more expansive program.
Barr, who was born with cerebral palsy and uses a wheelchair, has worked with the city on ways to make the community more accessible for those in wheelchairs, especially getting onto the beaches.
Barr was at the forefront of making sure the city got funding to install a longer mobility mat that stretches down to the high tide line at the 34th Street beach.
The mat was installed for the 2019 summer season and serves as a model for the mats officials would like to have at other beaches in the resort in the future.
The bright blue mats, and beige ones on some beaches, are made of hard plastic. They sit on top of the sand to create an easy-to-walk pathway.
The mats have become a summer staple on Ocean City beaches for more than five years.
Beachgoers enjoy the ease of getting on and off the beach via the beach mats.
The $25,000 grant from the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation is an Accessible Community Spaces grant.
Since 2014, the foundation has awarded over 100 grants totaling $1.6 million for better access in communities throughout the country, including some in New Jersey, Florida, Texas, Connecticut and Wisconsin, to name just some, Bogosian explained.
“We’ve done these programs all over the country. It can be ocean, beach, lake or somewhere else,” he said of the community spaces grants. “We are committed to helping with accessible spaces.”
He emphasized that while the program is geared for people who are in wheelchairs or use walkers, the improved access helps everyone.
“It betters the entire community because it makes it not only accessible for someone in a wheelchair, but for everyone,” he said.
Ocean City was one of just 57 communities selected for this year’s Accessible Community Spaces grants through the foundation.
There were 300 applications that were all closely reviewed before making selections, Bogosian said.
“Ocean City is doing all they can to make all 99 beaches very accessible,” he said. “Ocean City is really committed.”