The Coastal Star

Boca Raton: Mobility mats will improve access at annual Boating & Beach Bash

‘Who wants to go for a boat ride?’ Guests outfitted in the mandatory life jackets

are ready to be helped aboard one of the 20 yachts offering rides to attendees

of last year’s Boating & Beach Bash for People With Disabilities.

Photo provided

By April W. Kimley

    Jay Van Vechten remembers what he felt like when he made it onto the beach at Spanish River Park in December after the installation of new access mats for people with disabilities.
    “I teared up,” he said. “All of a sudden I could visit the beach by myself again — after 14 years.”
    The mobility mats were installed and paid for by the city of Boca Raton last fall to enable people with disabilities to navigate over beach sand.
    The Boca Raton man is the force behind the city’s successful Boating & Beach Bash for People With Disabilities. A freak accident in 2001 left him in constant pain and able to walk only with a cane.
    “These mobi-mats are a game changer,” Van Vechten said.
    On March 12, for the eighth annual bash, participants will finally be able to gain access to the beach easily because of the mobi-mats. They will be able to participate in a number of beach activities and, weather and currents permitting, even go swimming.
    “We want people to bring their bathing suits and towels,” said Van Vechten, whose excitement over this — and other new activities — is catching.
    Liz Schmidt, of the Boca YMCA, has assembled a team of more than 20 lifeguards and trained volunteers to assist those who want to swim. Two people will supervise every participant; life preservers will be provided, and of course, the regular Ocean Rescue lifeguards will be on hand.  
    “For many [participants], this will be the first time they were ever on the coastal beach here in Boca,” Schmidt said.
    If bad weather or currents preclude swimming, participants with disabilities will have plenty of other beach activities, such as volleyball and horseshoes, and even building sand castles in special, elevated platform boxes filled with sand.
    The Bash is the largest event of its kind held in the U.S. It is run under the direction of the American Disabilities Foundation Inc.
    Last year more than 400 volunteers hosted upward of 5,000 people at the event— young and old, civilians and veterans — and helped them participate in a wide variety of seaside activities at Spanish River Park. All activities are free, and range from wheelchair yoga and kite flying to therapy ponies, free lunches, live music and boat rides on the Intracoastal Waterway.
    Bob Garey, the marina manager at the Royal Palm Yacht & Country Club, rounded up the boats and captains and supervised water safety — and will do it again this year.
    The organization has also recently received a $4,900 grant from Palm Beach County to buy additional mobi-mats. Van Vechten said these will probably be used to make other parts of the park accessible.
    The Bash is run exclusively by volunteers. It pays no salaries and there are no administrative costs. It offers something many people with disabilities usually miss out on: a day in a seaside park where they can enjoy themselves doing what beachgoers do.

Also new this year:
    The Boca Ballet Theatre will offer dancing for people with Parkinson’s disease.
    Boca Raton Regional Hospital is teaming up with the Florida Atlantic University College of Nursing and graduate students from Nova Southeastern University to provide noninvasive health screening such as blood pressure monitoring.
    Joe DiMaggio Children’s Hospital has agreed to sponsor the Kids Fun Zone.
    DIVE HEART will demonstrate how to use scuba diving as a tool to build confidence and independence in children, adults, and veterans with disabilities — that organization’s mission.

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