Oyster Bay Beach Locks Out PWD
When N.Y. state extended the Ocean Parkway Coastal Greenway path in 2014 connecting Jones Beach State Park and Tobay Beach, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said in a report by Newsday, cyclists and pedestrians “are now able to take in the stunning scenery along miles of accessible pathway between two of Long Island’s best beaches;” the New York State Dept. of Transportation said, “The 13-foot-wide path will be wheelchair-accessible…” and Town of Oyster Bay (TOB) Supervisor John Venditto, who called Tobay “the crown jewel of the town,” said the new path will “offer new recreational activities for all to enjoy.”
Peter Hawkins, a wheelchair user, found out differently the first time he used the new path and arrived at Tobay Beach. Hawkins found the path was accessible but Tobay Beach wasn’t. Where there was once no barrier to the restrooms at Tobay beach a fence had been installed and a turnstile had been erected, which prevented anyone using a wheelchair from entering to use the restrooms and the beach in general.
When confronted with the problem, Town Commissioner of Parks Frank Nocerino said the fence was constructed to avoid the danger from bicycles. In a June 2015 statement to Newsday Nocerino said “We’re going to try
and accommodate the ADA.”
To date the barrier remains the same, so when someone who is unable to use the turnstile arrives at Tobay Beach on the path, they see a gate with a combination lock and a sign that directs them to call a phone number to get the combination. This makes Hawkins think about his friend Peter Zarba and any quadriplegic who has little finger dexterity and would not be able to turn the small dials at the bottom of the lock, even when they know the combination.
To Hawkins, who has participated in marathons and raced all over the world this was inconceivable. “I couldn’t believe the Town of Oyster Bay would want to keep wheelchair users out,” he said. “It’s a slap in the face. Why should people with disabilities have to call for permission? And what if they don’t have a cell phone with them?” Hawkins notes that the turnstile not only keeps out wheelchair users but anyone who uses any type of assistive device.
According to a cyclist Andrew Hager, he met Hawkins at the Tobay gate by chance, saw he was locked out and decided to help.
Hager filed a suit with the Department of Justice, who he says agreed to take the case. “I was angry when I saw he was locked out, it annoyed me” said Hager. “All I did was the right thing. If you can help somebody, you do it.”
“The Commissioner of Parks has met and spoken regularly with anybody who has brought additional concerns regarding this issue to our attention, and we are continuing to evaluate the entire situation to determine a solution in which everyone is reasonably accommodated for next season,” said TOB spokesperson Marta Kane. “Kindly keep in mind that the installation of a fence and turnstile was done as a safety measure for all residents, one the Town took as it was determinedto be the best solution to ensure the safety of all residents.
“It is truly sad that public entities like the Town of Oyster Bay still have difficulties interpreting the real-life application of the federal, state and local disability laws,” said Civil Rights Atty. James Bahamonde. “To me, the term “unobstructed access” is not confusing. But when you ask certain individuals, they seem to forget or simply exclude wheelchair users altogether. Here, the Town official is aware that the existing barrier excludes wheelchair users. Nonetheless, the official tries to justify this exclusion as the best solution for “all residents.” All residents? What she really means is all residents, but wheelchair users.
This is discrimination, illegal and completely unacceptable.”
When Hawkins asked Norecino about the state’s plan to continue the path to Captree State Park by 2021, he said. “We’ll have to do something about it then.” Hawkins questions why TOB should get a pass on the law until then.