For people who use wheelchairs or have physical limitations, showing up to a public park or beach is a toss up whether they’ll be able to enjoy it.
Beth Stombaugh knows this firsthand.
The Ohio native-turned-Gulfportian, born with the most severe type of spina bifida, has used a wheelchair her entire life. Growing up, her parents had to carry to sandy shores, and she had to rely on others to overcome what her wheelchair couldn’t.
That’s why she’s working with what she only describes as a “major tourism website” to rate the local parks in St. Petersburg.
“I’m mostly focusing on mobility impairments since I can do that fairly well,” Stombaugh said. “Some of them are very good and some have a ways to go.”
Her goal is to go through most of the parks and beaches in St. Pete and Clearwater to determine whether they’re accessible for people with mobility, visual, or sensory impairments.
“I’m not allowed to name the website at this time because the project is not complete,” Stombaugh said. “But it is a major tourist website for St. Petersburg and Clearwater.”
One can speculate. After all, everyone wants to visit St. Petersburg and Clearwater.
Mobi mats (roll-out ramps for wheelchair accessibility on the beach), beach wheelchairs (preferably electric), ADA-compliant bathrooms, braille signs, and accessible parking are all things people with disabilities must consider.
Right now, there’s no easy way to find out if a city offers these accommodations.
She’s also a wildlife photographer, something she’s incorporating into her work with the parks. Stombaugh’s reports will come with photos of the outdoors.
She says Sawgrass Lake Park is accessible, and for a small beach, Gulfport Beach is reasonably accessible. Albert Whitted Park? Not so much.
The parks legally must have these assets, but oftentimes, change is complaint driven, she says.
Before her move to the Sunshine State, Stombaugh worked as a special education teacher for 24 years at an inner-city school in Columbus, Ohio.
Working with youth with disabilities is something close to her heart. Once upon a time, Stombaugh was a young girl using a wheelchair in the Midwest.
Her parents moved her to a mainstream public school after kindergarten for a chance at a better education.
Stombaugh was an alternate in the Paralympics and on the United States Wheelchair Swim Team when she was in high school and college. She competed across the U.S., in England, and Venezuela.
When she’s not visiting parks, Stombaugh spends time in Gulfport with her two dachshunds.
“I love it here, the people are very accepting and I’ve been enjoying that,” Stombaugh said. “I would like to see more ADA compliance here, but we’re working on it.”
Stay tuned to thegabber.com for updates on Stombaugh’s accessibility project. Once the online parks project is completed, we’ll post the results.