NewsPinellas County

Actions

Advocates for the disabled push for more mobility mats at Tampa Bay beaches

wheelchair mobility mats.PNG
Posted at 3:46 PM, Sep 27, 2021
and last updated 2021-09-27 15:46:09-04

TREASURE ISLAND, Fla. — Tampa Bay has always been known for having some of the most beautiful beaches in the world and now a couple of nonprofit organizations are also trying to make them the most accessible.

Some people call it a mobility mat, but not Kim Dittman, she calls it a life changer.

“I feel very independent and free just like the seagulls,” said Kim.

The whole reason she moved to St. Pete from Ohio was to enjoy the beaches. She used to go every day until her life took a drastic turn.

“At age 39 I had a severe virus which resulted in total paralysis,” said Dittman.

According to the CDC, one in seven adults lives with mobility issues, yet only about 30 public parks and beaches state-wide have these mats.

“It's very frustrating only because I want to be like everybody else,” said Dittman.

So the Disability Achievement Center and Help Us Gather have teamed up to push for more mats across Tampa Bay beaches.

“We started visiting and advocating to the local municipalities, ‘please put one down, please put a mat down,’ and the biggest obstacle was funding, ‘we don’t have it in our budget, we don’t have money for it,’” said Jody Armstrong with the Disability Achievement Center.

That’s when the Forward Foundation, based out of Clearwater, decided to step up in the name of equality.

“They’re basically offering a blank check to any beach-facing city in our area, if you would like a mobility mat we’ll write you a check, it’s free money,” said Ashley Richmond with Help Us Gather.

Dittman said there are no excuses now, it’s time these mats become just as common as umbrellas and lawn chairs.

“To be able to get onto the sand and get close to the water is just invigorating,” said Dittman.

For more information go to www.helpusgather.org.