Madison Rabush, 9, of Mullica Township, loves amusement park rides, playing baseball, and going to the beach and waterparks. She also has multiple disabilities, including cerebral palsy, that restrict the use of her legs.
But like other kids with disabilities who either live at, or visit, the New Jersey shore, she can still find lots of things to do here during summer va-cation.
Thanks to the Americans with Disabilities Act, which has required public accommodations to be handicapped accessible for 20 years, there are few limits on where she can go. The only restrictions are safety and her own preferences.
"She's a daredevil. Some things she'd like to do, but size holds her back," said mom Liz Rabush, 39. "I get nervous more than she does, because she doesn't have good balance. She would do anything if I let her."
Rabush said her daughter has never had an accessibility issue, and Madison can usually use her walker to help her do things such as roller skate and get around amusement parks. But standing in line for a long time can be hard. "So we try to pick off-days to go to the boardwalk, when it's not crowded," she said.
"She was finally able to do the log flume last year, and this is the first year I've let her on the swings (ride)," Rabush said.
While there may be some things a disabled child cannot do for safety reasons, there are ways to adjust an activity to have a similar experience.
One expert with lots of experience helping disabled kids have fun at the shore is Jen Layton, director of the Helen L. Diller Vacation Home for Blind Children in Avalon.
"Our goal is to provide a full shore vacation," said Layton, 30. "You have to know your child, and adapt activities based on their needs and abilities."
Campers at the Diller Home often have other disabilities, like mild autism, cerebral palsy or retardation, in addition to full or partial blindness, she said.
So instead of bike riding, they go surrey riding, with counselors steering. When they go to the beach or lake swimming, they are watched closely and kept in small groups, and lifeguards are made aware of their special needs. Instead of swimming, they may walk in the shallow water and beachcomb, using only their sense of touch.
When they go to waterparks, many stay in shallow water and all wear life vests. At amusement parks, some avoid the rides altogether, while others welcome them.
The key is supervision, Layton says.
Geoff Rogers, vice president of operations for Morey's Piers, agrees that parental supervision is essential.
"My advice for parents of children with disabilities is not all that different from advice for other guests. We suggest parents observe a ride before they allow a child to ride it," he said. "Parents have to know their own child, what forces and thrills they can withstand. Children with disabilities, like children without, are all different."
Layton suggests starting small with rides.
"As long as they know ahead of time what the ride will be like, they are okay with it," she said. "Start small with something like the teacups," she advised.
Jackie Seeger, 41, of Little Egg Harbor Township, has a nine-year-old son, Jacob, who is autistic.
"Just being in a different place, with his disability, can be enough to set the stage for things to be rough," she said. "So we always stay at the same condominium unit when we go away. That let's him get comfortable with the environment, and with the staff."
He is another daredevil who loves roller coasters. "He likes the sensation. It's helpful to him," she said.
Madison is still small enough to use a jogging stroller to cross the beach, but Rabush said eventually the family will use the surf chairs provided by municipalities. Every town has at least a couple available, some have dozens. Many require users to call ahead to reserve them.
For a listing of beach accessiblity for the disabled, click on this story at momsJerseyShore.com
Contact Michelle Brunetti Post:
Handicapped Access to Beaches
Cape May County
Avalon: Access and surf chairs at 8th, 30th and 80ths streets. Free, reservation required. Call 609-967-7587. Restrooms at 30th and beach, 10th Street. and Dune Drive. Recreational Park and other public buildings.
Cape May City: 1st Avenue, Stegers Beach, Stockton Street , Jefferson Avenue, Philadelphia Avenue, Hughes Street, Poverty Beach, Madison Avenue, Beach Patrol HQ on Grant Street. Free, first-come basis.
Cape May Point: Whilldin Avenue. Surf chairs at the Lifeguard Station at 215 Lighthouse Avenue. Free. Call ahead to reserve 609-884-8468 ext. 15. No public restrooms.
North Wildwood: Accessible parking and surf chairs at Beach Patrol HQ at 15th Avenue, 3 at 5th Avenue, 2 at Inlet Beach. Free, first-come basis. Restrooms at 15th Avenue.
Ocean City: Access to beach and accessible bathrooms at 1st, 6th, 8th, 12th and 34th streets and Moorlyn Terrace. Most surf chairs at Sports and Civic Center at 6th Street and Boardwalk, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Free. Reservations encouraged. Call 609-525-9304. One each at lifeguard stands at 1st, 12th, 34th and 59th streets for transport to beach.
Sea Isle City: Ramps located at 44th and 85th streets, where there are also restrooms. Surf chairs available at Beach Patrol HQ at 44th Street and the Promenade, open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Call 609-263-6000. Drop off/pick up service available. Free. Reservations strongly suggested.
Stone Harbor: About one-third of beach entrances accessible. Surf chairs at Beach Tag Office at 95th Street and beach. 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Free. Reservations strongly suggested. Call 609-368-6805.
Strathmere in Upper Township: Beach accessible at Williams Avenue at Neptune, by Beach Patrol Building, where there are also surf chairs available free and an accessible portable toilet. Reservations strongly suggested. Call 609-263-1151 or email email@example.com
Wildwood: Ramps at Schellenger and Rio Grande avenues, and accessibility at Cresse Avenue. Schellenger has public bathroom. Beach wheelchairs available at Beach Patrol HQ, Lincoln Avenue and Ocean. Free. Reservations strongly encouraged 609-522-8258 or 609-846-2054.
Wildwood Crest: Surf chairs at Beach Patrol HQ, Rambler Road and the beach. Free. Call 522-3825 to reserve. Restrooms accessible at Heather, Miami, Preston, Hollywood, Topeka, St. Louis and Trenton avenues.
Atlantic City: Bartram, Annapolis, Albany, Providence, Chelsea, Iowa, Michigan, Kentucky, South Carolina, Pennsylvania, Delaware and New Hampshire avenues and between Missouri and Columbia avenues. ADA restrooms at Caspian Avenue. Call 609-347-5312 for beach wheelchairs.
Brigantine: Surf wheelchairs free on first-come basis at Beach Patrol HQ at 17th Street and the beach. Call 266-5233.
Margate: Ask lifeguard at Beach Patrol HQ at Decatur and also at Huntington Avenue, where there are also public bathrooms. Surf chairs only for use in getting on and off beach.
Longport: Sand ramp at 35th Avenue and cutaways in bulkhead at 16th and 33rd avenues. Beach wheelchairs at Beach Patrol HQ at 33rd Street and beach. Call 822-3898. Restrooms 33rd and Atlantic Avenue in Community Building.
Ventnor: Access at Suffolk and Newport avenues, where there is also accessible parking. Restroom at Suffolk. Call Beach Patrol at 609-823-7948 arrange a surf chair.
Barnegat Light: 9th and 29th streets. Beach wheelchairs by calling 609-494-9196. Accessible restrooms at 10th Street and Bayview Avenue and at Barnegat Lighthouse.
Bay Head: Platform at Howe Street. Beach wheelchairs NOT available. No public restrooms.
Beach Haven: Wheelchair pavilions at 5th and Pearl streets. Restrooms near the Centre Street beach, on bayside at Taylor Avenue, public dock on Dock Rd and the bay, and at tennis courts on Pearl Street and playground at Nelson and West avenues.
Berkeley: Accessible beaches and wheelchairs at lifeguard shack, 23rd Avenue.
Brick: Beaches I and III and Windward Beach are wheelchair accessible, with accessible restrooms. Call 732-262-1044 to reserve a beach wheelchair.
Harvey Cedars: Wheelchair ramps at Mercer Avenue and 80th Street. Beach wheelchair call 609-494-6905.
Island Beach State Park: Pavilions accessible. Wheelchairs available. Bathrooms accessible throughout park.
Lavallette: Ortley, Philadelphia and Dover avenues. Beach wheelchairs at beach patrol headquarters at Philadelphia Avenue. NO restrooms.
Long Beach Township: All sections have accessible ramps. Call beach patrol at 609-361-1200 for beach wheelchairs.
Mantoloking: Downer and Lyman avenues. Wheelchairs at Borough Hall. No restrooms.
Seaside Heights: Kearny Avenue. Call 732-793-4646 for surf chair. Accessible bathroom also at Kearny.
Seaside Park: F Street and 7th Avenue. Restrooms on Ocean Avenue.
Ship Bottom: Ramps at 4th, 7th to 9th, 13th to 15th, 19th to 23rd, 25th and 30th streets. Reserve surf chairs by calling 609-494-9481 or 609-494-2171 ext. 116.
Surf City: Ramp at 12th Street. Surf wheelchairs by calling 609-494-3064. Restroom Borough Hall 9th Street.
Toms River: All beaches accessible. Rserve beach wheelchairs by calling 732-793-3890 24 hours ahead.
Allenhurst: Visitors with disabilities can enter the beach at Cedar Avenue, where two beach wheelchairs and restrooms are available.
Asbury Park: All boardwalk access points handicapped accessible. Beach wheelchairs available at Ocean Avenue and the boardwalk, where there are also restrooms.
Avon: East End, Garfield, and Washington avenues. Beach wheelchairs are also available, upon request, for no cost. Bathrooms accessible at Norwood and Lincoln avenues.
Belmar: 3rd, 10th and 20th avenues. Accessible parking on each block. Beach wheelchairs are available upon request, but visitors with disabilities must contact a lifeguard to obtain one. Accessible restrooms at 3rd, 5th, 8th, 10th, 16th, 19th avenues.
Bradley Beach: Newark and 2nd avenues, where beach wheelchairs are available as well as restrooms.
Deal: Wheelchair ramps onto the beach are located in front of the Conover Pavilion. Beach wheelchairs are not available. Beach info line at 732-531-0404.
Highlands: There is a walkway from street parking to the beach that is accessible to visitors with disabilities, but there is no access to the water line. Beach wheelchairs are NOT available. Restrooms at Beachway and Belleview are accessible.
Keansburg: The wooden boardwalks provide ramps for beach access. The restrooms and showers located at the Beachway and Belleview avenues are accessible. Beach wheelchairs are NOT available.
Loch Arbour: One beach wheelchair is available to reserve in the gatehouse at Euclid Avenue and Ocean Place.
Long Branch: Beach wheelchairs are available at both the Morris Avenue beach and Chelsea Avenue beach, both of which are accessible to individuals with disabilities. Morris Avenue has restrooms.
Manasquan: Elks Beach at Ocean Avenue is accessible and beach wheelchairs are available there, as well as restrooms.
Middletown: Leonardo Beach. NO beach wheelchairs are available. The public restroom on Leonardo Beach (a portable toilet) is accessible.
Monmouth Beach: Ramps connect the sidewalk to the Bathing Pavilion, where beach wheelchairs are available.
Neptune Township-Ocean Grove: Wheelchair ramps are located at Embury Avenue, Ocean Pathway and Bath Avenue, where surf wheelchairs are available. No public restrooms.
Sea Bright: All main entrance points are accessible at ground level.
Sea Girt: The beaches are wheelchair-accessible and beach wheelchairs are available.
Spring Lake: Wheelchair ramps are located at the intersections of Atlantic and Ocean Avenues, Tuttle and Ocean Avenues, and Remsen Avenue, Salem Avenue and Brown Avenue. A few beach wheelchairs are also available. Accessible parking is available at Worthington, Ludlow, Tuttle, Atlantic, Salem avenues and Brown Avenue. Accessible bathrooms at Ludlow and Atlantic, Salem and Atlantic, and Brown and Atlantic avenues.
Sandy Hook-Gateway National Recreation Area: The boardwalk leading to the beach is accessible. For beach wheelchairs, contact the concessionaire at 732-872-0025 (at Area D). Accessible restrooms throughout park.
From the Department of the Public Advocate's NJ Beach Guide
Guidelines for Safe Surf Chair Use
Weight limit 300 lbs.
Attendant must always be present.
Attendant must not exceed his/her own physical ability.
Never place the chair in water more than six inches deep.
- from the Cape May County Office of Disability Services
Tips from parents of kids with developmental challenges
Be open about your child's special needs with lifeguards at the beach, pool or waterpark. Also inform key staff in restaurants, hotels, and other service areas.
Many towns, like Ocean City, provide free parking at metered spots on the street, for cars with handicapped permits. Some also provide free parking in municipal lots. Call the municipality you are visiting to find out what its policy is.
If your child is autistic or has a disability that makes novelty a problem, stay at the same resort each year so your child can feel more comfortable.
Water parks are especially good for kids who can't swim independently. They provide life vests and lots of lifeguards, and have smaller child areas and shallow "lazy river" sections. Wildwood's water parks are especially good because they have padded bottom surfaces in the smaller child areas, so kids who have to crawl find it much more comfortable on the knees.
Dress your child in a distinctive color that is easy for you, and others, to find in a crowd.
Field of Dreams and Hoops for All are programs to allow kids with disabilities to play baseball and basketball. Call 609-641-1706 or visit www.sjfieldofdreams.com