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: