Monday, June 27, 2022

Accessibility Review: Safety Harbor Waterfront Park

Accessibility Grade: A
If you're a native Floridian, you know that summer time is beach season. But when you're a wheelchair user, you also know that sand is the arch nemesis of both manual and power wheelchairs. So how can you get that taste of Florida summer, in a way that won't ruin your wheelchair's bearings and/or motors? One work around is to find an accessible, public park, much like the Safety Harbor Waterfront Park.

While there are a few entrances, all of the sidewalks are at least wide enough to accommodate a power wheelchair user. Many of the pathways are extra wide and smooth, like the one shown in the picture above. There is a sign to the left of the sidewalk, which is prominently displayed and reads "Welcome to Waterfront Park." The letters are in white and yellow, with a black background, making them easier to see for people with low vision. From time to time, there are metal posts that crop up, which have lights located at the top. If you are blind or have low vision, try to be careful in this area. It may be a good idea to walk more towards the middle of the sidewalk. Wheelchair users may want to do the same, since there isn't enough room for most of us to fit on the outer side of these posts. That is, unless we do a bit off-roading, which isn't a great idea.

Continuing along this path, you'll come to a boardwalk. This area is great for wheelchair users, as well as people with varying kinds of mobility disabilities, because it offers a unique opportunity. In addition to a scenic view of the ocean, the boardwalk also winds around and through the mangroves. In this picture, the boardwalk moves forward and wraps around the mangroves, which are to the right. There are wooden handrails and guards that extend its entire length. On the left is the ocean, plus a sign that describes some aquatic wildlife that can be found in the area.

Driving over the boardwalk in my power wheelchair, I noticed that the surface was much smoother than I expected. That was great for me, because it meant that my wheelchair wasn't jostling around, which also meant that the water from my travel cup didn't spill all over me. While I'm joking, but only slightly, this feature is very important for individuals who have less trunk or neck control. When enjoying the summer weather, the last thing that any wheelchair user wants to experience is an unnecessarily bumpy ride. This image shows a section of boardwalk, which cuts between two mangrove growths. In the distance, the ocean is viewable. The path leads to the left and the right, both of which are obscured by the mangroves.

After exiting the boardwalk and continuing down a wide sidewalk, you'll make your way towards the Safety Harbor Marina and Pier. Along the way, there are large sections of grass. In this picture, Sydney is driving her power wheelchair alongside Dawson, who is a cane user. It's clear that there is plenty of room for them both. In fact, there may be enough room for another wheelchair user.

At the end of this path is a large, paved section. It is both covered and has picnic tables. This space has plenty of room for wheelchair users, and is easy to navigate. In this image, the covered seating area is in the distance and to the right. It looks like the top of a tent, and is made of multiple sections of cloth, all of which are yellow. If you continue to the right, you will reach the boat ramp and marina's parking lot, and another small section of park. Beyond this section is the pier, but we'll save that for the final section of this review.

The boat ramp and harbor have a large parking lot, which has about six accessible parking spaces. There is no fee to park here, and is right across from Main Street, which also has a number of shops and restaurants. Since the odds of finding an accessible spot are pretty high, and because this lot is pretty central to everything in the area, parking here is often a good idea. This picture shows a few, accessible parking spots.
The sidewalk continues straight, and ends under a covered area with multiple benches and picnic tables. This image shows Dawson, sitting at a table with her hands folded together. Kyle and Sydney are both at the head of the table, in the power wheelchairs. This area doesn't have a ton of room for larger wheelchairs and, depending on the time of day, may be difficult to find an accessible spot in the shade.
Continue towards Main Street, and you'll pass a circular, shaded area. It has a number of benches, and also boasts a beautiful fountain at the center. There are five streams of water that shoot from the outer part of the fountain, towards its middle. The water falls on a number of rock structures, which contain sculptures of a few different species of semi-aquatic birds, in various poses. It is certainly a beautiful landmark, which could be considered a focal point of the park.
At the back of the marina, you'll find a fishing pier. Since it's a bit old, it doesn't offer the smoothest ride, though I've driven on far worse. To the left of the sidewalk, which leads up to the pier, is a sign. In yellow and white lettering, against a black background, the sign says: Fire Marshal Dick Brock Memorial Pier. There's a trashcan to the right of the pier's entrance.
Sydney and I had enough room to drive our power wheelchairs side-by-side; however, if we did this, there was no room for anybody else to pass. Whenever somebody needed to squeeze by us, we had to get into a single file line. This picture shows just how wide the pier is, as we turn towards each other and carry on a conversation. The end of the pier is visible in the distance.
Along the length of the pier, there are a few cutouts that are marked with signs that read "accessible.". These areas are lower, and make it easier for wheelchair users to take in the view. There isn't a lot of extra room in this area and, while we saw some people fishing from these spots, I'm not exactly sure how comfortable that would be. I'd probably try to fish from the end of the pier. In this image, Sydney is in front of an accessible cutout. She's looking out towards the ocean. There's a blue sign that says "accessible," located under the cutout.
At the end of the pier is a wider area, which has a covering and benches at its center. As a wheelchair user, the benches took up so much room that it felt awkward to get under the shade to escape the harsh sun. Since we visited on a busy day, and even though this space was much wider, it was still kind of difficult for us to get around with our power wheelchairs. 

The Safety Harbor Waterfront Park is spacious, and gives wheelchair users a chance to experience a typically inaccessible part of Florida. Other than the end of the pier, the wide sidewalks and smooth boardwalks are perfect for both tourists and locals. So whether you're looking for a quiet place to explore with the family, or want to do go on a solo adventure, this public park might be what you've been searching for. If you're making this trek during the summer season, make sure to bring plenty of water and stay hydrated.


Author & Producer:
Kyle Romano

Photographer:
Luis Rodriguez

Monday, June 13, 2022

Accessibility Review: St. Pete Pier and Museum of Fine Arts

Accessibility Grade: A-
Even though this review contains two locations, we decided to include them both in the same post. After recent renovations, the St. Pete Pier reopened in July of 2020. Both it and the surrounding areas are surprisingly accessible, and accommodate a wide range of disabilities. Parking is one of the biggest obstacles, which requires pier goers to access a pay station. Other than that, the park, and even its boardwalks, are pretty easy to access.

The St. Pete Museum of Fine Arts is huge, and offers plenty of room for wheelchair users to navigate the exhibits. Most of the works are eye-level for people who use mobility equipment, and are easy to approach, with little to no barriers. Just be careful not to bump into anything, because these works of art are priceless!


*Note*

Though there was a decent amount of accessible parking, you must pay a fee to park (detailed below). The park itself had wide sidewalks, shaded areas, benches, and even free sunscreen dispensers. There is an area with beach access, which features an accessibility mat for wheelchair users (note that this only reaches about a quarter of the way to the water).


The St. Pete Pier has a number of parking lots, some of which are closer than others. This picture shows two accessible spots, with an unloading zone in between them, a ramp located at the top of the unloading zone, and a ramp leading to the pay station and into the park. If you are a wheelchair user or have a disability that impacts your ability to walk long distances, it would be a good idea to park as close as possible. Click here for the locations of these lots, and for the parking rate. Until writing this review, I wasn't aware that payment can be made with a mobile app called ParkMobile, which you can access by clicking here. Since I needed my friends' help to access the kiosk shown above, paying with ParkMobile would've been much easier for me to access. We were told that there was an accessible shuttle, but didn't have a chance to follow up on it.

After we got out of my van, I was surprised to find a free sunscreen dispenser. Painted a bright blue, this cylinder is pretty easy to see, and is located next to an interactive map. This feature is incredible for people who have either sensitive skin or skin conditions. Since this dispenser is operated with a pedal on the floor, wheelchair users may need assistance to use it.

Making our way to the pier, we passed a large sidewalk that led to and followed the sea wall. There's a sign that reads "ADA RAMP ACCESS," with an arrow pointing towards the right. Taking this path will give you some great views of the water, which will be to your left, immediately after a stretch of bushes and palm trees.
There is a beautiful sculpture that is located next to the path, leading up to the Pier's Visitor Center. Surrounded by stones, it's a light green, and looks like a splash of water that has been frozen in time. In the foreground of the picture is an interactive map, which has the words "St. Pete Pier" repeated along it's side.

At the end of the pier, there's a large building that holds an information center, gift shop, and a few restaurants. Leading up to it is a concrete path, which has a boardwalk that branches off to the side. This path is extremely wide and smooth, and has tall handrails that would prevent sightseers from falling into the water. Though it isn't shown in this shot, there are no guard rails on the right side of this path. Wheelchair users, and other people with mobility-related disabilities, may feel safer to stay close to the side with the elevated hand rail.
In this shot, Kyle is positioned so that he is facing the handrail, mentioned in the previous photo. He is leaning on it with his right arm, looking out into the ocean. Since Kyle sits pretty tall in his wheelchair, this shot is intended to give the viewer some perspective regarding the height of the handrail.
Spa Beach is a small stretch of sand, reaching out into the ocean. What's nice about this particular beach, is that it has an accessible mat, which lets wheelchair users drive onto the beach without getting stuck in the sand. Though this is a nice feature, it only reaches half way down the beach, and doesn't extend to the water. If you want to access the rest of the beach, you may want to reach out to the City of St. Pete and inquire about beach wheelchairs. In this picture, Kyle is driving his power wheelchair on the accessible mat that reaches onto Spa Beach. He looks over his left shoulder, at the camera, and smiles. There are some palm trees in the background, on the right side of the picture. The ocean sprawls out in front of him, and the large building located at the end of the Pier.
After visiting the Pier, we got back in our vehicle and drove down to the St. Pete Museum of Fine Arts, which was only a few minutes away. The museum is large, and features a number of exhibits. Some of them include pieces that will only be on display for a limited time, whereas others are permanent. This picture shows the front of the museum, which is really tall, off-white, and is supported by four, ornate pillars. There are a few banners hanging from the roof. In the center is an advertisement for a current exhibit that is featured of Gio Swaby, called "Fresh Up." To the left and right of the advertisement are two replicas of her work. To the left is another poster that says "Women's Work." A wide flight of stairs, with a handrail toward the left, prominently leads to the entrance. And just in case you're wondering, the cost of admission is currently $20, but there is payment assistance for people who receive food stamps.
While the accessible entrance isn't visible from the front of the building, it is located to the left of the main entrance. We actually asked for assistance to find it, because there we didn't notice any signs that indicated its location. This picture shows the accessible entrance, which is a ramp that curves gently to the right. There is a dark brown sign, with a white wheelchair symbol and an arrow pointing right, that's located on the wall to the left of the ramp.
Inside the museum, the exhibits are usually arranged in large rooms, similar to the one in this picture. Some paintings may be a little tough for kids to see, though adult wheelchair users shouldn't have trouble. There was a single door frame that I couldn't fit my wheelchair through, though there was an alternate entrance that I could enter through, which was located just around the corner. There aren't any barriers in front of many paintings and sculptures, so make sure to be careful around them. If you are a power wheelchair user, it may be a good idea to select a slower speed setting while you're in these areas. In this picture, Kyle is in the corner of a large room with dark brown, arranged in a herringbone pattern, and the walls have a blue and off-white floral patter. There are three paintings, one to Kyle's left, one in front of him, which he's looking at, and one to his right.



Author & Producer:
Kyle Romano

Photographer:
Luis Rodriguez

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