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This Ontario man wants to make Canada's beaches accessible to everyone

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As beach season approaches, an Ontario man sheds light on an often overlooked issue: accessibility.

Every year, Canada celebrates National AccessAbility Week between May 26 and June 1, but this year it had special meaning for Wade Watts, a mobility facilitator with a background in construction and project management.

ACCESSIBLE TOURS

Relying on a wheelchair due to a life-changing event over a decade ago, he embarked on a journey to understand and address the lack of accessibility at the country's beaches and parks.

“I realized that this world was no longer right for me as a nature lover who loves camping, swimming and anything involving water. I couldn't understand why,” he told Now Toronto.

“The biggest obstacles are not physical, but attitudinal,” he stressed. “There is a lack of understanding of accessibility.”

Since then, Watts and his wife have been leading accessibility tours across Canada, visiting over a thousand beaches in seven years. Based on his field research, he estimates that of Canada's 2,500 known public beaches, less than 15 percent are accessible.

“The problem is that many beaches claim to be accessible but in reality they are not,” he explained. “True accessibility means access to the water, both on and in the water.”

ACCESS THE PARADISE PROMISE

This realization fueled Watts' advocacy work, urging governments and Canadians to rethink the design of beaches and parks. He launched the Accessing Paradise initiative with Corona Canada and committed to transforming six beaches across the country into accessible paradises.

The first two beaches to be transformed are Wellington Beach in Prince Edward County, Ontario, and Saint-Zotique in Vaudreuil-Soulanges, Quebec, which will open to the public on June 15.

Corona Canada is now asking Canadians to nominate the remaining four beaches for this groundbreaking commitment on its official website.

The initiative is intended to benefit not only people with disabilities or the elderly, but also those with temporary disabilities or those carrying strollers. In addition, “accessible beaches provide a safer environment in the event of an emergency,” Watts added.

Watts advocates for concrete changes, including installing mobility mats, accessible toilets and improving parking.

As Mobi-mat's official Canadian representative, he emphasizes how practical the roll-up mats are in allowing people with disabilities to access beaches and hiking trails regardless of weather conditions.

In addition, the company offers floating beach wheelchairs that allow wheelchair users to enjoy the water safely.

ACCESSIBLE BEACHES IN ONTARIO

He also recommends two accessible beaches in Ontario to visit this summer, including Cobourg Beach in Cobourg and Van Wagners Beach in Hamilton.

Additionally, he recommends exploring the trails in Thessalon, a northern Ontario town that offers a 4.1-kilometre wheelchair-accessible walking trail. He notes that the community is actively working to improve accessibility by building an accessible small boat marina for kayaks, canoes and more, ensuring complete accessibility.

Watts personally identified accessibility issues within the community and conducted a comprehensive accessibility audit and praises their diligent efforts to address these issues.

When asked about Toronto's beaches, he replied, “Toronto has beautiful beaches, but their lack of accessibility remains a mystery.” However, he recommends Rouge Beach, calling it “by far the most accessible beach in Toronto, without a doubt.”

As the Accessing Paradise campaign gains momentum, Watts hopes to change mindsets and make beaches and parks truly accessible to all Canadians.