Universal Access

New dock with ramp and railings major step towards universal access at Orange Community Boathouse

Abigail Megginson | Freelance Journalist       August 3, 2015

The Community Boathouse of Orange, MA has been providing enjoyment and adventure since its opening in July, 2013. Now in its third season, it’s reached an oar out to another part of the community through an EZ dock. This recent addition to the boathouse facility has enabled those with disabilities or the elderly to gain independence in their canoeing and kayaking experience.

EZ docks are made by FWM docks in New Hampshire. The newly installed dock boasts a large platform suitable for those with a wheelchair or crutches. From the platform, a canoe or kayak is placed onto the launch ramp. The individual can then ease into their watercraft and “roll” themselves into the water via smooth transition rollers by pulling on the side rails.

Paddle Boarders cruising on the water.

Before the installation of the dock, the way to get into a canoe or kayak was at an awkward angle and made it difficult for some people to get in and out.

Reilly Gervais, boathouse staff, said he expects many people to be able to use the dock and that everyone who has loves it.
Gervais said people come back thanks to the new dock system, making it what he called, “a great thing for Orange.”

But the new dock isn’t just a benefit for the community. The material it’s made of is light penetrable, allowing for aquatic plants below to receive partial sunlight.

The purchase and installation was a robust collaboration between Greenworks, the Town of Orange and citizen activists.

The endeavor saw fruition through a Department of Conservation and Recreation trail grant.

As a ranking competitive kayaker, Pam Browning recognized the need of a handicapped access docking system and brought it to the town’s attention.

Reilly Gervais, Boathouse manager, demonstrates how to use the EZ dock.
Browning was the first person to contact FWM docks and get the ball rolling on the handicapped accessibility for the boathouse.

Kevin Kennedy, Director of Community Development and Planning coauthored the grant with Greenworks staff and board of directors.

Other key project members include Polly Bixby and Karen Grzesik. The two were former coaches who took students mountain biking and rappelling long before it was widely popular. The pair pioneered the idea of outdoor recreation in the mainstream Orange community and contributed towards work with the boathouse.

The dock, as currently configured, does not grant universal access. It is, however, the first grand step.
Janet Zeller is an expert canoer/kayaker and the National Accessibility Program Manager for the U.S. Forest Service. She is also, due to an accident in the mid-80s, a quadriplegic. Since her injury, she has dedicated her life’s work to increasing recreational accessibility, especially in relations to outdoor activities. However, Zeller is not as enthusiastic about the EZ dock and has expressed criticism for its limitations.

Janet Keller Kayaking from americancanoe.org

In remembering a recent visit to the site of the installation of another EZ dock system, Zeller said, “I saw a man who uses a walker struggle to get close to his kayak to enter, again because the rails were in the way. And a person who has limited vision tripped on that rail as he exited his kayak and injured himself when he fell.”

Zeller also references her own struggles with the EZ dock system. As a quadriplegic, she cannot access her kayak via the dock. She notes that the transfer bench only works for those with a very low level of paralysis. Handicapped individuals lacking a strong upper body can’t move independently or settle into the kayak alone.

Zeller urges the boathouse managers to bring more accessibility options to the boathouse in the future.

An additional component to universal access includes a transfer sling. This is one way for handicapped, paralyzed and quadriplegic individuals to enter their boating vessels. It’s something the project leaders considered but agreed to revisit at a later date.

Another accessibility option includes a shallow transfer area, which involves a platform or land that gently slopes into the water’s edge in a shallow area of the river. This allows handicapped individuals to access their watercraft off their wheel chair or crutches with the assistant of a companion. This is the option Zeller most approves of and considers all other systems to be a compromise. She refers to it as “Universal Design.”

Despite the fact that there is still more to be done, project leaders determined the dock to be a much needed aid to the Orange community that would work until later additions to the boathouse could increase accessibility. They pointed out that not only would it help the disabled but also the elderly.

Greenworks President, Jonathan Schwartz, is pleased with the addition and believes the new dock is the first step towards a boathouse with universal access for all individuals that can become a model for the rest of the nation. He looks forward to working with all interested parties to reach that goal within the next couple of years.

Allen Young, a dedicated Orange resident and columnist for the Athol Daily News, sums up his view on the completed project, as well as an up and coming Greenworks town addition, in a letter of support, “The plan of the town of Orange to develop a trail along the Millers River, and handicapped access, too, is wonderful and merits support from those who have some money to assist a small town with limited funds.”

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