For Dustin Ragans, a trip to the beach used be hard labor. If there wasn’t a boardwalk, Ragans had to build a makeshift one himself.
He would pack eight or 10 boards into the back of his truck and lay them out to make a path to the water’s edge. If he didn’t have wooden planks handy, he’d have to call his father or sister for help.
The 28-year-old-father lost his ability to walk in 2012, after he sustained a spinal injury in an all-terrain-vehicle accident in North Carolina.
As of Monday, Ragans was able to go to the beach on his own. This week, the county rolled out a plastic boardwalk leading from the sidewalk to the water to increase access for the roughly 20,000 York County residents with disabilities.
“That mat makes it so I can live independently,” Ragans said.
The improvements were made to provide residents and visitors in need of assistance with easier access to the beach and water, said York County spokeswoman Gail Whittaker.
The new accessibility mats, called Mobi-Mats, are compliant with the American Disability Act and are manufactured by a company based in Cedar Grove, N.J. The mats were originally designed for vehicular beach landing operations for the U.S. Marine Corps, according to the company’s website.
It wasn’t until Ragans made a call to a friend that the process for installing the mats in Yorktown began. Late last year Ragans contacted York County Supervisor Chad Green about making the beach more accessible for people in wheelchairs, families with young children, and elderly folks looking to get to the cool water.
Green took up the idea and got ahold of several of his physically challenged friends before pushing for the Mobi-Mat.
“I thought it was a great idea,” Green said. “I contacted my friends who have mobility issues and they thought it was a great idea.”
There’s a community behind every accessibility project, Ragans said, before adding he couldn’t be more blessed than to live in a place where people can reach out to their elected officials to make real change.
“It helps out so many people and it really helps me out,” Ragans said. “This injury’s been really tough, but the community’s supported me. You can’t have bad days, because there’s always somebody there to cheer you up.”
The mat was installed faster than Yorktown’s dockmaster James Scruggs expected, and he said he couldn’t be happier, as the busy summer months are ahead at the beach.
“We feel that the mats will greatly improve everyone’s experience at the Yorktown waterfront,” Scruggs said.
Ragans said the most important thing about the mat was that it gives independence back to those who want it.
“Every little independence means so much and keeps you going,” Ragans said.