French beaches open ‘handiplages’ for disabled people

The beach is one of many in France that provides sand-friendly wheelchairs and assistance to disabled people

A beach in France has become the latest to make itself completely accessible to disabled people, including providing wheelchairs that can be used on sand, and staff to help people access the sea.

The Handiplage d’Antibes (Alpes-Maritimes), at Plage de la Salis, has six staff members on-hand from 9h30 to 18h30 to provide assistance to disabled people.

The modern beach area - which opened in June - also offers specially-designed wheelchairs with wide wheels that do not sink as much into the sand, allowing disabled people to move around more easily and go down to the sea.

There are also mats laid out along the sand to the sea, to make movements easier.

Beach welcome agent Alexandre Caleca, said: “Generally, there is always someone available. We accompany people to the water, and we help them to take a shower, and take them to the changing rooms if they like.”

The beach - which is 1,300 metres square - is free to use, and is funded by the local council. Free disabled parking and shuttle buses are also provided.

Around 100 people come to use the beach area each day.

Mayor of Antibes, Jean Leonetti, said: “We are trying to ensure that the town is both tourist-friendly and supportive.”

One user, Fabienne Prévot, speaking to news source FranceInfo, said: “For people like us, to go into the sea, it is like being weightless; to be free in our movement. It is a completely liberating activity. I think it’s marvellous that they can enable us to bathe so easily.”

Antibes is not the only town to have opened a “handiplage” - there are also notable sites in Cannes, Nice (Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur) and Narbonne (Occitanie) - and overall, more than 200 such beaches across the country.

The term "handiplage" is an official label, and can only be used by beaches that also provide free disabled parking, a ramp or other access to the beach, and mats that allow people in wheelchairs to move around on the sand.

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