Disability advocates criticize park’s closure

Published: Sep. 1, 2021 at 4:47 PM EDT
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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (CNS) - For many, Labor Day is summer’s last hurrah, filled with time at the beach and barbecues, but many in the state’s physically disabled community are going to be left out because the state has been slow to reopen the one park that is dedicated to those with physical disabilities.

Rish Park is located on Cape San Blas, on the Panhandle coast.

The beachfront park is the state’s only fully handicap accessible facility for outdoor recreation.

The park has been closed since 2018′s Hurricane Michael.

Disability advocates assert the state has been dragging its feet.

“This Labor Day weekend, this beautiful sunshine right now. I’d like to be at the beach. Fellow Floridians with disabilities would like to be at the beach. But Rish Park is closed,” said advocate Dr. J.R. Harding.

Drone video taken in August 2019, 10 months after Michael hit, shows damage to the beach walkway, but little else.

“It’s essentially like the Department of Transportation not knowing how to build a road,” said environmental engineer Dr. Max Lee.

Dr. Lee said the park should have been open long before now.

“The park itself was able to be open about two and a half years ago. I’d say eighty, seventy-five percent of it,” said Lee.

The Agency for Persons with Disabilities points out that it couldn’t risk someone getting hurt by opening the park before it’s fully ready.

But the advocates argue the disabled often have shorter life spans and three years is a long time.

“So, think of your family and what would you do if three years of it was removed,” said Dr. Harding.

The Agency for Persons with Disabilities did point out there are other facilities, such as a new ADA compliant glass bottom boat at Silver Springs, but Harding and Lee argued no facility matches the amenities at Rish Park.

Rish Park is the only park operated by the Agency for Persons with Disabilities.

The advocates argue the park would be better managed by the state park system than APD.

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