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Hawaii County aims to make beach parks more accessible

Hawaii County is working to ensure more of its parks are accessible to people with disabilities.

County Parks and Recreation Director Charmaine Kamaka said the agency is working to have its parks fully compliant with federal accessibility standards, The Hawaii Tribune-Herald reported Monday.

“We want to make every facility we have Americans with Disabilities Act accessible,” she said. “But we’re (working on) the court-ordered ones first. My dream would be to have every park totally accessible.”

The county has made progress since a 1997 U.S. District Court consent decree called for increased accessibility for people with disabilities, but the county still has room for improvement.

Under the court order, Hawaii still has to make several parks and venues more accessible, including popular Hilo surfing area Honolii Beach Park, Ahalanui Beach Park near Pahoa and the Hilo Bayfront Canoe Area.

Hawaii’s Department of Land and Natural Resources identified Hapuna Beach as the only state park in Hawaii County where the actual beach itself can be wheelchair accessible.

Dean Aoki, DLNR’s ADA coordinator, said an important thing to consider when improving accessibility at beaches “is providing beachgoers safety from the adjacent ocean conditions that are unpredictable and dangerous.”

State regulations also require wheelchair beach access be designed to avoid environmental impact and that cultural and historical attributes of the site be taken into consideration, according to a DLNR report requested by last year’s Legislature.

But some advocates for people with disabilities say progress at parks and beaches has been too slow.

“It’s taking a long time,” said attorney Louis Ertschik, who is the executive director of the Hawaii Disability Rights Center. “And one of my concerns about the (DLNR) report was that we were going to spend a year or two doing this inventory without actually doing anything.”

As for Hawaii County, Kamaka said the renovations to improve accessibility are an ongoing part of park operations, with funding for upgrades included in the annual budget.

“It is very important to us because we want to service everybody,” Kamaka said.

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