Man fights for wheelchair access at Tobay Beach

A handicapped man from Malverne says there is no wheelchair access to the bathrooms or concession area at Tobay Beach, and his fight for equal access may soon become a federal case.

Peter Hawkins is a race rider who is physically challenged. He used to use the bathrooms at Tobay Beach, located right next to the bike path on which he practices. However, the Town of Oyster Bay last summer installed a locked security gate as a safety measure to keep bicycles out of the beach's parking lot.

Hawkins, who is paralyzed from the waist down, says the turnstile is like a brick wall for him. To make matters worse, he says the town put a sign on the fence instructing the handicapped to call a number for someone to come and unlock the gate, but it doesn't work.

A call placed by Hawkins went to voicemail, and no one came to unlock the gate.

Therese Brzezinski, a disabilities advocate, says the town is breaking federal law with its fence and signage, calling it a violation of civil rights.

In response to Hawkins' complaints, town officials replaced the padlock with a combination lock, and are giving the code to people with disabilities who ask for it. But the town is standing firm on keeping the locked gate and turnstile in place, despite warnings that they violate the law. 

Hawkins is asking for federal investigators to step in by filing a formal complaint with the U.S. Department of Justice. He says he hopes a federal judge will pave the way to equal access.

A Town of Oyster Bay spokesperson says the town has taken several steps to satisfy Hawkins' requests and made reasonable accommodations for anyone who wishes to access Tobay Beach from the bike path.

The spokesperson says the town board will undertake a general review of the situation following the close of the current beach season.

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