Malverne man marks victory in fight for equal beach access

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MASSAPEQUA -

Malverne resident Peter Hawkins has won scores of medals racing in bicycling marathons around the world. But his latest challenge took him off the bike path and into the halls of justice in a fight for equal access for the disabled at Tobay Beach.

As News 12 has reported, it was in the summer of 2015 when the Town of Oyster Bay installed a turnstile and fence, dividing the bike path from the bathroom and concession area of the beach.

The town said it was a matter of safety to keep bicyclists from hitting people or cars in the parking lot. But Hawkins, who is paralyzed from the waist down, argued that the turnstile is a brick wall for people like him.

"Anybody with an assisted device could not get through that turnstile, you know, so it makes you different. And the whole idea is not to be different. I'm just like everybody else," Hawkins says.

Hawkins and his advocate filed a formal discrimination complaint with the Department of the Interior, arguing the town was in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Federal officials found merit in Hawkins' complaint, and told the town in letter last April to come up with a plan to comply with the law. This April, the town agreed to have a staff member open and close the gate during beach hours and leave it unlocked at other times.

Then, over the weekend, the town took its agreement of compliance one step further by taking down the turnstile and gate all together. The new town supervisor says it was time to right a wrong.

"We're making our facilities available and we're ensuring that we're doing it the right way to adhere to all the codes," says Joseph Saladino, the town supervisor.

Hawkins says paving the way for equal access was worth the two-year fight.

"It's a victory for everybody," he says.

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