In a world where far too many experiences are inaccessible to large groups of people, Sabrina Cohen is proving that it doesn’t have to be that way.
Paralyzed from the neck down since she was in a car crash at 14, she has spent her life dedicated to advocacy work. She started out by promoting stem cell research for spinal injuries and running a nonprofit called the Sabrina Cohen Foundation.
Despite all of the incredible feats Sabrina has accomplished through the years, there’s one thing she hadn’t been able to do since becoming a quadriplegic: go to the beach.
“I grew up a beach girl,” Sabrina said. “But it became a no-go zone.”
One day, something changed. While she was near the beach with a colleague in 2013, Sabrina became determined to at least try and get closer to the ocean.
“So I started propelling my power wheelchair into the sand to get near the water and boom, I sunk,” she said. “The harder I tried to get out, the deeper my wheels got stuck in the sand.”
Feeling helpless, Sabrina realized that more could — and should — be done to make beaches more accessible. Her colleague couldn’t have agreed more.
And so began Sabrina’s pursuit to improve beach accessibility! By 2016, she managed to convince the city of Miami Beach to let her host twice-a-month beach days for people with disabilities, older generations, and children and veterans with special needs.
“It was a process and years of due diligence,” Sabrina said. “But to date, we’ve welcomed over 8,000 participants, family members, caretakers — from not only South Florida, primarily, but really from all over the world.”
How are beaches made to be more accessible? One important element is placing temporary platforms that are easier to navigate. That means some people are able to finally swim or snorkel again!
The second important element is all of the incredible volunteers who help out. At each event, nearly a hundred physical therapists, lifeguards, and more take time out of their day to do whatever they can to help.
As life-changing as these events have been for thousands of people, Sabrina and her team are hard at work to make an even bigger impact. To make the beach accessible all year round, her nonprofit is raising money to build a $10.5 million adaptive oceanside facility.
If all goes according to plan, this one-of-a-kind building will be 27,000 square feet and three stories tall. There will be storage for beach days equipment, specialized locker rooms and changing rooms, and pools where individual and group exercise classes and aqua therapy can take place.
“For me, by doing it this way, we’re going to create a model that cities around the world will replicate,” Sabrina said. “The nature of a disability is an exclusion from many things. It feels good to break down these barriers.”
There’s a lot of work ahead to make beaches and other places more accessible, but when people come together like they have with Sabrina, the results can be astonishing.
“I don’t want to say that I was injured for this reason, but this is my purpose now,” Sabrina said. “The best use I could make out of my injury is to help other people through the same scenario.”
You can donate to the Sabrina Cohen Foundation by visiting their website. Don’t forget to share this article with a friend to make an even greater impact.
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