Friday, July 15, 2011

In NY city, disabled beachgoers no longer left stranded in sand with city's new water wheelchairs

From the NY Daily News:

Whenever Lucila Rodriguez (pictured) went to Orchard Beach with her family, the 86-year old grandmother had to sit in her wheelchair and watch from the sidelines as the others frolicked in the surf.

She won't have to do that anymore.

The "Bronx Riviera" is now home to two specialized beach wheelchairs that help people with disabilities get into the water.

Orchard Beach is the first city beach to offer them.

"How wonderful!" said a refreshed, smiling Rodriguez on Tuesday after splashing around in the water aboard the colorful floating chair. "I really enjoyed that."

The beach wheelchairs come courtesy of Friends of Pelham Bay Park and the city Parks and Recreation Department, after group members met last winter to discuss ways to increase access to park facilities.

"No one should be left behind while others are having fun," said Lizbeth Gonzalez, the group's president. "Now, for the first time, people can use a city public beach irrespective of whether they walk there or are wheeled there."

The Mobichairs recline like recumbent bicycles and are outfitted with bright orange floats on the arm rests and oversized yellow wheels.

Each costs about $3,500. Gonzalez had asked the local business community for help to pay for one specialized chair.

In a matter of months, the community rallied to raise more than $15,000 for the project.

The Bronx Chamber of Commerce raised $4,000. Schuyler Hill Funeral Home donated $500 for the project.

"I'm a water rat," chuckled owner James McQuade, "so to be able to help a handicapped person enjoy the water, it's worth it."

Officials at Friends of Pelham Bay Park decided to start with two specialized chairs to gauge public interest, and add more later if needed.

On Tuesday, excited onlookers snapped pictures as parks officials wheeled one of the colorful chairs along the boardwalk.

Dirk Hohenkirk's eyes grew wide with excitement when he spotted the chair.

The 42-year old Castle Hill man likes visiting Orchard Beach and would go to the showers to get wet.

"This is fantastic!" he said from his motorized wheelchair. "This caters to people with disabilities for real. It's nice."

Nurys Garcia, of Co-Op City, said the chair would be perfect for her sister, who suffers from severe arthritis.

"Usually when she comes here, she just stays in the picnic area," she said. "But this is great. This will bring the beach to her."