A day at the beach should never be an obstacle to those with mobiliity issues.
Cumberland County’s three community health boards have come together with the Municipality of Cumberland and the provincial Lands and Forestry Department to place an accessible mat and floating wheelchair at Heather Beach Provincial Park near Port Howe.
“We have an equipment lending program available and we thought this would be a nice addition,” Vicki Weaver, Cumberland County’s recreation and physical activities co-ordinator, said July 17. “This is something we’ve wanted to have for a while and we were able to access some funding from the CHB’s community wellness funds and some funding from the municipality we were able to pull it together this year.”
The decision was made to put the mat and floating chair at Heather Beach because it’s supervised by the Nova Scotia Lifeguard Service. The chair will be accessible during the summer season while the beach is supervised.
Lands and Forestry put the mat in place as well as a gravel pathway leading to the mat. It has also built an accessible washroom at the popular beach on the Northumberland Strait.
Colleen Dowe, the co-ordinator of Cumberland County’s three community health boards, said the WaterWheels floating wheelchair is ideal for wheelchair users and those with special needs. It’s designed to provide an outdoor beach experience and is equipped with floatable armrests and tires.
She said it’s able to everyone, not just those in wheelchairs, and can be used by anyone with mobility issues whether they can walk or not.
“Sometimes walking over the sand to get to the water, or even be in the water can be challenging for people with mobility issues,” Dowe said. “It’s all about improving accessibility to the beach and the water and increasing and enhancing people’s ability to be physically active.”
Dowe believes there are two or three of these floating wheelchairs in Nova Scotia, including two that were recently purchased along with mobility mats and beach-friendly wheelchairs in Inverness by the Inverness Development Association and the Inverness County Accessibility Committee.
When putting the funding proposal together, the CHBs reached out to various community partners for letters of support including Sunset Adult Residential Centre in Pugwash as well as Maggie’s Place, the Bridge Adult Service Centre and Cumberland Early Intervention in Amherst.
She sees WaterWheels as being something that would make the beach more accessible to clients from these organizations, especially those with mobility issues.
“The partners were very excited,” Dowe said. “We had six letters of support from these organizations to help the funding proposal. It’s not about how many people will use it. Even if just a few use it, it’s valuable. It’s something that’s available to everyone.”
Earlier this year, the municipality and the CHBs came together to purchase a Hippocampe all-terrain beach wheelchair that offers individuals with mobility challenges to navigate difficult terrain that may be impossible in a standard wheelchair, including the beach, sand, swimming areas, hiking trails and rocky areas.
Weaver said there are a lot of people who are wheelchair bound or face mobility issues who can’t get to the beach or in the water.
When the CHBs and the municipality were looking at options, they spoke to officials at the IWK Children’s Hospital in Halifax and learned the Hippocampe all-terrain wheelchair was the most popular piece of adaptive equipment available for loan.
“Before, when you wanted a piece of adaptive equipment you had to go through the IWK. We went to the IWK and asked what the most-borrowed item and we were told the Hippocampe,” Dowe said.
Weaver said the borrowing process is just being put in place for the Hippocampe, but anyone who wishes to borrow it can contact the municipality at 902-667-2313.