Rochester’s New Wheelchair Offers Beach Access

When you see the Town of Rochester’s new big-wheel wheelchair, it’s rather obvious where it is meant to take someone with mobility challenges. With its bright blue and white striped chair, and big, bright yellow inflatable tires and armrests that make the chair look like it could float on water, you know immediately where that chair belongs – at the beach.

After weeks of Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) compliant alterations to the Town’s facilities and buildings, which included widened automatic doors, restrooms, and paved walkways, the town has also acquired a handicap beach wheelchair that is ready for Rochester residents to borrow for trips to the beach.

For those with disabilities and the elderly who find walking difficult, traversing a beach in a conventional wheelchair is impossible without a paved walkway or wooden boardwalk. But with this new three-wheeler beach chair and the assistance of a friend, a person who was once prevented from enjoying a day at the beach can now share in the experience.

Andrew Daniel, Rochester’s facilities manager, said the Town had some money left over from a state grant he helped secure for much needed ADA compliant upgrades to provide handicap access to town buildings. During the ADA compliance planning process, Daniel consulted with a Rochester resident who relies on a wheelchair to get around in his busy life as a college professor.

“He was telling me how some other coastal towns have special ramps or mats to get across the beach, or special chairs to get across the sand,” said Daniel on Friday, June 22, outside the Rochester Council on Aging where the new chair sat fully assembled on the lawn. “He told me when he takes his kids to the beach he sits in his car and just watches them from the car.”

Recalling that conversation, Daniel said, “It hurt me a little bit hearing that.”

When Daniel found a couple thousand in grant money left over from the other ADA projects, he looked into how much it would cost to provide Rochester residents, who have access rights to Silvershell Beach in Marion, some way to enjoy the beach. Daniel found a company in Florida that sells the “Water Wheels” beach wheelchairs and, with the remaining grant money, bought one for the town.

“[Residents] can take it to the beach and bring it back,” said Daniel. All he needs is a one-day notice ahead of time, and he can have the chair ready to be picked up at the COA. A waiver is in the works for residents to sign upon checking out the chair at no cost. “They can enjoy the beach and that’s pretty much the goal,” said Daniel.

The beach wheelchair isn’t limited to just Silvershell Beach, either. The chair can be used at ponds, too. The big wheels can plow through sand with ease, and the chair can be brought right into the water with the assistance of another bather. The chair folds up easily, and the wheels and armrests can be removed to fit the entire chair into the trunk or backseat of a vehicle. Reassembly is just as easy, mentioned Daniel.

“Hopefully it’s a benefit to the residents,” Daniel said. “Anybody can take it.”

At this time the chair is only available to Rochester residents, but Daniel said he has told the Marion Recreation Department about the chair, and offering the chair for loan to Marion residents could soon follow.

“It seems only fair that we would let the Marion elderly and disabled use it, too,” said Daniel.

Rochester residents who wish to borrow the chair can call the Rochester COA at 508-763-8723 and make arrangements for pickup.

Daniel hopes the word will get out and residents will begin to use the chair now that it’s here – and, finally, so is summer.

“I’m pretty excited about it,” said Daniel. “I’m excited to see how it’ll work out.”

By Jean Perry

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