'Just like everyone else': Islander excited about new mats and wheelchairs in P.E.I. National Park
'It's the ability to sit down on the beach and enjoy listening to the waves and be close to it'
Going to the beach just got easier for Prince Edward Islanders and visitors with mobility issues, thanks to some new additions at the P.E.I. National Park.
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Parks Canada has installed new accessibility mats at Stanhope Beach, along with two kinds of specially-designed beach wheelchairs.
"It's amazing, it's a hard feeling to explain," said Daniel Savoie, of Chelton Beach, P.E.I.
"It's going to be 30 years next year that I've been spinal cord injured and I never in a million years thought I would be able to enjoy the beach, sitting so close to the water and being able to go in the water."
'Dream come true'
For years, Savoie wasn't able to go to the beach, because his wheelchair couldn't navigate in the sand.
"I would be up on top of the shore and just looking around and seeing people enjoy themselves," he said.
"Now I'm part of everybody else, it's almost like a dream come true."
Savoie and his wife first saw the beach wheelchairs on a Caribbean vacation.
They asked around when they got back to Canada and discovered that there was one at Brackley Beach but no one seemed to know much about it.
Savoie approached the Spinal Cord Injury Association of P.E.I. and Access Advior P.E.I. and together came up with a proposal that they took to Parks Canada.
The accessibility mats were originally designed by the U.S. Marine Corps for vehicle beach landings.
"We believe we are the first at Parks Canada to be using the accessibility mats so we're very excited," said Kimberlee Trainor, from Parks Canada.
"The accessibility mats will allow individuals to traverse from the wooden boardwalk down to the sand and close to the water's edge in their own wheelchair," explained Trainor.
"It also provides easier access for various other mobility devices, walkers and even young families with young children who are in carriages."
Megan MacKenzie, executive director of Spinal Cord Injury P.E.I., is excited by the new options in the national park.
"I did see mobi-mats used in different places in Canada, just pictures online and I always thought that would be really cool if P.E.I. could do something like that," she said.
"They can come here with their family or if anybody wants to come here independently they can totally do that by themselves now that these mats are here."
MacKenzie would like to see more of the mats in use around the Island.
"Honestly, for a place like P.E.I. to me it would be awesome to see it not just in national parks, but in provincial parks."
A spokesperson for the P.E.I. Department of Tourism says there are currently no fully accessible provincial beaches.
Cabot Park and Panmure Island have boardwalks that make them accessible to the sand line, with plans to extend the boardwalk at Jacques Cartier Park as well. But normal wheelchairs are not able to go beyond the end of the boardwalks.
"I think a lot of people think that cost is an issue but mobi-mats, to me, they're very low priced for giving people such a great experience," said MacKenzie.
"It's being inclusive."
The beach wheelchairs are also available at Brackley and Cavendish beaches, but visitors are encouraged to call ahead and reserve a chair.
Trainor calls the new accessible options a pilot project and says there could be more.
"We will continue to do so with feedback and advice from our partners as project money allows," said Trainor.
Daniel Savoie is looking forward to more trips to the beach, along with his wife.
"She was so excited because she was always going by herself," said Savoie.
"She looked at me and she said, 'Daniel, we made it,' so yeah, that was pretty amazing."