Ottawa

City's amphibious wheelchairs put the beach within reach

All her life, whenever Delaney Dunlop's friends asked her to go to the beach, she'd decline. That all changed with the arrival of a City of Ottawa pilot program in 2017 that provides purpose-built wheelchairs to beachgoers who need them.

Specially designed chairs can traverse soft sand, go into the water

Delaney Dunlop, left, and City of Ottawa employee Travis Westerberg, right, cool off at Westboro Beach. (Andrew Lee/CBC)

All her life, whenever Delaney Dunlop's friends asked her to go to the beach, she'd decline. 

The 30-year-old's battery-powered wheelchair just wasn't built to traverse the sand.

"It took like six people to get it out of the sand," Dunlop said of one earlier attempt.

Now I can say, 'Let's actually plan a beach day.'- Delaney Dunlop

And what was she supposed to do once she reached the water?

"Getting in and out of the water isn't always safe for people who need assistance," Dunlop told CBC Radio's Ottawa Morning.

That all changed with the arrival of a City of Ottawa pilot program in 2017 that provides purpose-built wheelchairs to beachgoers who need them.

The semi-submersible chairs sit atop four fat, inflatable tires, and can be easily pushed over the soft sand and right into the water. There's also a fully submersible three-wheel version.

Dunlop borrowed one of the chairs last week at Westboro Beach.

"Now I can say, 'Let's actually plan a beach day,'" she said.

The wheelchair at Westboro Beach is on loan from Britannia Beach, which currently closed for dredging work. Mooney's Bay has one chair and Petrie Island has two, available for loan in half-hour blocks daily between noon to 6:30 p.m.

Dunlop says she wasn't sure what to expect the first time, but once she was out in the water she felt at ease. (Andrew Lee/CBC)

Travis Westerberg, a recreation supervisor with the city, said the chairs come with adjustable armrests and a quick-release seatbelt to keep the user secure.

"So they don't feel like they'll fall out of the chair once in the water," Westerberg said.

Westerberg said the chairs have caused quite a stir.

"It's been a big hit," he said. "We've had a lot of inquiries about what it is, how easy it is to use for the clients. So far, we've seen an increase in demand for booking it for the day."

Nervous at first

Dunlop admitted she was nervous before taking the plunge. While she'd researched the chairs, she still wasn't quite sure what to expect on her first outing. Once in the water, however, her worries seemed to dissipate.

"I feel very sturdy. I don't feel like I'm going to float away," she said.

Westerberg said the city plans to make more of the chairs available.

Dunlop said once that happens, she's like to bring friends who also use wheelchairs out for a day at the beach.

"You can be out with the people. It's really nice," she said. 

With files from Anchal Sharma

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