Disabled beachgoers can now step closer to the ocean
by Mariko Lamb
Published - 06/21/12 - 10:01 AM | 81412 views | 0 0 comments | 5 5 recommendations | email to a friend | print
La Jolla Shores Surfing Association member and paraplegic Amelia Opean, aided by a helper, demonstrates how the new beach wheelchair provides easy access into the ocean for a swim. MARIKO LAMB | Village News
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When the ocean’s call beckons, San Diego’s residents and visitors alike flock to the coastal communities by the hundreds, particularly during the city’s warm summer months. For beachgoers with disabilities, however, a simple venture to the beach can be a daunting and discouraging undertaking.

Now, thanks to the efforts of councilmembers, community groups and advocates for those with disabilities, wheelchair-bound beachgoers, too, can effortlessly answer the ocean’s enticing call.

Just in time for summer, community leaders have banded together to supply three new beach wheelchairs at San Diego’s busiest beaches. The wheelchairs, which have oversize, all-terrain wheels and a water-friendly cushioned seat, allow those who are mobility disabled to easily access the ocean, at no cost to the user.

La Jolla Shores Surfing Association member Amelia Opean — an avid swimmer and wheelchair-bound paraplegic — spearheaded the fundraising effort to fix La Jolla Shores’ only beach wheelchair last year.

“I’ve been swimming down at La Jolla Shores about six years,” she said. “The chair wasn’t working too well last year, so I stepped up to raise some money to get it fixed. Co-workers, friends, families — we all pitched in, and the La Jolla Shores Surfing Association was generous enough to match those funds.”

When area councilmembers Sherri Lightner, Kevin Faulconer and Todd Gloria discovered Opean’s efforts, they, too, decided to donate funds from their own office budgets for the cause.

“I can’t thank the councilmembers enough,” Opean said. “To step up and actually buy a new wheelchair is beyond my dreams. I thought we were just going to get the old one repaired. Now we have plenty of chairs that can get me down to the water.”

With the new additions, at least two manual beach wheelchairs are available for free at the La Jolla Shores, Mission Beach, Ocean Beach and Pacific Beach lifeguard towers. To reserve ahead, visit one of these main lifeguard towers or call (619) 980-1876.

“These beach wheelchairs can be life-changing,” said District 1 City Councilwoman Sherri Lightner. “We get letters from people saying that because of this program, they were able to put their feet in the ocean for the first time in 20 years.”

Other partners in the beach access program include the Disability Services Advisory Council, which donated funds for the new wheelchairs; San Diego’s Park and Recreation Department, which will oversee the free beach wheelchair program; and San Diego lifeguards, who will assist users of the beach wheelchairs.

“By working together, we were able to fund this vitally important program without having to tap into our general fund,” said Stacey LoMedico, director of San Diego’s Park and Recreation Department. “It’s not just the right thing to do. It’s also good for our local tourism economy. I can’t tell you how often people write us to say that San Diego is their vacation destination of choice because of our free beach wheelchair program.”
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